clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Zinedine Zidane’s Chapter In Real Madrid History — It’s Not About How It Ended

Reflecting on the shock of Zidane’s exit, and how it shouldn’t, in any way, dim the light on his heroic, record-breaking tenure.

Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Zinedine Yazid Zidane is a name inextricably tied to Real Madrid Club de Fútbol. The surprise announcement of his departure from the club has shaken the Madridismo universe to its core. The manager shepherded the legendary roster at his disposal to unimaginable heights – taking them to the summit of football’s mount Olympus and beyond. The undoubted head of the table and unquestionable steward of Madrid’s sacred temple stood up and bid adieu to the club. The cause of his desertion is said to be something akin to Real Madrid fatigue or a necessary step in the evolution of the club or simply knowing when to walk away.

How can a manager that has arguably driven the team to its greatest competitive success not be the best option going forward? How can the beloved and universally respected Zidane be anything less than the only option in moving the club in the direction it needs to go? These are questions for the man himself as those were his very words upon delivering the devastating blow to fans.

“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. We’ve seen that in LaLiga and the Copa. There have been great moments, but also many tough moments and I can’t forget those. 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.” - Zidane

It could very well be genuine. It could even be related to a personal matter and his decision would be entirely within his right. But there’s an eerie feeling that beneath the president’s smile and gracious affection as he accompanied his most treasured lieutenant at the Bernabeu conference room; beneath Florentino Perez’s apparent shock and Zidane’s perfectly (as always) manicured statement; beneath the story we’re being told of a man stepping aside for the good of his family despite leading them where they had never gone; that beneath all of the beauty and tenderness of the moment lies an ugly and disturbing truth. It is mindless speculation but it is also the necessary rationalization of perplexing news. This truth, if it exists, may never come out and maybe that’s for the better because this Pulitzer-calibre chapter in Real Madrid’s history is not about its enigmatic ending. It is about the intense flame lit by Ronaldo’s penalty in Milan. A flame that burned so hot, so brightly, and so expansively.

The legacy is defined by the records, the trophies, the spirit, and the Zidane way. The accomplishments under the French manager’s tenure are astounding. It was his masterpiece but one he did not care to sign. The last few seasons were not about its protagonist. They weren’t about Zidane’s ambitions or Zidane’s desires or Zidane’s needs. They were solely about collectively moving the needle and pushing the organization as far as it could go. They were about re-affirming Real Madrid’s values and principles. Those values and principles boil down to one word: winning. It is time to acknowledge that the masterpiece wasn’t created anonymously. The artist deserves his dues.

Zidane is one of the greatest to ever do it. His most publicly praised quality is his command and control of the dressing room. As shown by the outpouring of well wishes and gratitude from the players following the announcement, the manager had a symphony-like approach to dealing with his roster always seeming to find the right words at every moment and having the authority and presence to assert his ideas. His positive relationship with the players was supplemented by a dedicated shift towards a more balanced distribution of minutes. This gave players such as Vazquez, Asensio, Nacho and other second and third rotational options more prominence which in turn led to the players adding significant value with their contributions.

And lastly, Zidane built a system for the team that could navigate any terrain under any condition. It could go toe to toe with the best possession teams in the world and could switch to a more reactive counter-attacking style at the snap of a finger. He leveraged the enormous talent he had to work with while ensuring to make adjustments such as the diamond formation or Casemiro’s role that reinvigorated an already formidable side. He didn’t ask for the media’s praise and he didn’t need it. He didn’t seek to be seen as a tactical guru. He sought to win and win and win again and he did so relentlessly. He did everything in his power to make sure that Real Madrid was the last team standing – always. 149 games, 70% win ratio, 393 goals scored, and nine trophies later and there’s no question that he succeeded, exceedingly so.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the Managing Madrid Daily Roundup newsletter!

A daily roundup of Real Madrid news from Managing Madrid