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With the impeccable timing and precision that Zinedine Zidane showed as a footballer, the Real Madrid miracle man has left the Bernabeu at just the right time 

Well, well, that came out of the left field, didn’t it? You only had to see Florentino Pérez’s sweaty, uncomfortable expression during the press conference to conclude that the earth-shattering revelation had caught Real’s president off-guard. 

Zinedine Zidane is no more. Se acabó. Finito. End of the line for him. And he’s leaving on his own terms and in the same way he landed in Madrid’s bench: with that uncanny sense of cool and dignity to everything he did over the last two-and-a-half years.

“I took the decision of not continuing next season as Real Madrid’s head coach. I spoke with the president earlier to explain my reasoning. I think it’s the best moment for me, for the squad and for the club. I understand it might seem a bit weird, but it had to be done. This team must keep winning and needs a change in order to do it, after three years another method is needed. That’s why I made up my mind, even though I love this club”. Bold, short, straight to the point, no beating about the bush.

But, really… Why? And why now?

Taking sport at face value has its own set of advantages and disadvantages. For example, being mind-blown by the fact that the coach for the only three-time Champions League winners leaves in such an anti-climatic way. “Why does he resign, if he’s on top right now?”, fans might ask. Exactly. That’s the first sign of Zizou being the smartest guy inside Chamartin.

To quote a certain Christopher Nolan movie: “You either die a hero, or live long enough to become the villain”. Zidane will leave Real’s bench empty with a flawless resume: nine championships in three years, three Champions League trophies in a row and utter domination in Europe. Leave now and always be regarded as a legend. Stay and results might eventually turn the tide against you.

Zizou’s unexpected departure has also managed to overshadow – and, some might say, even defuse – two of the biggest ‘bombs’ of the last few days: Cristiano’s angry fit after the Champions League final and Gareth Bale’s statements regarding possible transfers this summer. In such a context, with power left in a void inside the locker room, any drastic change by the future manager would be much easier to do than burdening Zidane with that responsibility.

If the Frenchman had left aside or sold any of his big heavy-hitters this summer, the controversy would’ve been tremendous. The new coach will have the chance to start from a clean slate… and so will Florentino, if he ultimately decides to sell Ronaldo and focus all his power into bringing Neymar or another top-class player into the fold.

Possibly the biggest interpretation of Zidane’s surprise exit can be pinpointed on the absolutely incredible over-achievement his team has managed in European competitions. Winning a Champions League is tough already. Two? Nearly impossible. But three? Totally bonkers. 

Things usually narrow down to one or two key events or moments in the season, and Real always seemed to be in the lucky side of the spectrum when those came around (Juventus, Bayern, Karius in the Liverpool game…). They’ve been champions deservedly so, but they never did it with the incredible or spectacular style that truly places a team in the football Olympus.

Zidane himself pointed out how devastatingly disappointing it was to be knocked out by Leganés this season in the Copa del Rey. Ditto for LaLiga, where they were out of the title race in December, with five months to go. They weren’t reliable or consistent enough. They placed all their eggs in the Champions League basket and the gamble paid off in spades, yes, but the manager knows that this plan has its fair share of pitfalls.

Zizou is no more and the void will be ‘big’, as big as it gets. Names began swirling around almost immediately, oscillating between the plausible (Pochettino) and the hands-down crazy (Wenger? Come on!). The French former player leaves with peace on his mind and with the obvious intention of coming back sooner rather than later.

“I’m not tired of coaching. I’m not going to coach another club for a while. (…) I’m not really sure about the upcoming season. I’m a winner, and if I feel that I’m not going to win, I believe the best choice is to leave”, he added. He leaves behind a flawless legacy and a feat that probably nobody will be able to top ever. Well played, Sir. Excellently played.

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  1. […] Zidane was the smartest of the bunch. He saw from within (something pretty remarkable, as usually people inside a locker room tend to ignore signs) that Real might have won the Champions League, but that they definitely didn’t deserve it. The football gods favored a team which took advantage of a huge number of crucial head-or-tails moments throughout the competition. When Madrid were always this close to failing, the Zizou’s men always came away unscathed. […]

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