KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING —- Zinedine Zidane’s timing has always been perfect. His resignation as coach of world and newly-recrowned European champions Real Madrid was delivered with the precision which marked his great Champions League-winning volley against Bayer Leverkusen in 2002 and the thudding shock of his red card retirement in the dying seconds of the 2006 World Cup.
Zidane had retired a year ahead of his playing contractual expiry at Madrid, while still at his zenith, and he has departed as coach when the only way was down. ‘His’ Madrid had won nine of 13 trophies and the last three Champions Leagues. Even with the best will in the world, with the best team and with the best players, no team can be invincible.
Nor a coach.
Jose Mourinho is considered a results guarantee; yet his Manchester United won nothing this past season. Pep Guardiola is rated the man who knows all the secrets; yet his Bayern Munich could not win the Champions League and nor have Manchester City during his two seasons in charge.
Zidane’s genius as a coach at Madrid was, through his own achievements, commanding first the respect of world-beating players and then using his unique insight into football to produce the right tactics then substitutions at the right time on the most important occasions.
None was better than goading Gareth Bale into his two-goal, match-winning incursion in the second half against Liverpool in Kiev last Saturday.
The injudicious whines of Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo after the match hinted at challenges to come at Madrid. The answer to Bale’s uncertainty is in the player’s own hands – or feet: play as he played in Kiev and he can always be a starter. No problem.
Ronaldo is more tricky. At 33 his greatest days are behind him. But can he reveal himself as ruthlessly honest as Zidane and both admit and accept it? All the signs indicate that Ronaldo risks leaving Madrid, sooner or later, in a similar blast of anger to the one which provoked the legendary Alfredo Di Stefano’s departure in 1964.
Di Stefano was four years older than is Ronaldo and could not accept that his old friend and team-mate Miguel Munoz, now his coach, had decided that he had to be replaced for the ultimate greater good of the club.
That moment of decision is rushing towards Ronaldo. He may have felt the frisson of danger in all the speculation about a bid for Neymar so the Brazilian may become the new trophy-winning inspiration.
This lies ahead for Madrid. So does finding successors to not only Ronaldo but Sergio Ramos, Luca Modric and the rest.
Hence the perfect time for Zidane to step away.