Zinedine Zidane announced his shock departure as Real Madrid manager in an impromptu press conference he called this afternoon. Despite winning three consecutive Champions League titles, Real performed abysmally in the La Liga, finishing third behind both Barcelona and Atletico Madrid.
With their inability to defend the La Liga title, there were rumours that Real President Florentino Perez might look to replace Zidane and though he had looked to secure his job with the most recent Champions League win, Zidane bowed out just five days after the historic feat.
Here, we look at the top moments in his two and a half-year spell as manager in the Spanish capital:
#1 Wins first El Clasico as manager
Zidane had been manager of Real Madrid’s B team, Castilla and being groomed for the ultimate job in a few years’ time. But Rafael Benitez’s tenure did not go as planned and Zidane was thrust into the job in the middle of the January transfer window.
The first important match in his career came against Barcelona on 2nd April. They were on a record 39-match unbeaten and considering that it was his first El Clasico, Zidane could be forgiven for being overwhelmed by the occasion.
But he was unfazed. He put his best XI out there in a 4-3-3 formation. Though Barcelona took the lead through Gerard Pique in the 56th minute, Real rallied, equalizing through Benzema with Ronaldo sealing victory with an 85th minute winner.
The tie was marred by a usual Ramos red card but no one cared. Zidane became the first manager since Bernd Schuster to win his first El Clasico and announced his managerial credentials in style.
#2 Setting a new record for most consecutive unbeaten matches
After an agonizing one-point La Liga loss to Barcelona the previous season and securing Champions League victory in his first season, it could very well be said that it was a successful experiment to put Zidane in charge.
But he went one step further in the next. After snapping Barcelona’s 39-match unbeaten streak with the El Clasico win, Zidane created a new record with a 40-match unbeaten run. Real drew with Sevilla in the second leg of the Copa Del Rey to achieve the incredible feat.
With that draw, Zidane moved past Luis Enrique’s record of most consecutive unbeaten matches which he himself had broken in the previous season.
#3 Winning the La Liga title
Real Madrid are the most successful side in La Liga history with 33 title wins since founded in 1906. But in the past decade, they were overshadowed by eternal rivals, Barcelona. Their only La Liga title came in 2011-12 under Mourinho.
Real seemed to falter in the big games while sidestepping past lowly opponents and that was the major reason for their failure. But since Zidane took over, they seemed reborn. He implemented a very successful formation with Casemiro at the base of midfield and two of the best- Kroos and Modric on either side if him.
It worked wonders as they absolutely dominated the league, setting a club record of 16 consecutive wins en route to their 33rd title over the years. The move to trust Casemiro paid off big time as he played a crucial role in the Champions League win against Juventus too.
#4 Winning FIFA Men’s Coach of the Year
Zidane’s whirlwind 2016-17 season culminated with him winning the FIFA Men’s Coach of the Year in 2017. His opponents were Antonio Conte of Chelsea and Massimiliano Allegri of Juventus. He won with 46.22% of the votes.
No one could argue that Zidane was undeserving of the award. He had led Real Madrid to their 33rd title win and made them the first team to win consecutive Champions League titles, which etched their name in history.
In addition to it, he also secured his 6th title as Real Madrid manager, defeating Manchester United 2-1 in the UEFA Cup and later in the month, also defeated Barcelona in the Super Cup Espana final.
A staggering 7 titles in just 1.5 years are mind-boggling numbers and a record which will probably never be broken in football management again.
#5 3 consecutive Champions League wins
Probably the greatest achievement of any manager in football history. When Real Madrid beat Liverpool 3-1 in Kiev, they were forever to be known as the greatest team in the history of the competition.
An underwhelming La Liga season coupled with a insipid-looking Ronaldo and Benzema in the first-half of the season meant that the law of averages might have been finally catching up with Zidane. Real Madrid were looking like they will be brought down to earth after the high of the previous season.
But it was not to be. Real looked a different side in the Champions League as compared to the one in La Liga. They swept by opponents like Juventus and Bayern Munich- champions of Italy and Germany in the quarter and semi-finals. In the final they were up against an enterprising Liverpool side under Jurgen Klopp.
Not for a moment did they look flustered. Loris Karius may have committed a horrendous error to give Real the lead, but the truth was it had been coming for a while. Though the Reds equalised through Mane, Zidane made an inspired substitution as Bale, a marginal figure for much of the season stepped up with two goals.
One was possibly the best goal in a CL final and the other was a gift, but it ensured that Real had won the title for a third consecutive time and their 13th overall. Surely, Zidane had given them the best parting gift.