Zinedine Zidane has resigned as head coach of Real Madrid just days after leading the Spanish club to a third straight Champions League trophy.
The 45-year-old Frenchman delivered Real to their fourth European Cup in five years – and third under his management – by masterminding victory over Liverpool in Kiev on Saturday.
However, the fact that Real could only finish third in LaLiga had led to persistent speculation about his long-term future and on Thursday morning a press conference was hastily arranged so Zidane could reveal he had decided to step down.
In an address which was broadcast on Marca’s official Facebook page, Zidane said: “I have taken the decision to not continue going into the next season. For me and for everybody, I think the moment to change has arrived. It was not an easy decision.
“I will be close to this club for the rest of my life. I want to thank the fans, who always supported me both as a coach and a player. There were tough moments during the season and although I was sometimes whistled at, I want to thank the fans.
“This is a beautiful moment as we have just won a third straight Champions League and I have now reflected and made this decision. Even the players need this change, I must thank them too.”
Real president Florentino Perez, who accompanied Zidane at the press conference, said: “This was a totally unexpected decision, Zidane informed me of his choice yesterday. I thank him for the work he has done.”
Zidane, the former Real, Juventus and Bordeaux midfielder, was understood to be under contract in Madrid until 2020.
Stepping up from managing the ‘Castilla’ B team, he replaced Rafael Benitez in January 2016 and although Real were runners-up to Barcelona at the end of the league campaign, he toasted European glory as city rivals Atletico Madrid were vanquished after penalties in Milan.
Zidane followed up his maiden Champions League crown as a coach with a LaLiga title and in June 2017 his side delivered a more emphatic European Cup final triumph as his former employers Juve were humbled 4-1 in Cardiff.
Although Real lost only two of their first 15 league matches in the recently concluded Spanish championship, Ernesto Valverde’s Barca were able to run away with the league following their vital 3-0 El Clasico win at the Bernabeu in December.
Zidane did stabilise results and duly blazed a trail to Kiev in the continental competition, but reports of dissatisfaction with his approach to domestic matters – namely the handling of star forward Gareth Bale, who has publicly expressed his own unhappiness with a reduced role – meant for regular rumours of a potential exit.
The quest to find a high-profile successor will now commence. Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino, former Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger and the Italian Maurizio Sarri, most recently of Napoli, have all been linked with the Bernabeu hotseat.
It remains to be seen whether Zidane will opt to take a break from the game or pursue a fresh challenge immediately. There are limited top-level vacancies available in European club football at present, but the fallout from this summer’s World Cup in Russia might present a first international challenge to the Marseille-born coach.