Zidane steps away from Real Madrid after 3rd straight Champions League title

Zinedine Zidane during the press conference.After accomplishing the impossible, Zinedine Zidane is leaving Real Madrid. No team had captured consecutive Champions League titles since the format was introduced in the early 1990s, but under Zidane’s guidance, Real Madrid set a new standard with three straight titles, which is why his job appeared secure. Zidane insists his decision to step aside is for the good of the club, but his reassurances make his departure no less shocking.

Real Madrid defeated Liverpool last Saturday to complete the Champions League three-peat, which served to mask over a disappointing season in Spain for the La Liga juggernaut. Barcelona easily bested Real Madrid for the domestic title, and Real Madrid was knocked out by recently promoted Leganes in the quarterfinals of the Copa del Rey. While Zidane’s record since becoming manager in January 2016 is almost spotless, the recent domestic disappointments are the clearest signs that all is not right with Real Madrid despite their continued Champions League dominance.

Club president Florentino Perez expressed his surprise at Zidane’s decision during a press conference on Thursday, but he and Zidane had some disagreements about personnel during the season - most notably a battle over whether or not to sign goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga. The job of manager at Real Madrid has always been an especially hot seat, with stints of three years or more exceedingly rare (only Jose Mourinho and Vicente del Bosque reached the three-year mark over the last two decades), and Zidane expressed a desire to leave the club on a high note in his press conference statement.

Zidane also said while he was not done managing, he was not going to accept another job right away. The focus for Real Madrid turns to who will be Zidane’s successor, with some marquee manager names already off the board including German national team head coach Joachim Low, who signed an extension ahead of this year’s World Cup.

Zidane is no stranger to sudden decisions. He ended his playing career at 33 years old in similar fashion following the 2006 World Cup, surprising everyone after a storied career that included a World Cup win, a European Championship, a Champions League title, a Ballon d’Or, and three FIFA world player of the year awards. He had a year left on his contract with Real Madrid when he retired as a player.