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Opinion: Zidane reveals his human side as he bows out on top

May 31, 2018

Zinedine Zidane made reference to the pressures of managing Real Madrid when he stunned the football world by announcing his departure. DW’s Michael Da Silva says it takes a wise man to know when to quit.

Zinedine Zidane, Trainer Real Madrid
Image: Getty Images/D. Doyle

While the shock of Zinedine Zidane's departure still reverberates around the football community, one thing is for sure — Zidane has gone out on the crest of a wave.

It is a rare luxury for a coach to depart safe in the knowledge that things were unlikely to get any better, and five days after a wild night in Kyiv brought an unprecedented third successive Champions League title, Zidane leaves with a near-perfect record of achievement.

Read more: Zidane leaves Real Madrid five days after winning the Champions League

Zidane's final press conference in Madrid was arranged at 90 minutes' notice and the assembled Madrid press corps absorbed the surprise news. The Frenchman recalled not just the good times of his two-and-a-half--year tenure, but offered an interesting insight into the pressures of coaching the most successful club side in Europe and the impact defeat has on the psyche.

Kommentarbild Da Silva Michael
DW's Michael Da Silva

'Tough moments'

"I can't forget about the hard moments. We have just won the Champions League, but the tough moments make you think,” Zidane revealed candidly. "The worst moment was losing against Leganes in the Copa del Rey quarter-final, that stays with me.”

It's easily forgotten in the febrile world of top level football that coaches and players are humans and even the most successful and assured professionals can be eroded by a fear of failure. There's no job in football that is as high-pressured as the Real Madrid hot seat, and the fact that Zidance graced the white shirt for five years as a player mean he knows that this is about as good as it gets.

Zidane's open reference to the burden of pressure at Real Madrid should also make the club think about their approach of firing coaches for little or no reason. Carlo Ancelotti in 2015, Vincent del Bosque in 2003 and Jupp Heynckes in 1998 were all fired by the club after winning the Champions League or La Liga, and Zidane is acutely aware that things can unravel much faster than they were built.

Instead, the 45-year-old has been shrewd to the last. The pressure to win a fourth Champions League would have been almost too great to bear, with the possibility to fail becoming greater than the opportunity to succeed. With success comes the expectation of success, and even at Real Madrid serial triumphs are unsustainable. Instead he follows in the footsteps of Pep Guardiola and Alex Ferguson, who also walked away when there was nothing else to prove.

The contenders

Großbritannien Mauricio Pochettino, Manager Tottenham Hotspur
Tottenham Hotspur coach Mauricio Pochettino is among the contenders to replace Zidane at Real MadridImage: Getty Images/M. Regan

For Real Madrid and their president Florentino Perez, the search for Zidane's replacement starts here. Tottenham Hotspur coach Mauricio Pochettino is the early frontrunner having impressed during his time at Tottenham, with Chelsea coach Antonio Conte also being mentioned.

But Los Blancos may decide to promote from within as they did when they plucked Zidane from the B team. That approach would make former player Guti one of the favorites. The 41-year-old is currently in charge of the club's Under 19 team and is highly rated at Madrid, but whether he is ready to make that step up is another question.

The other option is a left field appointment in the shape of Arsene Wenger, who recently left Arsenal after 22 years in charge. There's also Maurizio Sarri, the Napoli firebrand who led them to within touching distance of their first Serie A title in 28 years but has since been replaced by Carlo Ancelotti.

Whoever Madrid choose will have impossibly large shoes to fill and must be ready to live their life in a goldfish bowl. Unlike those before him, Zidane has survived the examination and has enhanced his reputation immeasurably in the process.