It can be said that, in some way, Zinedine Zidane plays as he lives: he is capable of drawing solid results and conclusions from seemingly vaporous, or even confusing approaches. And he often finds that he needs little explanation, not even to wear badges when his plan works. This Thursday the announcement of his resignation was made by the club in a 102 word statement that did not include a single answer to why he was leaving. The Frenchman’s Instagram account, with 28.3 million followers, remained silent.
His second escape from the Real Madrid bench condensed that procedure. Since the morning of May 8, the eve of the game against Sevilla, four days before the end of the League, when some of the footballers came home convinced that he had told them that he was leaving at the end of the year; until Wednesday night, May 26, when he wrote to tell them that, indeed, he was leaving.
In between, four games in which they continued to fight for the title. And an almost exact calendar match with respect to the first time he left the bench, in May 2018. Then they played the last game on Saturday, the Champions League final against Liverpool, and on Wednesday he went to see the president, Florentino Pérez , and told him he was leaving. Now, the last league match was also on a Saturday, against Villarreal, and he also went to see the president on Wednesday.
By then the issue had been boiling for weeks, between the coach’s evasions about his future plans in his appearances and reflections that could serve to seal an imminent farewell, such as “I’m going to make it very easy for the club” on the eve of the match against Seville. The phrase was pronounced after a talk with his footballers that caused confusion, according to several sources with access to the locker room.
Several players left Valdebebas that day convinced that Zidane had told them that he would not fulfill his remaining contract season. Others, when they learned that this version was spread, assured that the coach had not said that – and they insisted on it Wednesday night. There were even some who were left with an intermediate impression to which they did not give the slightest importance: “Something said. It was not explained very well ”, he maintained.
The coach wanted to defuse the commotion after the match against Athletic in San Mamés, on May 16: “How am I going to tell my players that I’m leaving now? It’s a lie ”, he assured.
The days passed and Zidane continued to sow his appearances with phrases that could serve to wrap the farewell, but also to prop up the exhaustion of his contract. Like one on the eve of the match against Athletic: “There are times when you have to be there and times when you have to change. But for the good of all, not only mine, eh ”.
At the club, nobody had a clear impression of what the manager’s intentions were: they saw that it seemed that he would leave, but also that he could stay. In end-of-year meetings of club officials with representatives of footballers, they continued to transfer that uncertainty until at least last week.
The team spent the remaining days maintaining until the last moment the pressure on the leader, Atlético de Madrid, despite the vaporous landscape they were passing through. Zidane has so often displayed this uncanny ability: he has achieved extraordinary results from misty instructions. “Tactic is a state of mind,” he has said, for example. Or also: “The important thing is animation.” This is how they held out until the final comeback against Villarreal last Saturday in Valdebebas. Later he again avoided deciding in public about his future and they all dined together to dismiss the course. Like all years.
According to several sources with access to the dressing room, nothing made them think during the event, or the farewell to the coach, that it was the last act under the command of Zidane. Nor did they suspect anything three years before in the celebrations of the 13th Champions League.
Like then, he and his players left there on their days off or to concentrate with their national teams without the impression of being faced with an end of term. Like then, four days later Zidane asked to see the president, and he tried to convince him to reconsider his decision to leave before fulfilling his contract, which expired in June 2022. But also like then, when the Frenchman has something clear in his head, it’s almost impossible to change your mind.
At that point, the haze again: the statement on his resignation does not provide reasons, he did not open his mouth and, unlike in 2018, he did not say goodbye with a public appearance. In the absence of Zidane’s explanations about his second scare from the Madrid bench ahead of time, there are some that are pointed out from the club: how much the squad has to be renewed; the weariness of the year, especially with the press; his apparent illusion to be France coach. Another unexplained escape.