Zinedine Zidane leaving Real Madrid surprised cipher. After all, he ‘d done it before. Twice. As a player in 2006 and as director in 2018, he walked off from the club, with no mother and with no interest in negotiating a return. so when the news broke that Zidane had decided to leave again — on the even of May 26, while the football world was watching Villarreal beat Manchester United on penalties in the Europa League final — there was no feel of shock, though it was surprising to see Carlo Ancelotti return as his surrogate. If you ‘d been paying attention, you knew that Zidane was never going to settle down and build a dynasty at Real Madrid. He is n’t that classify of coach and Real, with its sky-high ambitions, big spend and short-run decision-making, is n’t that sort of clubhouse. The signals could not have been much clear, either. Months and months of hints — an impend need for change, an insistence on live in the here and now, a judgment of dismissal of meaningless, long-run contracts — had left little room for misinterpretation. It was more of a surprise on Monday when, having turned down the cabaret ‘s offer of a farewell news league, Zidane made a second base decisiveness : to explain himself in an open letter published in the newspaper Diario AS.

In 849 carefully chosen words, Zidane set out why he felt he had no choice but to leave. He was n’t “ abandoning ship, ” he said. He was n’t tired. He was going because the relationship of hope between him, the club and president Florentino Perez had broken. Zidane is leaving with his conscience clear, sources close to him have told ESPN, convinced that he and his players did everything possible to deliver on the pitch in an inordinately challenging 2020-21 season. There is disappointment and regret excessively, vitamin a well as a feel of unfinished business, that he was ineffective to see the project he ‘d envisaged when returning to the club in 2019, less than 12 months after his beginning exit. ESPN has spoken to multiple sources cheeseparing to Zidane and inside Real Madrid, from the board room to the dressing room, to dissect his departure. How angry is he with Perez and the persistent Madrid media ? How close did he come to being fired before he abruptly resigned ? Which were the key relationships, and kinship breakdowns, that influenced his decisiveness ? And what comes adjacent for coach and baseball club ? “I’m leaving because I feel the club is no longer giving me the trust I need. It isn’t offering me the support to build something in the medium to long term… I would have liked my relationship with the club and the president in recent months to have been a little different than that of other coaches.” — Zinedine Zidane, May 31, 2021 Zidane ‘s relationship with Perez is complex. There is genuine gratitude for signing him as a musician — “ I ca n’t say no to the president, ” he said on his return in 2019 to manage a second time — and the percept of a debt owed. Zidane ‘s family have been based in Madrid ever since he arrived as a player in 2001, with all four of his sons besides passing through the baseball club ‘s academy. “ spending 20 years at Madrid has been the most beautiful thing that has happened to me, ” he wrote in Monday ‘s overt letter. “ I know that I owe it entirely to Florentino Perez who took a gamble on me in 2001, who fought for me when certain people were against it … I will always be grateful to the presi for that. Always. ” – La Liga on ESPN+: Stream LIVE games and replays (U.S. only)
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– ESPN+ viewer’s guide: Bundesliga, Serie A, MLS, FA Cup and more Perez valued Zidane ‘s function as a legendary actor, a Galactico ( “ out of this universe, ” in reference to the players Real Madrid constantly look to sign ) icon and a ball-shaped ambassador for the stigmatize. He besides grew to appreciate his bent for winning Champions Leagues : Zidane and Real not only won it in back-to-back seasons, but then won it a third straight time. But there were plenty of questions from the begin, the most fundamental being : was Zidane actually a thoroughly director ? His charismatic aura was undeniable, but surely that would n’t be enough at the highest degree, elder figures at the Bernabeu wondered. In January 2016, they were bequeath ( or desperate ) adequate to take a opportunity. Those doubts were undermined as Zidane ‘s managerial achievements quickly piled up, reaching their pinnacle with 2017 ‘s league and Champions League double, but they never entirely went aside. It did n’t matter that he ‘d won more european titles than any other veridical Madrid director before him ; this group of players were indeed experience and so talented that some executives felt they basically managed themselves. It did n’t truly matter who was in tear, vitamin a