The three-time Champions League-winning coach left his post last week and signed off with an open letter about the club which pulled no punches
Whoever the next Real Madrid manager is, they should consider themselves warned.
Zinedine Zidane, arguably the club’s biggest legend between his time as a player and a manager, set out his grievances in a brutal open letter, published in Madrid newspaper AS on Monday.
Some likened it to his headbutt on Marco Materazzi in the 2006 World Cup final, but this was no rash moment of madness. It was Thursday last week Zidane quit his job as Real Madrid coach, having mulled it over for some time, before his statement was published.
The Frenchman spoke of his love for the club, the supporters and even his gratitude to president Florentino Perez, for signing him in 2001. But after acknowledging his special 20-year connection with the club, Zidane pinpointed Perez and the painful situation the president put him in, exposing the chief’s behind-the-scenes machinations and the club’s situation in the summer market.
“I’m leaving because I feel that the club didn’t give me the support I needed, it didn’t offer me the support to construct a project for the medium or long term,” wrote Zidane.
Whether it’s Antonio Conte, Mauricio Pochettino, Raul Gonzalez, or anyone else who steps into Zidane’s sizeable shoes at Santiago Bernabeu, it seems clear they will have to work without significant investment.
Madrid were deeply hurt by the coronavirus pandemic, in part leading to their dastardly European Super League scheme – something they still aren’t giving up on, and don’t have the money to make big moves in the transfer market. They are paying new defender David Alaba a big salary but he arrived for free at the end of his Bayern Munich contract.
With various Real Madrid players reaching the final stages of their careers, the club needs an overhaul but doesn’t have the resources to do it. Zidane believed he had taken the team as far as he could, and without backing in the market. That said, a new sporting director in Luis Campos is, at least, now close to being finalised.
This season Madrid came up short when it mattered, falling in the Champions League semi-finals and losing out on the final day to city rivals Atletico in La Liga. It was the first season in 11 years without a trophy for Los Blancos.
However, darker still was Zidane’s analysis of Perez and the club’s behaviour when Madrid were struggling. The way they treated him rankles fiercely.
“Here they have forgotten something very important, everything we built each day, everything I contributed to the relationship with the players, with the 150 people who work with the team,” continued the French coach.
“You have human beings, emotions and life and I got the impression that these things were not being appreciated, and people forgot that’s how you maintain the dynamic of a great club. I even felt in a certain way that I was being reproached.”
Zidane, whose best skill as a coach is man management, was proud of how he dealt with both players and staff, considering it essential to his success. The treble Champions League-winning manager did not believe this skill was appreciated by those at the top at Madrid.
We’ve seen it before, in the way Perez breaks with managers and players, even club legends, with Iker Casillas one of those who notoriously got a poor goodbye from the club, while Sergio Ramos may be another if he doesn’t agree a new deal.
Zidane was particularly hurt by the pressure applied after Madrid’s shaky start to the season, with rumours being leaked to the media over his future ahead of a crucial week of games, against Sevilla, Borussia Monchengladbach and Atletico Madrid in December.
“I am not asking for privileges, of course not, but a bit of memory,” said Zidane. “That’s why it hurt so much when I read in the press, after one defeat, that I was going to be sacked if I didn’t win the next game.
“It hurt me and all my team because these messages that were intentionally leaked to the media created negative feelings with the squad, they created doubts and misunderstandings.”
If that is how Perez treats a bona fide legend, what will he do if Conte or Pochettino take over and the team struggles?
Of course, like Zidane’s departure, the idea that Perez makes his media connections work for him is not a surprise, and has been known for years. In fact, it has sprung into action once more.
“Zidane writes this letter with a grin as sharp as the knife he uses to stab Real Madrid and, especially, their president and his friend, Florentino Perez, in the back,” wrote Raul Varela in Marca.
“All the pride that comes with getting through such a tough season has been eradicated by a letter. Zidane’s letter.”
That Zidane would walk away from the final year of his big contract, foregoing a reported €12 million (£10m/$15m), certainly indicates he’s not crying wolf. His howl, though, might put off those eyeing the poisoned chalice.