The Frenchman always had a perfect sense of timing on the field and never better exemplified than at Hampden Park when he scored a superb volley in the Champions League against Bayer Leverkusen in 2002. A valuable reward to his paymasters, Real Madrid, only a year after he had become the world’s most expensive player after leaving Juventus for Spain. As a manager he carried the same poise on the side lines following his low-key entrance as a replacement for Rafael Benitez. On Thursday he opted out of another few – undoubtedly financially lucrative - years under Florentino Pérez in a similar low-key way by resigning. Or not renewing his much-discussed contract.
In essence leaving the way he entered football management – quietly – and announcing it in it to a startled press gallery. Departing a club and perhaps a city he had become synonymous with over recent decades, badly shaken.
Although Zidane’s career has been a series of amazing records as a player and now as a manager. But it is perhaps the accumulation of so much silverware in only two and half seasons as a first-time manager at one of the greatest clubs in the world, that is the most stunning. Only bettered by club legend Miguel Munoz who steered the players at the Santiago Bernabeu - after being a player for the club first himself- and winning the European Cup nine times - five in a row as well as another four times.
In those days though qualification for Europe was onloy achieved by winning La Liga and that Munoz did between 1960 and 1972 when Real Madrid dominated Europe. Unlike today where the route to qualification is different and the top 2, 3 or even four in some leagues get to qualify.
For Zidane three times in a row in the Champions League in as many years puts him alongside legends such as Udo Lattek who won three in a row with Bayern Munich in the mid-seventies and Rinus Michels at Ajax Amsterdam during the same era. Regardless, the dismal record in La Liga began over those three years began to cost him points with Florentino the man synonymous with the term Galacticos.
In his two eras at the helm Perez has managed expectations, as well as setting them very high. The club continues a relentless expansion and now a virtual money machine able to exploit every aspect for a high commercial return and can easily afford now to attract the top players. But it has been the second of his tenures that have really delivered, and he is seen as the indomitable force behind the Real Madrid’s ambition. So, when the news was announced on Thursday the man most devastated in some ways was Perez himself. As he had not been expecting it somehow. Not after Kyiv.
Yet it had been common knowledge that as he values La Liga almost more than Europe given the rivalry with Barcelona it continues to be a barometer domestically for Madridistas. This year Real Madrid were not even within touching distance of Barca lagging 17 points behind them when the Catalan club were declared campeones. Perhaps Perez had applied added pressure on Zidane, the man he encrusted after Benítez, and who in his first role at the top table accumulated 9 titles. La Liga: 2016–17; Super Copa de España: 2017 UEFA Champions League: 2015–16, 2016–17, 2017–18 UEFA Super Cup: 2016, 2017 and FIFA Club World Cup: 2016, 2017.
An impressive palmarès for an apprentice manager and one who the club’s fans thought hoped might remain to establish a dynasty akin to that of Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United or Arsene Wenger at Arsenal. But football isn’t like that these days, longevity is not easy given the tumultuous daily pressure, and a shrewd Zidane saw that it could only be downhill from here on in following victory in Kyiv. Also facing a squad in need of changes with Karin Benzema and Sergio Ramos on the wrong side of thirty, and other player unrest in the shape of Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo
On Thursday Zizou sensibly decided it was time to get out of Dodge.
Zidane - Real Madrid
La Liga: 2016–17
Supercopa de España: 2017
UEFA Champions League: 2015–16, 2016–17, 2017–18
UEFA Super Cup: 2016, 2017
FIFA Club World Cup: 2016, 2017
Miguel Munoz - Real Madrid
European Cup: 1959–60, 1965–66
Intercontinental Cup: 1960
La Liga: 1960–61, 1961–62, 1962–63, 1963–64, 1964–65, 1966–67, 1967–68, 1968–69, 1971–72
Copa del Rey: 1961–62, 1969–70
UEFA Cup Winners' Cup: Runner-up 1970–71