Zinedine Zidane said he never had any doubts about returning to Real Madrid after he replaced the sacked Santiago Solari as coach on Monday.
“When the president called me the first thing I thought was go, Zidane said at a press conference at the Santiago Bernabeu. “I could not say no, I never had any doubts about going back.”
Two-hundred and eighty three days after resigning, Zinedine Zidane is back as coach of Real Madrid.
Sitting alongside a shell-shocked Florentino Perez in May last year, Zidane said Madrid would have problems if he stayed. However, they’ve had problems without him too and now he has returned to fix them.
Winner of three consecutive Champions League titles, Zidane’s exit seemed perfectly timed, even more so given what came next.
Julen Lopetegui was fired after three months and Santiago Solari’s team self-combusted in six days, as defeats to Barcelona, twice, and Ajax rendered their season dead before the middle of March.
Zidane and Jose Mourinho were touted as the preferred options, but most likely in the summer, when freshness and signings might launch a new era from a firmer footing. Instead, Zidane has been persuaded not only to return, but to do so immediately.
He takes over a team with almost nothing to play for in La Liga, 12 points adrift of leaders Barcelona and 10 ahead of Alaves in fifth.
Perhaps in this middle-ground, with pressure neither from above or below, Zidane sees an opportunity to begin the reform. Or perhaps, after nine months away, he was simply unable to resist.
His reunion with the players will almost certainly do wonders for morale.
Zidane was popular with almost all of them, save Gareth Bale, whose future at Real Madrid now appears in serious doubt.
Few coaches can rival the trophy haul of this current Madrid squad and perhaps, for Lopetegui and Solari, that was part of the problem.
“He’s one of the greatest people we’ve ever had at this club,” Solari said, at his first press conference in November. “All the adjectives in the world are not good enough to describe Zidane. He’s calm, a great coach, and nobody can compare to him.”