farseeing as they did n’t rock the boat. Zidane was mindful of that perception. even when he left, successors Julen Lopetegui and Santiago Solari failed and Zidane came back again to put out the fuel — something he did n’t have to do, risking his Champions League bequest as one of just three coaches in men ‘s soccer history to win three european titles, and as the first always to do it in three consecutive seasons — he continued to be taken for granted. He received a “ miss of confirm ” from the very top of the clubhouse, sources told ESPN, and felt “ alone ” at cardinal moments. He did n’t mind being the only voice speaking up on the cabaret ‘s behalf in newsworthiness conferences — “ it ‘s part of the subcontract ”, a source said — but he did n’t enjoy it, either. It was lone when the lack of support Zidane had identified turned into something benighted that relationships began to sour. namely, Zidane felt he was being measuredly undermined via leaks to journalists close to Perez approximately just how close he was to losing his job ; sources told ESPN that this was what had most annoy Zidane, a fact confirmed by his open letter ‘s point complaints about “ messages intentionally leaked to the media. ”Perez, left, and Zidane, right had a cordial but tense relationship, one that fractured as Zidane felt his boss was undermining him via leaked reports to the Real Madrid-friendly media. Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images The friction between Perez and Zidane felt desirable of a soap opera or prestige drama, and three moments during his second spell in mission stand out. First, a Champions League group stage match with Galatasaray in October 2019, after Madrid had been beaten by Paris Saint-Germain and scrapped to an unconvincing attract with Club Brugge. Out of nowhere, the apparition of a return for Jose Mourinho — out of a job at the prison term and for whom Madrid ‘s president of the united states still held a common mullein despite a dissentious three-year spell from 2010 to 2013 — was raised by El Mundo, a newspaper with stopping point links to Perez. doubly in the 2020-21 season did reports surface in the media of an at hand coach transfer, and both angered Zidane. First in October 2020, before a must-win Clasico in Barcelona ( they did win, 3-1 ), and again in December when a first-ever Champions League group stage elimination looked probably. Zidane, for his depart, insisted he would not resign under any circumstances. “ I ‘ve never thought I was untouchable, ” he said in December. “ The golf club will do what it has to do, as always. ”


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“ I ‘ll never be Madrid ‘s [ Sir Alex ] Ferguson, that ‘s for sure, ” he chuckled late that calendar month, referring to Manchester United ‘s iconic coach after Zidane and Real Madrid racked up three job-saving wins against Sevilla, Borussia Monchengladbach and Atletico Madrid in the straddle of a week. “ I do n’t know how long I ‘ll be here, so I do n’t evening think about it. ” Throughout the 2020-21 season, a crisis was never far away. A perfective storm in Jan. 2021 saw Madrid lose to Athletic Bilbao in the spanish Supercopa, and be knocked out of the Copa del Rey by third-tier Alcoyano, before Zidane tested incontrovertible for COVID-19. He had to self-isolate, which he former described as “ being locked in a cage for two weeks. ” Zidane had fourth dimension to reflect and, crucially, read more reports of how close up he was to losing his job after a loss to Levante on Jan. 30 left real 10 points off league leaders Atletico. His first news conference back on Feb. 5 was incendiary, at least by Zidane ‘s standards. The normally taciturn director had some premeditated things to get off his chest. “ We deserve to be here until the end of the season, ” he snapped. “ After that, a set of things will happen. But as a team we ‘re not going to give up … Are you serious, asking me if I ‘ll resign ? everyday people say I ‘m out. last year we won the league. We did, Real Madrid. We have the right to fight for our title this year at least. “ future class they ‘ll have to do things, change, possibly. But this year, we have the right to fight. Let us fight. This team won the league last year, not 10 years ago. A bit of deference for that … Say it to my face : I want you to go. We want you to go. But you have to say it. ” Zidane ‘s bombast had been aimed at Perez and the crusade, not the players, but the team responded, going on a 19-game unbeaten run. Yet senior figures at the club told ESPN that Zidane “ could n’t complain ” about anything, as they saw it. He had been given near “ absolve predominate ” over two-and-a-half years, they said. Rumours about his future did n’t go away, but that was down to Zidane ‘s own refusal to commit, not leaks from higher up.

