Why Zinedine Zidane’s return to Real Madrid is a flex

Real Madrid CF president Florentino Perez (L) and Zinedine Zidane (R) attend a press conference to announce his resignation as Real Madrid coach at Valdebebas Sport City on May 31, 2018 in Madrid, Spain. Zidane steps down from the position of Manager of Real Madrid, after leading the club to it's third consecutive UEFA Champions League title.  (May 30, 2018 - Source: Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images Europe)

Real Madrid CF president Florentino Perez (L) and Zinedine Zidane (R) attend a press conference to announce his resignation as Real Madrid coach at Valdebebas Sport City on May 31, 2018 in Madrid, Spain. Zidane steps down from the position of Manager of Real Madrid, after leading the club to it's third consecutive UEFA Champions League title.

(May 30, 2018 - Source: Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images Europe)

As action around European football comes to a close, for some it has been wonderful, then again for others, it has been one to forget. Such is the case for Real Madrid. This season might easily go down as one of the club’s worst seasons after a disastrous campaign. From being crowned European champions for a third successive time, who could have thought that Real Madrid would have a shockingly disappointing season?

About his departure

When Zinedine Zidane announced his shocking departure from Real Madrid at the backdrop of winning his third consecutive UEFA Champions league trophy with the club, one would assume that it was the beginning of the “end” for the club. Zidane left Madrid having delivered success that was unprecedented in the modern era. The days of clubs’ ability to retain the European Cup were long gone. Nobody had done it in the Champions League era. He did. And then he did it again, defying history and maths by winning more Champions League trophies than he had spent years in charge. But things began to unravel almost as soon as he was gone. However, the selling story regarding why Zidane left the club was due to the club's decision to sell Cristiano Ronaldo instead of Gareth Bale. Apart from Bale, it is also said that Zidane wanted to sign new players and sell others, including Isco, but the club’s President did not agree with those terms. Hence he left.

Like the parent who returns from the shops to find that the kids have run amok, set fire to the kitchen and soiled the carpet, he’s not angry, he’s just disappointed. Perhaps such has been the worry around Zidane’s return to the club, the fact that it is merely a shadow of the side he left nine months ago.
— Siphosethu Thwala, FirstTouch Africa
Head coach Santiago Solari of Real Madrid CF sits on the bench prior to start the La Liga match between Real Madrid CF and FC Barcelona at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on March 02, 2019 in Madrid, Spain.  (March 1, 2019 - Source: Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images Europe)

Head coach Santiago Solari of Real Madrid CF sits on the bench prior to start the La Liga match between Real Madrid CF and FC Barcelona at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on March 02, 2019 in Madrid, Spain.

(March 1, 2019 - Source: Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images Europe)

Take two

After Zidane’s departure, the club announced the appointment of then Spain coach Julen Lopetegui just before the start of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in what was a shell-shocking move. Lopetegui himself was criticized for not consulting the Spanish Federation about the deal. The European Super Cup was surrendered to neighbours Atletico Madrid in the first game of Julen Lopetegui's brief reign and it only got worse from there. Lopetegui was eventually sacked in October 2018. After Lopetegui’s sacking, in came caretaker coach Santi Solari who tried stabilizing the ship and subsequently offered a long-term contract. Despite signing a contract until 2021 after an interim period, Solari lasted only 133 days as Real Madrid boss. He was finally dismissed after a horrific run of results, which included losing back-to-back EL Clasicos in the Copa del Rey and La Liga. The last nail on Santi Solari’s “coffin” came when Madrid were humiliated in their own beloved Bernabeu by Ajax. The Dutch club turned back the clock let alone reversed the natural order of things with their 4-1 win to end Madrid's long reign as champions of Europe.

Twist of fate in the Zizou-Real romance

Upon his return, the 46-year old Frenchman has made it clear that while he is happy to be back,there will be plenty of changes as he sets about leading Los Blancos back to the summit of European football. Furthermore, it is more likely that Zizou will be given more decision-making power in as far as the signing of players is concerned. His love for the club he had graced both as a player and coach, he said, was too great for him to resist. “I could not say no,” he said. “I am here because the president called me.” Like the parent who returns from the shops to find that the kids have run amok, set fire to the kitchen and soiled the carpet, he's not angry, he's just disappointed. Perhaps such has been the worry around Zidane’s return to the club, the fact that it is merely a shadow of the side he left nine months ago. Nonetheless, one would argue that the return of Zidane couldn’t have happened at a better time than it did. Having returned with

just under 15 matches to play, this might well be the right time for him to analyse the team in terms of its depth and areas where the team needs strengthening. It is an open secret that Real Madrid will be very busy in the upcoming transfer window with the aim of doing away with an ageing team and bringing fresh blood that will help the team compete once again.

Zinedine Zidane, Manager of Real Madrid gives his team instructions during a Real Madrid training session ahead of the UEFA Champions League Final against Liverpool at NSC Olimpiyskiy Stadium on May 25, 2018 in Kiev, Ukraine.  (May 24, 2018 - Source: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images Europe)

Zinedine Zidane, Manager of Real Madrid gives his team instructions during a Real Madrid training session ahead of the UEFA Champions League Final against Liverpool at NSC Olimpiyskiy Stadium on May 25, 2018 in Kiev, Ukraine.

