By Olakunle Ajao.
Leave when the ovation is loudest, they say. And it seems like Zinedine Zidane took those words, as, after a third successive UEFA Champions League tile, the Frenchman has stepped down as Real Madrid boss. A two-and-a-half-year tenure sparked nine titles, including a first league crown in five years, a first league and European Cup in over half a century, as well as two Club World Cups, so Zizou’s exit was a bit of a shock, even to president Florentino Perez.
Perhaps there was sense of a fall brewing at the Bernabeu, with two of their star men hinting at departure; perhaps the atmosphere in the Spanish capital was going to be toxic, so Zidane made a call. If so, it’s no easy task for whoever succeeds the former Real midfielder in the dugout, the weight of expectation and the likelihood of forever being in Zidane’s shadow seems uphill.
But who are those frontrunners considered as potentially the next name in the Bernabeu dugout.
The former Espanyol manager seems to be the prime target to succeed Zidane. His work at Tottenham has been undeniable, with top three finishes in all but one of his four seasons in North London, even masterminding a win over Real in the Champions League last October. He recently signed a five-year contract at Spurs, but has said it’ll be hard to say no should Real come calling, so it’s a possibility. But his lack of trophies so far, and him being unproven in terms of managing big egos like the ones at the Bernabeu will come into question.
Like Zidane, Guti also graced the white of Real Madrid. Perhaps the most Spanish midfielder of all time, he’s currently in charge of Real’s Under 19s, and even before Zidane stepped down, there have been rumours linking him with the Los Blancos top job. It might just be the right time, but moving from the Under 19s to the first team seems like a big step.
Having been replaced by Carlo Ancelotti at Napoli, Sarri has been subject of speculation over a move to Chelsea, but Zidane’s exit could scupper the Blues’ plans. Having led Napoli to three outstanding seasons, Sarri is in-demand, but the issue of his release has been one of the things holding Chelsea back and may prove a problem for Real Madrid.
Yes, really. He called time on his 22-year-tenure at Arsenal last May, and had reportedly been offered a role by Paris Saint-Germain. Wenger has said he’s rejected offers from Real in the past; that he loved the club as a child and is looking for a move that tests him, so moving to the Bernabeu isn’t out of the question.
Another rather unlikely candidate, given how things have unravelled at Chelsea. Conte is still a top-class manager, though, and has an ability to adapt. But there’ll be big question marks as to whether he can handle the Real hierarchy, given his never-ending complaints at Stamford Bridge.
Another manager renowned for his adaptability and tactical acumen, yet another manager who appears unlikely. Allegri had previously been linked with the Arsenal after Wenger stepped down, as well as the Italian national team, both of which are no longer vacant. He did lead Juventus to an impressive fightback at the Bernabeu in April, and is the only manager to have knocked Real out of the Champions League in five years. But he has stated his desire not to leave Juve anytime soon.
The German national coach’s contract was bound to expire after this summer’s World Cup, prompting rumours of a club move, but he has recently signed an extension until 2022. He’s ruled himself out of the Real job, but a U-turn wouldn’t be surprising. It appears unlikely, though.