Zidane stepping down as Real coach

GRANADA, SPAIN - MAY 13: Zinedine Zidane, Manager of Real Madrid looks on following the La Liga Santander match between Granada CF and Real Madrid at Estadio Nuevo Los Carmenes on May 13, 2021 in Granada, Spain. Sporting stadiums around Spain remain under strict restrictions due to the Coronavirus Pandemic as Government social distancing laws prohibit fans inside venues resulting in games being played behind closed doors. (Photo by Quality Sport Images/Getty Images)

MADRID: Zinedine Zidane is stepping down as Real Madrid coach, again.

The club said on Thursday the Frenchman is leaving his job, a few days after a season in which Real failed to win a title for the first time in more than a decade.

The club said Zidane decided to bring an end to his current spell as Real’s coach.

“We must now respect his decision and express our gratitude for his professionalism, dedication and passion over the years and what he means to Real Madrid,” the club said in a statement.

Zidane had a contract through June 2022.

“Zidane is one of Real Madrids great icons and his legacy extends beyond what he has achieved as a coach and player at our club,” Real said. “He is aware that he has a place in the hearts of the Real Madrid fans and that he will always have a home at Real Madrid.”

Zidane left the club for the first time after leading Real to one of their most successful runs from 2016-2018, with three consecutive Champions League titles. In his two years and five months in charge, Real won a total of nine trophies, including two Club World Cups, two UEFA Super Cups, one La Liga and one Super Copa de Espana.

He only won the La Liga title once and a Super Copa in his second stint.

He quit the first time less than a week after leading the team to their third straight Champions League title, saying it was time for a change and that he didn’t see it clearly that the club would keep winning with him in charge.

But he returned in March 2019 on a three-year deal after the club sacked his two successors, Julen Lopetegui and Santiago Solari. A La Liga title followed in the Covid-19-affected 2019-20 season.

Real captain Sergio Ramos reacted to the news in an Instagram post, calling Zidane “the one and only” while French defender Raphael Varane said his compatriot was “more than a coach, a mentor”.

You helped me develop as a player and as a man and you took this golden generation to the highest level on several occasions,” said Varane, who Zidane helped sign from Lens in 2011.

Goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois added: “It has been an honour to have a legend such as you as a coach. Thanks for everything you taught me, for the confidence you always showed in me and for what we have won together.”

Striker Karim Benzema thanked Zidane in a tweet “for everything you have given me both professionally and personally.”

“I am proud and honoured to have been able to advance and grow with the man that you are. See you,” he added along with the hashtags “#legend#king”.

Former Juventus and Chelsea boss Antonio Conte is likely to be in the frame to replace Zidane, having walked away from Inter Milan on Wednesday after leading the club to the Serie A title.

Conte was a target of Real Madrid President Florentino Perez in 2018, according to media reports at the time. Ramos suggested, however, that a disciplinarian style might not go down too well at the Bernabeu, alluding to Jose Mourinho’s tense reign at the club.

Club great Raul, who is in charge of their reserve side Real Madrid Castilla, is also a candidate for the job.

Zidane has a history of making surprise announcements: as a player, he initially announced his retirement from international football in 2004 before coming back for the 2006 World Cup, after which he retired for good following his infamous headbutt on Italy’s Marco Materazzi as France lost in the final.

He may now take another break from football although there has been talk of him either taking charge of the French national team or taking the helm at Juventus, where he spent five years as a player.

Juventus though have suffered financial pain as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and might not be in a position to entice him.

And Didier Deschamps is likely to remain France coach until the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, barring a disastrous performance at the European Championship that kicks off next month.