(May 24, 2018 - Source: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images Europe)

 The beginning of a new beginning

Since Zinedine Zidane arrived at Real Madrid for a second era, he has made it clear in every press conference that he foresees an era of change. In the mind of the coach, he is drawing up a new-look Real Madrid, with new players, with some major departures and with a team that will be very different to the one that won four Champions League titles in five years. With sixregular starters being 30 or older, including the likes of Marcelo, Ramos and Modric, the writing is on the wall that the team needs to revamp in order to become competitive once more. The famous BBC trident of Ronaldo, Bale and Benzema is a thing of the past, as Ronaldo left for Juventus, and Bale himself on the brink of an exit. Bale himself has failed to live up to expectations when it mattered the most. Many believed he would grab his chance when Ronaldo left, but injuries and below-par performances have added fuel to the fire of the Welshman’s almost certain exit during the summer. Add to that, the team’s midfield is also in an evolution process and at this point, it is unclear whether Toni Kroos, Luka Modric, Casemiro and even Isco for that matter, will be the preferred starters come next season, especially after the disappointing year all the players have had. Another area that appears to be overlooked yet critical is the centre back position which I believe also needs beefing up. Sergio Ramos has been a loyal servant but he may no longer be the player the club wants to build its defence around in two years’ time, hence the need for a new defender that can partner up with Varane. In that regard, the club has been able to land a defender in Eder Militao who has joined on a deal until 2025,for a fee of around £43m.

Paul Pogba of Manchester United and Eden Hazard of Chelsea embrace prior to the Premier League match between Chelsea FC and Manchester United at Stamford Bridge on October 20, 2018 in London, United Kingdom.  (Oct. 19, 2018 - Source: Catherine Ivill/Getty Images Europe)

Paul Pogba of Manchester United and Eden Hazard of Chelsea embrace prior to the Premier League match between Chelsea FC and Manchester United at Stamford Bridge on October 20, 2018 in London, United Kingdom.

(Oct. 19, 2018 - Source: Catherine Ivill/Getty Images Europe)

A speculative summer is on the cards

Nonetheless, there is still more work to be done by the club as far as signings are concerned, going into the summer transfer market. Perhaps one silver lining in this Madrid team is the emergence of Vinicius Junior, who has already shown what he can offer this side in his debut season. Not only him, but also the resurgence of Karim Benzema has had everyone paying attention to his capabilities which often times than not have been overlooked. So far, Benzema has raked in more than 30 goals in all competitions for Madrid, showing how lethal he can be. Still, the reality of the need to sign new players remain pivotal to Real Madrid. Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane has planned out a mapping of how he plans on replacing Cristiano Ronaldo’s goals next season. Many star player names have been thrown around linking them to the club. These include Eden Hazard, Sadio Mane and Paul Pogba. Hazard’s creativity would be something that can greatly benefit Los Blancos coupled with his eye for goal. Secondly, with Gareth Bale’s exit being a subject of speculation, Sadio Mane’s name has also been thrown in as a viable replacement and unsurprisingly so, given the amazing season he’s had with Liverpool. The Senegalese forward has a great burst of pace that would most certainly be beneficial to Real Madrid’s trademark style of counter-attacking gameplay. To round off the list, Zidane has also been rumoured to be keen on signing fellow Frenchman Paul Pogba, in a move that may be far-fetched but still possible given Pogba’s struggles at United. All these potential arrivals would not necessarily mean that Karim Benzema has a reduced role though. It is likely that the Frenchman will continue to be in the coach’s plans and he has shown that he can grab the

spotlight if he is made the leading figure in the team, moreover, given Zidane’s continued trust in Benzema paid dividends in recent times.

Is it only a matter of time?

The 2019/20 season is a big one for Los Blancos and the return of Zidane might be the recipe needed by the club to reclaim their glory days. The team’s resurgence nonetheless depends on a number of factors, mainly how things play out in the upcoming summer transfer window. If the club gets the players it wants, then they may be well on their way back to the top. It may, however, take some time for Zidane to get the best out the new crop of players, something that may not see the team being strong competitors for honours in the next season. Deciding on the formation, whether to stick to Zidane’s 4-3-3 style of play, or switching to an alternative formation to allow as many key players in the team as possible may contribute to the slow progress. However, once they get their combinations right, Real Madrid will easily regain their position as the one of the three best teams in the world. The road to recovery has already begun with Zidane’s comeback, it is only a matter of time before we see the “Real” Real Madrid. What’s your take on Madrid’s prospects, can they bounce back next season? Is the return of Zidane the right tonic for them?

The last nail on Santi Solari’s “coffin” came when Madrid were humiliated in their own beloved Bernabeu by Ajax. The Dutch club turned back the clock let alone reversed the natural order of things with their 4-1 win to end Madrid’s long reign as champions of Europe.
— Siphosethu Thwala, FirstTouch Africa