Real Madrid have started their search for Zinedine Zidane’s replacement – but will face a challenge to lure Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino to the Bernabeu.
Less than a week after leading Los Blancos to Champions League glory for a third straight season with victory over Liverpool in Kiev, Zidane announced his shock departure.
Real president Florentino Perez maintained he had only heard of the head coach’s decision to quit late on Wednesday, with Zidane declaring it was “time to go out at the top” at Thursday’s hastily-convened press conference.
Despite their consistent European success, Zidane’s long-term future continued to be the subject of speculation during a disappointing LaLiga campaign which saw Real struggle to finish third, some 17 points behind their bitter rivals Barcelona.
Following the shock announcement, attention swiftly turned to who would be the man charged with leading the European champions next season as they look to wrestle back domestic dominance.
Pochettino agreed a new five-year contract with Spurs last week, but the former Espanyol and Southampton boss is said to be on Real’s shortlist.
Following another season of finishing in the top three of the Premier League, Tottenham – set to move back into a new redeveloped home stadium next season – remain determined to see Pochettino at the helm.
Press Association Sport understands there is no buy-out clause in the terms of Pochettino’s new deal and no verbal agreement with chairman Daniel Levy that the 46-year-old could leave should Real Madrid come calling.
Zidane was understood to be under contract at the Bernabeu until 2020.
The former Real and Juventus midfielder, though, felt the time was right to move on.
“I’m sure the decision makes no sense to a lot of people, but for me it does,” he said at a press conference, quoted on the club’s official website.
“It is time for a change, for the players too. After three years, it’s the right decision.
“It is a lot more simple than it seems, sometimes you have to know when to stop. I am doing this for the greater good of the team and I think if I stayed it would be hard to win again next year.
“I want to end this era at Real Madrid on a high. I did that as a player and I’m doing that now. I think this is the time to go out at the top.”
Real must now start an unexpected recruitment process, with the World Cup on the horizon before embarking on pre-season preparations.
Perez, who sat alongside Zidane on Thursday afternoon, said: “This was a totally unexpected decision, Zidane informed me of his choice yesterday. I thank him for the work he has done.”
As well as Pochettino, former Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger and Italian Maurizio Sarri, most recently of Napoli, have all been linked with the high-profile role, as has Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp.
Resolving the futures of Gareth Bale and star striker Cristiano Ronaldo will be priorities for the new boss.
Ronaldo joined the tributes, saying he was “proud” to have played for Zidane, while captain Sergio Ramos said his “legacy will never be erased.”
It remains to be seen whether Marseille-born Zidane will opt to take a break from the game or pursue a fresh challenge immediately.
Vacancies at top European clubs are currently limited, but the fallout from this summer’s World Cup in Russia might present a first international challenge to Zidane, who stepped up from managing the ‘Castilla’ B team to replace Rafael Benitez in January 2016.
For now, though, the 45-year-old Frenchman will take some time to consider his next move.
“I’m not going to work with another team for the moment. I’m not looking for another team,” Zidane said.