MADRID – Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane dropped a bombshell Thursday, quitting the Spanish giants just days after winning the Champions League for a record third year in a row.
The 45-year-old former international decided to leave at the top saying it was time for a change for himself and the club and admitting he was unsure of his ability to maintain his winning record at Real.
But he said no other club was involved in his decision to part ways with Real and although experts have linked him to the French national team coaching job, Zidane insisted he is eyeing no other position at this time.
“I have taken the decision to not continue next year as Real Madrid coach,” the Frenchman told a hastily convened press conference.
“This club deserves to continue to win and needs a change” he said, adding that he believed the “moment has come.”
“After three years the club needs another discourse, another method of working,” he added
Zidane said he was unsure of his ability to inspire the team to more victories.
“I don't see myself continuing to win this year and I am a winner, I don't like to lose,” added Zidane, who was under contract with Real until 2020.
“I have thought a lot about this decision and I can't go back on it.”
Real beat Liverpool 3-1 in the final in Kiev on Saturday, making Zidane the first coach in history to win three successive Champions League titles.
Zidane has now won nine trophies since replacing Rafael Benitez in the Santiago Bernabeu dugout in January 2016.
When Benitez was sacked in January 2016, Barcelona daily Mundo Deportivo dismissed Zidane as merely a “sticking plaster”, who would be replaced quickly by a permanent coach.
But Zidane won the confidence of players and the rest is history.
Real's captain Sergio Ramos tweeted his reaction, in English and Spanish, above a photo of the two men with the Champions League trophy.
“As a player and coach you decided to say goodbye at the top. Thank you for two and a half incredible years. Your legacy will never be erased, one of the most successful chapters in the history of our beloved realmadrid,” Ramos wrote.
As a player and coach you decided to say goodbye at the top. Thank you for two and a half incredible years. Your legacy will never be erased, one of the most successful chapters in the history of our beloved @realmadrid pic.twitter.com/dO6bw74aA3
At the press conference Zidane was flanked by Real Madrid president Florentino Perez who said Zidane's announcement was “totally unexpected”.
“This is a sad day,” Perez said. “This house will be his family forever, he triumphed and won everything, as you know. I thank him for his commitment, his passion. I have no doubt that he will return.”
Reports in Britain say Real may now try to lure Mauricio Pochettino to Madrid from English Premier League club Tottenham.
The Argentinian has just signed a five-year contract to remain at Tottenham, but some reports said that might contain a get-out clause in the event of an approach from Real.
Many British bookmakers however make former Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger their favourite as speculation ran rampant over the identity of the next man in the Madrid hot seat.
Zidane said his decision had nothing to do with Real icon Cristiano Ronaldo hinting that he will also leave the club following the Champions League triumph on Saturday.
It had perhaps more to do with the side's mixed performance in La Liga, where they finished a disappointing third, and were left for dead by champions and bitter rivals Barcelona.
“We say it, it was complicated this year in the league, these are moments that I don't forget,” he said.
Zidane's bombshell decision came 12 years after another stunning blow brought a controversial close to the midfielder's international career.
He earned a red card in the 2006 World Cup final, probably costing France the title, for his full-blooded headbutt against Italian Marco Materazzi.
Considered one of the all-time greats as a player, his career included winning the 1998 World Cup with France and scoring the winning goal in the 2002 Champions League final for Real against Beyer Leverkusen.
The next step for the former Real Madrid star player is unclear but he has time on his side.
Guy Lacombe, Zidane's first coach when he joined AS Cannes, his first professional club, in 1988, said that there was little left to challenge the coach who had already won virtually everything.
“But there is one thing...,” Lacombe told AFP. “He would like one day to coach the French national team. He has made no secret of that ambition.
“It will happen at the right time. In the right conditions. There is no rush.”
Agence France-Presse (AFP)