Zinedine Zidane has returned as coach of Real Madrid, just 284 days after walking away from the club. The Frenchman, who won three consecutive Champions Leagues in two-and-a-half years at the Santiago Bernabéu, has been convinced to take over again – signing a new contract until June 2022 – following a week in which Madrid was defeated three times in a row at home. Zidane replaces Santi Solari with immediate effect and will be in charge for the remaining 11 games in the season.
Solari had become increasingly desperate as manager following a torrid week that included a 3-0 home defeat to Barcelona in the Copa del Rey, another home loss to the Catalan side to effectively end their La Liga ambitions and a shock exit from the Champions League after a 4-1 humbling by Ajax at the Bernabéu. Despite Solari stepping aside after Real’s board of directors met on Monday, the Argentinian will retain a role at the club.
Zidane was unveiled as manager for the second time on Monday evening, alongside Pérez, and said he was relishing the second chance at the club. “It has been difficult from the outside looking in,” he said at a press conference at the Bernabéu. “I am looking forward to working with the players again, to competing again. “I have been living here in Madrid, doing my things. But I have recharged my batteries. I’m ready to coach this great club again.”
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Zidane dismissed suggestions that he had made the wrong decision when he decided to leave in the summer. “When I left, it was the best decision for everyone,” he insisted. “The team and the squad needed a change. There is nothing more. I told you what I thought at the time. Nine months passed and the club called me again. I want to put Real Madrid back where it belongs. We all know it’s the best club in the world.”
Although Madrid has little to play for, Pérez had come under increasing pressure and the board was keen to prevent the crisis deepening over the next three months. Zidane’s return is likely to be bad news for Gareth Bale, who had been left out by the Frenchman in the build-up to last year’s Champions League final.
The pair did not have a close relationship and after the final whistle in Kiev, Bale admitted that he was considering leaving. Five days later, it was Zidane who departed, saying that he and the club needed a change and admitting that he was not sure that they could continue winning together. Cristiano Ronaldo left for Juventus soon after, citing a deteriorating relationship with Pérez as the main reason.
Zidane had initially been reluctant to come back but the club’s crisis puts him in a strong position and he was eventually convinced to accept the proposal. Zidane will take training on Tuesday morning and will take charge of the team for their meeting with Celta de Vigo at the weekend.
Zidane is the third manager that Real Madrid has had this season. The then Spain coach Julen Lopetegui had been signed to replace the Frenchman after he announced his resignation on 31 May 2018.
Lopetegui, whose signing was announced just two days before the World Cup started and led to him being sacked by the national team, lasted just 138 days at Real before again losing his job following a 5-1 defeat to Barcelona in October.
Madrid approached Zidane then too but was not encouraged to continue their pursuit and eventually for the reserve team manager Solari as “temporary manager”. They were forced by Spanish federation rules to make Solari a permanent appointment two weeks later but in total, he lasted only 119 days.