Revitalised Zidane raring to go again for Real

Real Madrid's newly appointed coach Zinedine Zidane posing with his wife Veronique after giving a press conference on Monday. The Frenchman has signed a three-year contract, just nine months after he resigned from the club, having led them to an hist
Real Madrid's newly appointed coach Zinedine Zidane posing with his wife Veronique after giving a press conference on Monday. The Frenchman has signed a three-year contract, just nine months after he resigned from the club, having led them to an historic third consecutive Champions League triumph.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

MADRID • Zinedine Zidane stood for 29 minutes fielding questions on Monday, but all of them really came down to two: Why now? And, what next?

Santiago Solari had been sacked as coach of Real Madrid and, in his place, Zidane returned on a three-year deal, 284 days after he left the club with three straight Champions League trophies in tow.

On May 31 last year, sitting next to Real president Florentino Perez, the Frenchman had said the team would not keep winning with him in charge and "needed a change".

But they looked lost without him, first under sacked Spain coach Julen Lopetegui and then Solari, who watched on as Real's season went up in smoke in six days.

The Argentinian's exit was inevitable, but the idea any suitable replacement would take over for 11 LaLiga games, with nothing to preside over except the aftermath of a crisis, seemed fanciful.

Real's distress call was, however, too great for Zidane to resist.

"When the president called me, the first thing I thought was, 'Go'," said the World Cup winner.

Which begs the question: what has changed? Rest may have refreshed motivation, particularly for Zidane, who revealed he had "never been far away".

The 46-year-old has stayed in Madrid, attending a handful of matches, while three of his sons still play for the club.

For him, the move back might have been less of a leap than it seems from the outside.

Yet the greatest lure may be that the team have been failing. For the best coaches and players, there is always self-belief, a sense that no problem is too big to solve.

Zidane knew he would return with more authority than before, despite his previous exploits.

The suspicion then was that he was just a popular face to keep the ship steady while star players engineered their own success.

As two coaches came and went, his stock rose with every chance missed, every seat left empty and every point Barcelona gained.

"I returned because the president called me. I love him and I love this club," he said. "I left the club because I needed it, for me, though at the time the club did not.

"After eight months, I want to coach again. For now, we just have to focus on what's left of the season and then see what we can do for the next years.

"We will change things, for sure, for the years to come."

Although Zidane could have waited until the close season, the job might not have been available.

However, former Real president Ramon Calderon told Sky Sports that despite Jose Mourinho's eagerness to have another crack at the hot seat, the club's "dressing room leaders" were against his return.

The Spaniard added: "He left a lot of problems and he would have been another problem to the ones we already have if he had come."

And those problems are aplenty despite Perez's boasts of a "new glorious era" after ushering in Zidane.

The latter will begin his new reign under no illusion even though Spanish daily AS has declared he will have "unprecedented power" at the Bernabeu, with full control over all aspects of the team.

Last term, Barcelona romped to the LaLiga title 17 points ahead of Real and the gap is already 12 with more than two months left.

With the Independent claiming Zidane has been given a £300 million (S$533 million) spending war chest and AS reporting he has been promised "three superstar signings", the challenge for him is to find the balance between reform and revolution.

Gareth Bale is understood to be less than enthused by his return, and that feeling is mutual, with Spanish football expert Guillem Balague telling BBC Sport Zidane "does not want to work with him", so a summer parting appears likely.

That could pave the way for Chelsea forward Eden Hazard, who by then will have one year left on his deal, with The Daily Telegraph saying yesterday that Real have already made an approach.

Paris Saint-Germain's strike duo of Neymar and Kylian Mbappe have also been touted, and Perez told reporters on Monday he "would like them both".

However, there will be no return for another prodigal son after the Spaniard nixed the idea of re-signing Juventus' Cristiano Ronaldo, who left Madrid for Italy last July after a nine-season spell, insisting he is "fine where he is".

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 13, 2019, with the headline 'Revitalised Zidane raring to go again for Real'. Print Edition | Subscribe