How do you follow three Champions League triumphs in a row? Someone’s got to - and here’s who it could be
As a player, Zidane mastered the art of the unexpected - whether good (those incredible goals), or bad (that headbutt, which cost his country a World Cup) - and it seems that he’s carried that over into management.
Just days after sealing an unprecedented third Champions League trophy in a row for Real Madrid, the Frenchman has sensationally quit as coach of the Spanish giants.
It brings down the curtain on a brief, but incredible, trophy-laden reign as manager which saw him claim nine trophies in just two and half seasons at the helm: one La Liga title; one Spanish Super Cup; two UEFA Super Cups; two FIFA World Club Cups and - of course, three UEFA Champions League Trophies.
We say brief, but two and half years at Real Madrid is good going, with their notoriously impatient fans demanding constant success. In fact, Zidane may have judged his exit very wisely, with a team that scraped its way to the latest Champions League win via three of the worst goalkeeping mistakes in living memory (one decisive error against Bayern Munich in the semi-final and two decisive howlers against Liverpool in the final), finished third in La Liga this season, with star player Ronaldo now at the ripe old age of 33 and fellow galactico Gareth Bale seemingly wanting out.
It’s an almost impossible act to follow, but with Real one of the biggest teams in the world, there’ll be no shortage of willing candidates throwing their hats in the ring.
So who are the runners and riders?
Ah, Mr Wenger: we meet again!
Why he will: He’s been approached in the past, he’s free as a bird after his departure from Arsenal after 22 years at the helm - could he resist the chance to outperform his old team and take the reigns at a genuine European superclub? After such a long spell at one club, he might relish the freedom that might come from a short spell (for it is always a short spell) in charge of Real.
Why he won’t: Wenger never won a European trophy with Arsenal; would a club where European success is a prerequisite really countenance employing a man with his record? He was also, of course, famously reluctant to splash the cash - this would not sit well with a fanbase who demand marquee signings every summer. Perhaps most importantly though, for a man whose style has always been dynasty-building, would he have any intellectual interest in a job which tends to be get in, win trophies and get out?
Current odds: 9/4 fav
Our rating that he’ll get the job: 5/10
He’s led Tottenham magnificently during their season away at Wembley - but could he be off before their return to a new, revamped White Hart Lane?
Why he will: Spanish news outlet Don Balon is already reporting that Pochettino is the man wanted by Real. Since arriving at Spurs, he’s turned the club into a top four team, qualifying for the Champions League for the last three years - and, indeed, finishing ahead of Real in this year’s group stages. He plays great football, he’s done it without spending much money and he knows the country, having spent ten seasons as a player at Espanyol.
Why he won’t: Similarly to Wenger, Pochettino seems to be a dynasty manager; despite criticism of his lack of action in the transfer market at Spurs he has instead chosen to keep faith with young players and improve the team gradually, year-on-year. While his time at Spurs has been a success, they’ve still not won a trophy, a state of affairs that might concern the Real hierarchy. And just a week ago, he signed a new five-year contract to stay at the club. With Spurs moving to their brand new home, he may well want to finish the job before moving on; and at the age of just 46, it’s surely bound to come around again.
Current odds: 5/2
Our rating that he’ll get the job: 7/10
Could the Chelsea manager bow out from his spell in England with that FA Cup win?
Why he will: He’s spent most of the season seemingly trying to get fired by Chelsea, constantly criticising the club’s transfer policy and often seeming uninterested in the job. Having worked at Chelsea, he’d be perfectly content to work under the ‘instant success’ regime demanded by the Bernabeu, and with his longest managerial reign being his three years at Juventus, he’d be fine with the short spell that will inevitably result at Real. Meanwhile, he boasts an impressive CV, with three Serie A titles and a Premier League title among them, as well as winning a Champions League title as a player.
Why he won’t: Despite that FA Cup win, this was not an impressive recent season at Chelsea, as they finished fifth, outside the Champions League places. He also seemed to warm back toward staying at Chelsea as the season wore on; perhaps he’s still happy at the Bridge?
Current odds: 9/2
Our rating that he’ll get the job: 8/10
Zidane mark II?
Why he will: Guti is a Real Madrid legend having played virtually his entire career for the club, appearing 439 times and scoring 64 goals, winning five La Liga and three Champions League titles during that time. Crucially, he is also already in position on the Madrid coaching staff, having worked with the youth team since 2013. Promoting a legendary former player already on the staff worked with Zidane - why not do it again?
Why he won’t: With respect, as a player, Guti was not in the same class as Zidane. Could he realistically command the same level of respect amongst their vastly talented playing squad given his absence of managerial experience? In addition, Zidane moved from Real Madrid’s B team to the first team, less of a leap than from the youth level. And can lightning realistically be expected to strike twice?
Current odds: 13/2
Our rating that he’ll get the job: 3/10
From the World Champions to the European Club Champions?
Why he will: Low has spent nearly 12 years in charge of the German national team, continuing on from predecessor Jurgen Klinnsman’s attacking style and establishing them as a fantastic team to watch. Under his command, they have reached at least the semi-finals of five consecutive tournaments, winning the World Cup in 2014. Few would bet against them retaining it again in a few weeks’ time. Twelve years is a long time in one job; Low might be ready for a change, and what better club to go to?
Why he won’t: Low’s club record, prior to working with the German national team, was mixed, with only the Austrian title and the German FA Cup in his trophy cabinet. Meanwhile, he has not demonstrated any desire to leave the German job, and only a few weeks ago extended his contract until 2022; perhaps he simply prefers the job of an international coach?
Current odds: 8/1
Our rating that he’ll get the job: 3/10