Zinedine Zidane has shocked the football world by resigning as Real Madrid coach just days after winning a third consecutive Champions League with the La Liga giants.
At a news conference scheduled at short notice on Thursday, the 45-year-old confirmed he would step down following Saturday’s 3-1 victory over Liverpool in Kiev saw him become the first coach ever to lift the European Cup three years in a row.
Zidane, 45, stepped up from his former position of Castilla youth team coach in January 2016, and has finished each season since by lifting the Champions League trophy, while also clinching the 2016-17 La Liga title along with two Club World Cups, two UEFA Super Cups and one Spanish Super Cup.
That was questioned midway through the 2017-18 campaign, as Madrid lost December’s Clasico 3-0 at home as Barcelona eased to the La Liga title, and Los Blancos were also embarrassingly knocked out of the Copa del Rey at the Bernabeu by Leganes.
Progress in the Champions League past major rivals Paris Saint-Germain, Juventus and Bayern Munich and then Saturday’s win in Kiev — which extended Madrid’s record of European Cup triumphs to 13 — had appeared to ensure the Frenchman would continue in the job, and club president Florentino Perez had always backed his manager in public.
Cracks in his relationship with Perez had appeared during a midseason disagreement over whether to sign young Athletic Bilbao goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga, while Zidane himself had always spoken about how he knew no Madrid coach was guaranteed the job long-term and that the summer was likely to bring some changes at the club.
Attention will immediately turn to Zidane’s successor, with two of the previous leading candidates in Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino and Germany national team coach Joachim Low both having recently signed new extensions to their current deals.
Former Madrid star and France international Zidane was one of the greatest players of his generation, winning trophies including the 1998 World Cup, Euro 2000 and 2002 Champions League, as well as the 1998 Ballon d’Or and FIFA World Player of the Year prize in 1998, 2000 and 2003.
Zidane’s retirement as a Real Madrid player in 2006 also came as a surprise, when the then 33-year-old decided to hang up his boots in the aftermath of that year’s World Cup final despite having another year on his club contract.
Dermot Corrigan is a Madrid-based football writer who covers La Liga and the Spain national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @dermotmcorrigan