Zinedine Zidane says he is leaving Real Madrid after two and a half seasons with the Spanish club. The surprise announcement comes less than a week after Zidane led Madrid to its third straight Champions League title.
The Frenchman has decided to walk away after guiding the club to a third Champions League victory in a row.
Zidane took over at Real in January 2016 as Rafa Benitez’s replacement after working with the club’s Castilla side.
Los Blancos defeated Atletico Madrid to win on penalties to win the Champions League that season before beating Juventus last year and Liverpool on Saturday.
Zidane, who is under contract until 2020 in Madrid, offered little suggestion he would walk away after the 3-1 victory in Kiev but he has decided the time is right to leave the Bernabeu, and does so on a high.
“This club needs a change to keep winning,” Zidane said. “With me it would have been complicated to keep winning.”
It was a surprising announcement by Zidane, who won nine titles as Madrid coach, including the three Champions League titles, one Spanish league title, one Spanish Super Cup, two UEFA Super Cups and two Club World Cups.
“It was a completely unexpected decision,” Madrid president Florentino Perez said. “Today is a sad day for me, for the fans and for all the people who work at the club. I wish we could always have Zidane by our side, but we know that when Zizou makes a decision, the only thing we can do is to accept it and respect it.”
Zidane said there wasn’t a specific reason that led him to his decision.
“You have to know when to quit,” he said. “After three years, (the club) needs a change in speech, a new work methodology.”
Zidane mentioned the struggles the team faced this season, including in the Spanish league and the Copa del Rey. Madrid finished third in the league — 17 points behind champion Barcelona — and was eliminated at home by Leganes in the quarterfinals of the Copa del Rey, a moment which Zidane said was the worst of his coaching career with the club.
“We went through good moments but also complicated ones, and I don’t forget them,” Zidane said. “I want to leave when everything is going well. This is a good moment to end it well.”
Zidane spoke little about his future but said he is not immediately looking to coach another club. Perez also didn’t talk much about the club’s search for a new coach.
Zidane said his best moment with Madrid was when he was signed to play for the club in 2001.
“As a coach, there were a lot things, like winning the Champions League, but if there was one specific moment, it was to win La Liga (in 2017). It was the greatest thing,” the Frenchman said.
Zidane’s decision to quit came after Cristiano Ronaldo hinted he could be leaving the club. The star forward said after the Champions League final against Liverpool in Kiev that “it was very beautiful” to have played with Madrid. He has yet to make any announcements about his future since then.
Zidane was hired in January 2016 for what was his first major head-coaching job. The former star player arrived surrounded by doubts because of his lack of coaching experience but quickly surpassed expectations.
Zidane replaced Rafa Benitez after a stint with Madrid’s “B” team. He had been an assistant to Carlo Ancelotti when Madrid won the Champions League in 2014.
As a player, Zidane was in two consecutive Champions League finals with Juventus, losing both times, including to Madrid in 1998. He finally won the European title as a Madrid player in 2002, scoring an amazing volley in the final against Bayer Leverkusen.
With France, he won the 1998 World Cup. In the 2006 final, he was sent off for headbutting Italy defender Marco Materazzi.
“It could be a ‘see you soon,’ because Madrid has given me everything and I’ll be linked to this club my entire life,” Zidane said. “The decision may not make a lot of sense to many, but it does to me. It was time to make a change.”