Zinedine Zidane has made a sensational return as coach of Real Madrid after Santiago Solari’s sacking was finally confirmed.
The French legend announced he was leaving just days after guiding Real to an unprecedented third successive Champions League victory last season.
Now, though, he is back in the ‘White House’.
Here, SunSport untangles the backdrop, response and potential repercussions for a remarkable change of heart.
WHY DID ZIDANE LEAVE IN THE FIRST PLACE?
Zidane had been frustrated throughout much of his third season over what he felt was a reluctance to give him the money to rebuild an ageing team.
The Frenchman believed that despite winning the Champions League for a third straight season the squad needed a total overhaul.
President Florentino Perez disagreed, sanctioned the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo and told Zidane he expected him to get on with it.
That was unacceptable to the proud former Real schemer and Zidane decided to walk on his own terms.
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Zinedine Zidane, Manager of Real Madrid celebrates with Cristiano Ronaldo after being crowned La Liga champions. Picture: Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images
Zinedine Zidane, Manager of Real Madrid celebrates with Cristiano Ronaldo after being crowned La Liga champions. Picture: Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty ImagesSource:Getty Images
WHAT HAS HAPPENED THIS SEASON?
In a word, debacle.
Real’s pursuit of Spain manager Julen Lopetegui unhinged the national team and saw the coach sacked on the eve of the World Cup.
But Lopetegui could not cope with the pressure cooker of the Bernabeu and he was sacked before the end of October following a 5-1 El Clasico mauling that represented their fourth defeat in five games.
Santiago Solari was promoted from running the B team but despite winning 10 of his 13 La Liga games also oversaw a 3-0 Champions League home humiliation at the hands of CSKA Moscow, although he did win the Club World Cup.
But the season fell apart with back to back defeats by Barca in the Copa del Rey and Clasico league return followed by their record-breaking 1-4 defeat by Ajax last week.
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BREAKING: Zinedine Zidane has replaced Santiago Solari as Real Madrid manager, on a deal until 2022
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WHY IS ZIDANE GOING BACK NOW?
Desperation, it seems. And the fact that he has Perez over a burning fire.
Indeed, it looked as if a return for Jose Mourinho was on the cards with the Portuguese making little secret of his interest in the job.
Chelsea and Juventus had appeared the two prime contenders for Zidane in the summer but Perez made a plea and the Frenchman has got the job back on HIS terms.
That means a promise that the money will be there for the selfsame rebuilding job the President had declared was not necessary last summer.
Zidane has been given full power and authority to do what he wants.
IS THIS THE END AT MADRID FOR GARETH BALE?
Bale has always insisted he does not want to leave and despite all the links with a potential Premier League return that had remained the case.
But the Welshman and Zidane fell out in the manager’s final season and Bale admitted after his two-goal show in the Kiev Final against Liverpool that he was not happy.
Only last month, Bale revealed the pair had not even spoken and were “not best mates” — an understatement of epic proportions.
Bales, it seems, will be the first man Zidane wants out.
His wages, though, will be an even bigger problem than the fee Real will demand. They may have to supplement his wages elsewhere to get him to go quietly.
What does Zinedine Zidane’s return to Real Madrid mean for Welsh star Gareth Bale? Picture: Denis Doyle/Getty Images
What does Zinedine Zidane’s return to Real Madrid mean for Welsh star Gareth Bale? Picture: Denis Doyle/Getty ImagesSource:Getty Images
WHO IS ELSE VULNERABLE AT REAL?
Thibaut Courtois has found himself on the wrong end of the Bernabeu crowd and looks to have lost a little faith in his goalkeeping capabilities.
Skipper Sergio Ramos has been one of the pillars of the side but he has had two major bust-ups with Perez since the Ajax nightmare and it may be that Zidane is ready to build his back line around another leader.
DOES THIS CHANGE THINGS WITH NEYMAR AND KYLIAN MBAPPE?
It appeared that Neymar was Real’s prime target, even though they tried to sign Mbappe from Monaco before he went to PSG.
The France speedster even effectively pledged his future to the Ligue 1 champions in the wake of their shock exit to Manchester United.
But a Real managed by Zidane is a very different proposition and could alter the equation hugely.
Zidane may be keener to work with and fashion a better player out of the more enthusiastic Mbappe than try to keep Neymar’s partying instincts in line.