“ I do n’t look beyond what I ‘m doing now. I do n’t plan ahead at all, ” he said in March after fielding far questions about his future. “ You could sign hera for 10 years and you ‘re out tomorrow. ” By early May, Zidane ‘s mind was more or less made up. He planned to leave, however the season turned out. “ What I can say is I ‘ll make it easy for the club, constantly, ” he let slip on May 8. A week later, he veered off script. “ I ‘m regretful, I know what I say is bore, but it ‘s true, I do n’t know what will happen, ” he began. “ You talk about me leaving in 2006 and as passenger car ( in 2018 ), ” he said. “ You might think I walk aside from responsibility or leave when things get complicated, but no, never. “ What I do is give everything, to the end, and then the here and now comes to change, not fair for me, for the good of the players excessively … I do n’t leave because it ‘s easy. No, there are moments when you have to stay, and others when you have to go. ” Twelve days after that, he was gone .Zidane was fairly criticized for preferring trusted veterans over expensive young stars with potential, but by the end of his second tenure as manager, it was clear he’d taken them as far as they could go. David S. Bustamante/Soccrates/Getty Images Zidane ‘s big-game record as director was extraordinary, something that was true from the very starting signal. He won his inaugural game in charge. He won his first Champions League game. He won his beginning Clasico. And he never looked back. But he besides dislikes much of what goes along with being a top-level modern coach : the media noise, the short-termism, the pose. But he loves being on the train grind with his players. barely a school term went by at Valdebebas without the 48-year-old coach getting involved in the introductory rondo, or passing moves, that class depart of the warm-up. He has said before that in his principal, he ‘s still a musician, and for that cause, Zidane always prioritised police squad harmony above everything else. “ Everyone is significant, ” he would repeat infinitely. The atmosphere had to be correct. That meant his render as coach in 2019 came with strings attached, as Zidane expected a series of conditions to be met. Near the peak of that number was what one reference termed an “ immediate ” passing for Gareth Bale. The relationship between the two had already reached its crisis point around the 2018 Champions League final. Zidane dropped Bale in Kiev, alone to see him come on and score doubly to win the trophy, about in cattiness of his bus. Zidane left days former, and Bale stayed. When Zidane returned, there was no prognosis of reconciliation. A quick resolution to the Bale problem was n’t the merely demand that went unmet. Zidane wanted the club to prioritise the sign language of a herculean box-to-box actor that he felt necessary to complete the team ‘s midfield. “ He had Marcos Llorente and did n’t want him, ” a generator inside the club told ESPN. The coach would have preferred Paul Pogba, with his staff pointing to data they said proved Pogba would out-perform Llorente “ in top-level games. ” But Pogba was deemed excessively expensive by the club, and never arrived. Nor did anyone else of a like profile. Zidane had to use Federico Valverde, a predict player but at an earlier stage of his career, in the function. There were frustrations from the cabaret ‘s side, besides. A long-standing complaint, endlessly voiced by aged club sources, was Zidane ‘s allege mismanagement and miss of religion in expensive new stars, as he preferred the players he could rely on. His relationship with captain Sergio Ramos, for example, was one of reciprocal respect. The pair had briefly played together, a adolescent Ramos joining Madrid in 2005 in time for Zidane ‘s concluding season. Karim Benzema — the most crucial forward in the team after the 2018 passing of Cristiano Ronaldo — idolised Zidane, describing him as “ like an older brother. ” Zidane called Benzema the best french hitter of all meter. The midfield trio of Casemiro, Modric and Toni Kroos loved Zidane excessively. And he loved them. When the passenger car ‘s job was saved by the 2-0 Madrid bowler hat gain in Dec. 2020, Zidane could n’t contain himself. Kroos, Modric and Benzema were “ degree fahrenheit — -ing capital, ” he gushed. Zidane ‘s loyalty was, in the cabaret ‘s watch, a failing. He persevered with Isco and Marcelo — outstanding in 2016 and 2017 — long after their on-field performances and attitudes had drastically deteriorated. He besides backed goalkeeper Keylor Navas when Florentino Perez wanted to sign Kepa Arrizabalaga from Athletic Bilbao in Jan. 2018, forcing the golf club to ditch a deal that was just waiting to be signed off. When it came to players such as Vinicius Junior, Zidane ‘s staff called for “ patience ”. That was n’t acceptable to senior figures at the golf club, who were exasperated by the lack of affair for a number of expensive youngsters. These prospects had to become “ realities ” and soon, club sources said, as they doubted Zidane was the man for the occupation. How many young players had sincerely improved under him ? How many had left, permanently or on loanword, only to prove their worth elsewhere ? The friction over this publish was a sweetheart, background harkat-ul-mujahidin of discontentment throughout Zidane ‘s two spells in charge. The clubhouse cited his handle of ahead Luka Jovic, a player Zidane had specifically asked for and promptly gave up on. Midfielder Martin Odegaard was another sheath in point, recalled early from his successful Real Sociedad loan at Zidane ‘s imperativeness, lone to become frustrated at his limited opportunities and leave again, joining Arsenal for the 2020-21 season. When the going got tough, Zidane turned to his hear and trust veterans, time and clock again, and hoped that their legs could take it. Over 60 injuries — counting those that forced players to miss games — in 2020-21 suggested that what had previously been his greatest persuasiveness, making the most of his team, had failed him. After they exited the Champions League with defeat to Chelsea in the semifinals, there was, if anything, amazingly fiddling criticism of Zidane and the team. The consensus was that an exhausted squad ‘s limits had been reached, angstrom much as the limits of Zidane ‘s own tactical acumen up against Thomas Tuchel and the eventual winners. Each Real Madrid director tends to be a reaction to the last. A street fighter guy is often followed by a indulgent touch, and vice versa. There is a ache from club president of the united states Perez for mano dura mater — “ a strong hand ” — and for person to take back the world power from the dress room, putting the players in their place. That explains the appeal of Mourinho after all these years. It besides explains the longstanding links to Antonio Conte, veto by the dress board in Oct. 2018, when Sergio Ramos famously said that “ deference is earned, not imposed. ” The retort of Carlo Ancelotti this workweek contradicts all that. The chief complaint against the italian — whom everybody likes — when he was sacked in 2015 was that his sessions were n’t demanding adequate, that there was a lack of asperity and discipline, the players alternatively allowed to rule the roost. Yet Ancelotti ‘s rehiring is alone actually possible because he left on good terms. Zidane did that the first base time, but he wo n’t be back again. His overt letter was rich with intent : it was an explanation of why he walked, an exert in excuse for his actions and, most importantly, it was a call for cultural change at Real Madrid. It was besides a burn of bridges, as Perez does not tolerate such public protest.

Zidane has constantly been an unconventional football figure. It was true as a player — who moves the manner he did ? — and it ‘s been true since. He is not national to the same incentives or restraints as his managerial contemporaries, though that ‘s not to suggest that Zidane does n’t care. He does, passionately. He is n’t defined by the job, nor beholden to it. He does n’t need it. He just loves staying close to football, working aboard top players. “ I appreciate it every day, ” he said this month. “ The best thing is being with the players. I love watching them play. I get emotional. ” His options to operate at a alike level — coaching the best of the best — are nowadays limit and only two jobs in truth make sense : Juventus, who have just opted for Max Allegri, and the France national team. It remains to be seen if, or when, he ‘ll try again .