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The Zidane era was special

Athletic Club v Real Madrid - La Liga Santander Photo by Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images

Supposedly, parting is a sweet sorrow. I am yet to find the sweet part of Zidane’s latest departure.

One can never say never, but there is a finality to this goodbye compared to one he made just over three years ago. In 2018, he told a packed press room his surprising decision, assured everyone that our paths would cross again and exited stage left. What has unfolded in the last 18 months made such a press conference impossible as the Frenchman skipped out the backdoor with a Communicado Ofical announcing the decision on Thursday morning.

This exit had been hinted at for a while in spite of his most trusted players best efforts and, in finishing the season trophy less, one can’t help but feel this is the end of an era.

Assessing that era and its legacy is difficult, not because it is complicated but because it is brutally simple. Three consecutive Champions League crowns, two league titles, the second most successful manager in Real Madrid history, the list goes on. There is nothing new to say about Zinedine Zidane, his case was made when he left the first time and in avoiding (with great title winning panache) disaster in his second era, there is no need for reassessment.

In the present day, plenty of people will have points of contention with that statement. His trust of the club’s vanguard, complicated relationship with youth and some pretty dreary football in patches across his second tenure are all valid criticisms of our Zidane. However, the history books, especially Real Madrid’s history books, rarely bring up the problematic if it distracts from a good story. Zidane legacy is set in stone, the only fatal flaw is that he runs into a statistical outlier like Miguel Muñoz to stop him from being the outright best.

Muñoz was as much of a freak as the players he coached. The former captain was appointed at a time when the club sacked managers like they grew on trees, stayed for 14 years and then resigned when he couldn’t replicate the successes of the 1960s. Real Madrid have returned to the norm since then, something proven in the fact that Zidane and Del Bosque are the only other men to have broken the 200 game mark managing the club.

This is interesting because despite the clear advantages staying at a well managed footballing giant can bring you, a much shorter tenure hasn’t stopped Zidane challenging for being the best ever Madrid manager. The Frenchman is the most successful Real Madrid manager in European history with three titles. Not only is he the only coach to have reached three finals in a row, he’s one of only three Real Madrid coaches to have managed consecutive finals full stop.

His two league titles pale in comparison to Munoz’s nine, but its still enough to put him joint third in terms of league titles won in the all time record. In fact, of the 17 Real Madrid managers who won league titles with the club, only seven (including Zidane) won more than one. Zidane is among the four who managed to combine that domestic success with European glory.

All this is to say that though Real Madrid are a highly successful institution, few of its coaches fairly reflect that success. It seems more likely that you'd be sacked with a Supercup to your name than repeat what the likes Zizou has achieved. He has left an indelible mark on the club’s history, a unique statement for a coach. Gracias Zizou.