Real Madrid set for uncertainty and upheaval following Zinedine Zidane departure - Inside Football
Zinedine Zidane has left as Real Madrid manager for a second time after the club ended the season empty handed. Despite a second place Liga finish and reaching the Champions League semi-final, the club is in desperate need of an overhaul and the dugout might not be the only area set for major changes this summer.
Zinedine Zidane’s exit from Real Madrid did not come as a complete surprise to those around the club.
At the start of this season it would have seemed impossible things would end like this. Zidane’s 2020 La Liga triumph had President Florentino Perez thinking more in line with handing him a new contract than parting ways.
Yet this has been a tough campaign and one in which Zidane has become increasingly agitated and tired. The conditions of working during the Covid-19 pandemic have been gruelling. The tight game scheduling, the safety measures, the absence of players following positive tests. It did not help that Madrid were never able to find their rhythm and sources say that, crucially, Zidane also began to feel the club were not completely behind him—that heading into the final stretch of the season his job may be under threat.
He rallied the squad, called on big performances from experienced players, and almost saved the campaign. To take La Liga’s title race to the final day was an achievement in itself, given how far away from champions they had seemed at times.
Yet even in grinding out results and trying to unite the squad at a time when no fans could support them, he was additionally criticised for failing to embrace the club’s youth products.
Zidane denied reports at the beginning of this month that he had already told players he would be leaving, yet now you do have to wonder if that was true. Their season ended on Saturday, Madrid were trophyless, and his resignation was announced five days later.
President Perez knew before Thursday that this was coming, of course. Some reporters around the Madrid club even believe that he has been working on a new man to put in charge for the past two weeks.
The change at the top makes this summer tricky. The club were already facing an overhaul but now have no choice but to go ahead with one.
So what happens next? A key storyline will be centred around the pursuit of top target Kylian Mbappe.
They have been asking the French forward not to sign a new deal at Paris Saint Germain but had also been selling him a vision of Madrid winning La Liga and the Champions League with Zidane at the helm. The landscape now looks different yet the objective will remain the same and Mbappe must be convinced that this is a good time to move to Santiago Bernabeu.
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Work will begin on that as soon as they can assure him of the new manager and his plans but another man who needs answers on that same subject is a player already at the club, Eden Hazard. He has been linked with wanting a move back to Chelsea in recent days and it is fair to say he has become frustrated, despite enjoying life generally in the Spanish capital.
His time in Madrid since a transfer of £89million - that had the potential to rise to £150million - from the Premier League has been little short of a disaster. He has suffered seven injury layoffs in his two seasons at Madrid and last season accumulated the fewest minutes of football in the entire squad. It’s true that Hazard has been wondering if he needs to cut short his dream of playing at the club but Zidane’s departure is likely to change his mind.
There are indications from people close to the player that while injuries certainly have held him back, so too has the use of him on the pitch.
Hazard wants more freedom in his positioning. The restrictions on his playing style have held back his ability to become creative and with three years left on his contract he is beginning to think about how his career plays out.
He loved his time at Chelsea and it is natural that he would be open to a move back on the back of his tough time in La Liga. Yet a new coach could bring a new lease of life. He will still have to win over supporters of the club but has confidence that could yet happen.
Eden Hazard of Real Madrid, Kylian Mbappe of Paris Saint Germain during the UEFA Champions League match between Real Madrid v Paris Saint Germain at the Santiago Bernabeu on November 26, 2019 in Madrid Spain
Image credit: Getty Images
There will be talk of a transfer to Paris Saint-Germain, possibly he will even be linked with the deal to take Mbappe in the opposite direction, but it is expected he would resist that move. Those close to him say his close attachment to former side Lille makes him unlikely to sign for the Paris club.
While Hazard will probably stay in Madrid, we should not expect that to be the case for Gareth Bale. It is felt this change of manager is unlikely to convince him to spend the final year of his contract at the club.
There is an agreement in place whereby Tottenham are able to resign Bale for next season on the same terms they had him on this year. Chairman Daniel Levy is likely to take up that opportunity.
The core of the squad from recent years is now under threat too with Sergio Ramos, Rafael Varane, Marcelo and Isco among those facing crunch talks over their future.
We can expect Luka Jovic, Martin Odegaard and Dani Ceballos - all loaned out this season - to be handed a fresh chance to make an impact on the squad though.
And there will also be interesting observations to make in battles for key positions under a new boss. For example, Zidane loved Vinicius Junior, yet a new man may prefer Rodrygo Goes.
Zidane's departure leaves the club in a strange situation. While not devastated, they are disappointed. And this raises more uncertainty at a time when they really could have done without it.