PSG will not let both go and the club’s Qatari owners could be keener on keeping the Brazilian, who would remain very much their No 1 — and be paid handsomely to stay.
Paris Saint-Germain’s French forward Kylian Mbappe would be in Zidane’s sights. Picture: Franck Fife/AFP
Paris Saint-Germain’s French forward Kylian Mbappe would be in Zidane’s sights. Picture: Franck Fife/AFPSource:AFP
WHAT DOES IT MEAN FOR CHELSEA?
Chelsea might choose to say they never wanted Zidane as coach and remain happy with Maurizio Sarri.
Not many people will believe that, though, and for Zidane to go back to Real will be a massive body blow for the Stamford Bridge club.
How much of a part Fifa’s ruling that Chelsea cannot delay their two window transfer ban until after this summer is hard to tell but it is difficult to feel it was not the final nail in the coffin.
HOW ABOUT EDEN HAZARD?
The Belgian has never hidden his estimation for Zidane and desire to play for him.
Even when Zidane quit, Hazard spoke warmly about the prospect of wearing that famous white shirt.
But with Zidane reinstated, the lure of the Bernabeu will be even stronger for Hazard.
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Zidane = Hazard’s Footballing Idol
R. Madrid = Favorite Childhood Team
If Eden Hazard does leave this summer, he should get nothing but understanding from Chelsea fans. He’s given the club so much.
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The only issue would be Chelsea’s willingness to let him go this summer, no matter how much Real offered, when they cannot spend any of that money on a replacement for 12 months.
But it is either take the cash which they cannot spend yet, or keep Hazard, potentially against his will, for the final year of his contract and see him walk to Madrid for nothing in 2020.
SO, IS THAT THE FINISH OF THE MAURICIO POCHETTINO SPECULATION FOR THIS SUMMER?
Unless Thomas Tuchel gets sacked by PSG, you would think so — even though Spurs were fearful he would quit in pursuit of trophies.
Manchester United will confirm Ole Gunnar Solskjaer soon and with Zidane installed at Madrid, the two obvious places where Poch might be tempted to go are filled.
The Argentine would not be allowed to cross London to Chelsea, no matter how much was on the table, especially as Spurs will be back “home” in N17 next month.
Pochettino appears to have received his own promises of money to spend. Spurs fans, it seems, can rest easy. For a few months ….
WILL REAL COME BACK IN FOR DAVID DE GEA?
One of Zidane’s rows with Perez last season was over the Manchester United goalkeeper and Courtois’ problems in settling suggest what had seemed a closed door a few months ago might re-open.
De Gea has still not signed the new deal that is on the table — and which United had anticipated he would have inked by now.
Manchester United’s Spanish goalkeeper David De Gea (L) would be a top target for Real under Zidane. Picture: Geoffroy Van der Hasselt/AFP
Manchester United’s Spanish goalkeeper David De Gea (L) would be a top target for Real under Zidane. Picture: Geoffroy Van der Hasselt/AFPSource:AFP
It seemed that De Gea was still blaming Real for the way they cocked up the deal to land him on deadline day 2015, when the fax detailing the transfer forms somehow got mislaid at the very last minute.
But De Gea knows that being Real’s No 1 is the biggest club role for any Spanish keeper.
And if Zidane now has the green light to get whoever he wants, United might suddenly be looking for a new keeper for next season.
WHO ELSE MIGHT THEY TARGET?
Zidane wants players who have five years or more left in them and who will bring something different.
That could be bad news for Spurs and Liverpool.
Unless Christian Eriksen signs the new contract that he has been offered, this summer, Tottenham seem likely to feel they have to let him go and cash in on the Dane.
But Liverpool will fear a raid for any — if not all — of their fab front three, with Mo Salah likely to be the first target as part of a new-look attacking trident with Mbappe and Hazard.
WILL PREM CLUBS BE ABLE TO GET ANY BARGAINS?
Zidane will be allowed to get rid of the players he does not want and that makes it a buyer’s market — in terms of price, if not wages.
French bad boy striker Karim Benzema might be 31 but he is just five short of 300 club goals for Madrid and first club Lyons and would still be a prolific marksman in the Prem.
Spain midfield schemer Isco is another whose face no longer seems to fit, although his fee might be bigger.
And even Luka Modric, who has suffered a “Reaction” season after his Ballon d’Or feats for club and country, could be on the market as well.
Courtois may prefer PSG to another spell in England but Brazilian Casemiro might fancy a Prem payday.