European champions Real Madrid are looking for a new head coach after Zinedine Zidane called time on his short but immensely successful reign at the Bernabeu.
On Saturday Zidane, the 45-year-old Frenchman, led Real to their fourth Champions League trophy in five years – and third under his management – by masterminding victory over Liverpool in Kiev.
However, a disappointing LaLiga campaign which saw Real struggle to finish third, 17 points behind their title-winning foes Barcelona, was plagued by speculation about Zidane’s long-term future.
Real president Florentino Perez said he had only heard of Zidane’s decision to quit late on Wednesday. At a hastily convened press conference less than 24 hours later, Zidane revealed he was stepping down.
He told realmadrid.com: “I’ve made the decision not to continue next year as Real Madrid’s head coach.
“I spoke with (Perez) to see what he thought and I think it’s the right time for everyone: for me, the staff and the club… It’s strange for me, but it’s important that I do this for everybody.
“What I do think is that this team must keep winning and to do that they need a change. I believe that after three years they need a new voice, another methodology, and that is why I’ve made this decision.”
Perez, who sat alongside Zidane on Thursday afternoon, said: “This was a totally unexpected decision, Zidane informed me of his choice yesterday. I thank him for the work he has done.”
Zidane added: “I love this club very much and also the president, who gave me the opportunity to come and play in Madrid, at this great club, and I will be grateful for the rest of my life.
“But today we had to make a change.”
The former Real and Juventus midfielder was understood to be under contract in Madrid until 2020.
Stepping up from managing the ‘Castilla’ B team, he replaced Rafael Benitez in January 2016 and although Real were runners-up to Barcelona at the end of that league campaign, he toasted European glory as city rivals Atletico Madrid were vanquished after penalties in Milan.
Zidane followed up his maiden Champions League crown as a coach with a LaLiga title and in June 2017 his side delivered a more emphatic European Cup final triumph as his former employers Juve were humbled 4-1 in Cardiff.
Although Real lost only two of their first 15 league matches in the recently concluded Spanish championship, Ernesto Valverde’s Barca were able to run away with the league following their vital 3-0 El Clasico win at the Bernabeu in December.
Zidane did stabilise results and duly blazed a trail to Kiev in the continental competition, but reports of dissatisfaction with his approach to domestic matters – namely the handling of Wales forward Gareth Bale, who has publicly expressed his own unhappiness with a reduced role – meant for regular rumours of a potential exit.
Real captain Sergio Ramos was among the first players to express his gratitude for Zidane’s coaching.
He tweeted: “As a player and coach you decided to say goodbye at the top. Thank you for two and a half incredible years. Your legacy will never be erased, one of the most successful chapters in the history of our beloved @realmadrid”.
The quest to find a high-profile successor will now commence and Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino, former Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger and the Italian Maurizio Sarri, most recently of Napoli, have all been linked with the role.
Resolving the futures of Bale and star striker Cristiano Ronaldo will be priorities for the new boss.
It remains to be seen whether Marseille-born Zidane will opt to take a break from the game or pursue a fresh challenge immediately.
Vacancies at top European clubs are currently limited, but the fallout from this summer’s World Cup in Russia might present a first international challenge to Zidane.