In sports there is a saying that both players and managers should retire when people ask why and not why not. The temptation to linger on longer is inevitable. Very few have timed their retirement to perfection. In cricket, Sunil Gavaskar and now AB De Villiers, in football, Johan Cryuff and Sir Alex Ferguson, in tennis Bjorn Borg and in athletics Usian Bolt.
However the ultimate bombshell was dropped by Zinedine Zidane who resigned as Real Madrid’s coach, just four days after leading his club to a historic third straight Champions Legaue title.
His decision has led to all sorts of conspiracy theories. Zidane in his usual impassive way just said that the club needed a change in command, a new work culture. The stunned expression on Real Madrid president Florentino Perez’s face on hearing this news indicated that he was also caught by surprise.
Critics can scoff that Zidane was only a good man manager and not a great tactician. But most coaches of club and country like Vicente del Bosque (won 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012 with Spain) almost all the Brazilian coaches of the 20th century, the late Brian Clough and Bob Paisley were renowned as either being great motivators or keeping their squad harmonious.
Only a few like Rinus Michels, Helenio Herrera, Cesar Menotti, Pep Guardiola, the late Cryuff, the late Sir Alf Ramsey and Marcelo Bielsa to mention a few, were innovators and created new tactical formations like total football, wingless wonders, false number 9, catenaccio and so on.
But no critic can discount the nine trophies that Zidane won just two and a half years since being appointed coach of Real Madrid in January 2016 in place of Rafa Benitez. His nine trophies include three successive Uefa Champions League titles, two Fifa Club World Cups (2016 and 2017), the prestigious La Liga crown in 2017, two Uefa Super Cups and the Spanish Super Cup.
Certainly Zidane’s major role was to create team spirit and a dressing room devoid of egos and take the pressure off his players. Due to his stature as a player and closeness to the club management, players could not dictate terms. He had an eye for talent and the way he has developed and promoted Lucas Vazquez, Isco and Marco Asensio is noteworthy.
He was also very pragmatic. Realising that this season Real Madrid could not win La Liga, due to a bad start he rested Cristiano Ronaldo (played only 27 of 38 games) and kept him fresh for crucial Champions League knock out ties.
Then why did he depart suddenly? The main reason is his psyche. Zidane wanted to leave as a winner. He realised there were rumblings in the squad. Both Gareth Bale (wants more playing time) and Ronaldo hinted they may depart this summer. He also realised Real Madrid did not have depth in the squad and faced scathing criticism for losing six and drawing 10 matches in the La Liga this season.
Also, his position as coach and his goalkeeper son Luca’s attempt to play first team football for Real Madrid could clash. So to avoid controversies and realising that his winning streak could end, Zidane quit on a high.