Around this time last week Real Madrid were lifting their third successive Champions League crown, giving them a total of 13 European Cup titles – which is not just more than any other club, the sum actually tops the tally of any single league put together, outside of La Liga.
That hat-trick of Champions League titles means that Madrid have now been crowned the champions of Europe in four out of the past five seasons. This is European hegemony at a level not witnessed since Real themselves won five European Cups on the bounce between 1955 and 1960.
However, amidst the celebrations for Real, came the bombshell announcement.
Zinedine Zidane’s shocking resignation, just five days after the Champions League win, has left the future of Real’s European empire has come under jeopardy. Zidane himself has maintained that he’s not looking for a managerial position for next season, but all the question-marks in this particular case are engulfing the club.
For starters, before Zidane could jolt the football world, Cristiano Ronaldo – typically the man who led Real to the Champions League win – and Gareth Bale – who actually won the final for Madrid on the night – decided to slash doubts over their own futures, in the post-match interviews following the Champions League win.
And as both Ronaldo and Bale decide on their future with Real, Zidane’s exit could actually signal the start of a complete revamp for Real.
Even so, Zidane was more than a factor in the inclination towards the potential departures of Ronaldo and Bale – especially the latter who repeatedly said that he wants to play week in week out.
Ronaldo, meanwhile, has thrown these tantrums in the past and he might be seeking a well-earneed pay hike to top his main rivals Lioner Messi and Neymar Jr.
Bale’s is a more complicated situation. At 28, he knows he has hit his peak, and might be lured by a big move – not necessarily monetarily – to another European club, where he can fulfill his ambitions of being the main guy, which he was supposed to be at Real, but Ronaldo only raised his game with age.
Zidane has maintained that as strange it looks, for him, it is ‘the right moment’ to depart. Despite Perez’s multiple insistences, he went on with his call.
Some would say this two-and-a-half blitz is the perfect stint for him as the Real Madrid manager, with the club perhaps facing an imminent plunge either way – especially should Ronaldo depart.
What better way to say adieu than leaving with nine trophies in a two and half month period, which include two Club World Cups and a La Liga title.
Zidane’s sudden exist has led to several rumours regarding his ‘unsettled relationship’ with some players and top management. While Spanish football analyst Guillem Balague believes that the manager felt that “(some) players (in the dressing room) are not listening to him”, others say that there was difference of opinion regarding the potential future inclusions in the line-up including the likes of Neymar.
In the words of Real president Florentino Pérez, this was a “totally unexpected decision”. The shock also came from men in the squad who had no clue of the upcoming announcement. Captain Sergio Ramos exclaimed, “You’re going but your legacy can never be erased.”
Zidane opined that it would have been “complicated to keep winning” with him as Real manager. The 45-year-old told a news conference that day, “You have to know when to quit.” He has largely defended his call to leave Real.
So who looks the likeliest to replace Zidane?
Considering the fact that Real would be looking for a fourth manager in last five years, and the fact that Zidane had left a blaze, the club might want someone to stay for a longer period. But will Zidane’s legacy itself be a hindrance for any top manager, consider that Madrid are usually trigger happy when it comes to sacking the managers. The job really is gone if they don’t deliver the Champions League or La Liga in the first season.
Could Real go for Arsene Wenger? The Frenchman’s legacy at Arsenal was marred by a trophy drought in the latter half, and his reluctance to spend what he felt was not enough money anyway. At Real he wouldn’t be short of resources.
Real might also go for Tottenham Hotspurs’ Mauricio Pochettino, who is admired by Perez. Although Pochettino might be hard to persuade – again given the risks involved – Real usually get their man when they eye him.
Juventus’ Massimiliano Allegri is also on the list after another successful campaign with Juventus. The 50-year-old could be tempted for the Real job if Pochettino’s refuses. Allegri though is the Plan B, because Pochettino is clearly the first choice.
Zidane’s are massive shoes to fill. He took over the divided dressing room after the sacking of Rafael Benitez and has already joined an elite group of managers alongside the likes of Carlo Ancelotti and Bob Paisley by lifting the European Cup three times as coach.
Perhaps after creating European hegemony, Madrid would now be looking to topple Barcelona’s continued dominance in Spain. But in addition to getting a top-drawer manager, they might also have to look for illustrious replacements in player personnel.
There’s more chance than ever that Real Madrid might be pushed to go with the Neymar move, especially if Ronaldo bids farewell. Liverpool might want to keep Mohamed Salah close to their chest as well.