Real Madrid has fired manager Rafa Benitez after only seven months and replaced him with former player and French football hero Zinedine Zidane.
The 55-year-old Spaniard’s future was decided at an emergency board meeting on Monday, with club president Florentino Perez announcing his sacking at the Santiago Bernabéu stadium.
French football legend Zidane, who was Carlo Ancelotti’s assistant in 2014 when Real Madrid won the Champions League, has been managing Madrid’s “B” team.
Zidane, 43, was at the Bernabeu stadium with his wife and four children for the announcement.
“I’m more emotional now than when I signed as a player,” said Zidane, who ended his career at the club in 2006. “I am going to put my heart and soul into this job,” the Frenchman added at the packed press conference.
Zidane was the world’s most expensive player when he arrived at the Bernabéu in 2001 and was one of Real’s key “Galacticos” – a label given to the star players signed by club president Perez in the early to mid-2000s. During his five-year stay, he helped the side win the Spanish league in 2003 and was also named Fifa world player of the year for the third time.
It will be the first major managing job for Zidane, whose career was marked by greatness on the field but also by the infamous head-butting of an Italian defender in the 2006 World Cup final.
“He is clearly conscious of how tough this job is,” Perez said. “Zidane doesn’t know the word ‘impossible’.”
Demoralising loss to Barca
The announcement comes a day after Madrid’s 2-2 draw at Valencia, which deepened a crisis that started with an embarrassing 4-0 home loss to rival Barcelona in November. Real won seven out of the last nine matches since the demoralising Barcelona defeat, but fans continued to demand the departure of Benitez, whose Liverpool side won the Champions League in 2005.
Real Madrid is third in the Spanish league, four points behind leader Atletico Madrid and two behind Barcelona, who have a game in hand.
Perez had supported Benitez since the Barcelona loss, saying the former Valencia manager “was the solution, not the problem”. But fans kept showing their discontent even in an 8-0 win over Malmo in the Champions League and a 10-2 rout of Rayo Vallecano in the Spanish league. They were also not happy with the team’s embarrassing elimination from the Copa del Rey for using an ineligible player.
Zidane’s name was mentioned by the Spanish media every time Real Madrid struggled.
The former playmaker kept dismissing the possibility of taking over from Benitez, but always made it clear that his ultimate goal was to coach the main team. Perez recently praised Zidane and said that, naturally, he would become Madrid’s manager one day.
There had been speculation about former Chelsea coach Jose Mourinho taking over at Madrid, but Perez said the Portuguese manager’s return wasn’t in the team’s plans for now. Furthermore, rumours abounded of his difficult relationship with Cristiano Ronaldo and other key players at the club.
Madrid’s next match is at Granada on Sunday in the 22nd round of the Spanish league.