Zidane thrown in at deep end after Real axe Benitez
Zinedine Zidane, the greatest footballer of his generation, one of the greatest players of all time, last night took over as the head coach of Real Madrid after the sacking of Rafael Benitez.
The galactico club now have a galactico in charge with Zidane declaring - at a press conference where the press were not allowed to ask questions - that "this is the best club in the world and the best fan base. I want to ensure a trophy by the end of the season".
It was a populist statement from a popular former player - the kind of move for which the Real president Florentino Perez is famed - but even by the club's outlandish soap-opera standards the turn of events, though not unexpected, adds another rich storyline.
Throw in, also, that Jose Mourinho was sounded out for a return to the Bernabeu only to turn it down, while there were suggestions that players such as Cristiano Ronaldo and Sergio Ramos would want out if he did come back, then it is ever more colourful.
Zidane - appointed on a two-and-a-half-year contract - had been marked out as a future coach some time ago. Still, despite his status in the game, to take over a club of such stature as his first serious managerial appointment is all the more remarkable.
"This is an important day for me - I'm more excited now than I was on the day I signed as a player," Zidane said. "I am going to put my heart and soul into this job so that everything works out well."
Perez will desperately hope the same. In fairness the Frenchman has, despite indicating during his playing career that he did not want to go into coaching, served an apprenticeship since retiring in 2006 after being sent off in the World Cup final for butting Marco Materazzi.
Now 43, Zidane, after a two-year sabbatical, has been adviser to Perez, a club ambassador, a special adviser to the first team, at the suggestion of Mourinho, assistant coach to Mourinho's successor Carlo Ancelotti and for the past 18 months has coached Real Madrid's B team, Castilla, in the Spanish third division.
For Benitez, the sack has come just 21 days after Perez declared that the former Liverpool manager would not be replaced by Zidane. No-one believed it was little more than a stay of execution even if since then Real had won two matches and drawn one, scoring 15 goals.
"The board has taken a difficult decision especially for me, to sack Rafa Benitez, a great professional and a magnificent person," Perez said before confirming Zidane's appointment and, unusually, posing with him and his family.
"I'm very proud because I know that for you (Zidane), the word 'impossible' doesn't exist," he said, turning to the Real legend.
The end for Benitez came, ironically, after his first return to Valencia, the club he led to the Spanish league title and enjoyed remarkable success with in breaking up the Real Madrid/Barcelona duopoly, where his team drew 2-2 on Sunday.
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Benitez leaves after 25 matches in charge of Real, who are third in the table, four points behind leaders Atletico Madrid, and in the last 16 of the Champions League. However, his seven-month reign at the club has always appeared uncomfortable and, ultimately, doomed.
Benitez also became the 11th coach to be sacked by Perez, who is under increasing pressure over what many regard as a disastrous presidency which has appeared even more chaotic since the inexplicable sacking last summer of Ancelotti.
Perez and Real will hope Zidane can have the same effect on their club as Pep Guardiola did on Barcelona where he went from player to coach of the B team to enjoy astonishing success in charge of the club.
Zidane went to observe Guardiola at work at Barca but the pair are undoubtedly very different characters.
Benitez, so close to taking over at West Ham last summer, ahead of Slaven Bilic, before he received the call from Perez, will undoubtedly look to make a swift return to management with the likelihood being that he would prefer a job in the Premier League. His family remains on the Wirral, as it has done since he was Liverpool manager.
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