Real Madrid reappointed Zinedine Zidane as manager last night, 10 months after he walked away having won three straight Champions League trophies.
The Frenchman’s reappearance in the Madrid press conference room in drainpipe, turn-up jeans, blazer and shirt capped another surreal day at the club that does surreal like no other.
The announcement of his return came after captain Sergio Ramos had published an ‘auto-interview’ in which he asked — and answered — himself, questions about his recent rows with team-mates and president Florentino Perez.
Zidane risks his own reputation re-entering the circus, but asked about the possibility of ruining his legacy, he said: ‘I don’t feel that. We won the Champions League last season but we lost the league early and the cup too and I was at the controls when those things happened.’
Perez was in jocular mood after managing to persuade Zidane to ‘come home’. Asked about signing Kylian Mbappe, he joked: ‘Zidane is French he can maybe do something’. And asked if he preferred Mbappe or Neymar, he said: ‘I would say both.’
Jose Mourinho came close to landing the job of replacing Santiago Solari but fears of a dressing room revolt at his reappointment saw Madrid redouble their efforts to convince Zidane to return.
The decision is bad news for Gareth Bale, whose relationship with Zidane was almost non-existent towards the end of his reign at the club.
Zidane quit Madrid last summer unhappy at plans to sell Cristiano Ronaldo and not replace him.
The club’s awful season has completely vindicated his decision to walk away and he will be given money to spend this summer.
That could mean a £100million bid for one of his long-term favourites, Eden Hazard, although Madrid are aware Chelsea will only sell if an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport allows them to postpone their transfer ban. When Perez first asked Zidane to come back to the club his overtures were rejected and Mourinho became the leading candidate.
Telemadrid, a television channel in Madrid, even announced last Thursday that Mourinho would be taking charge with immediate effect.
Sportsmail consulted sources close to the club on Sunday and was told everything was set for Mourinho’s reappointment, but that Perez had still not ‘pressed the button’ and was harbouring doubts over what effect re-hiring Mourinho would have on a dressing room still bearing the scars of his last spell.
Perez made a second attempt to bring back Zidane, offering greater concessions, and the French coach accepted the offer yesterday morning. He has signed for the rest of this season and three more years.
Zidane still lives in Madrid close to the club’s training ground. His youngest sons Theo and Elyaz, 16 and 13, are in the club’s youth system and elder son Luca is the team’s third-choice goalkeeper.
His ties to Madrid always made Chelsea’s chances of bringing him to London slim. ‘I have had various offers since then but I wanted to stay here in Madrid,’ he said as he was presented.
Chelsea’s Hazard could now be his No 1 target as he looks to make changes to the first-team squad.
Asked about the various problems he will inherit — Bale, Isco and Marcelo have all had fallings out with team-mates and supporters this season — Zidane replied: ‘The players here have won so much.
‘I’m not going to get involved in what has happened between them this season. I’ve seen all the games.
‘The players are the first to know that it has been a tough year. Sometimes you have to fall down to get back to where you were before.’ But behind the platitudes there is a fear that Bale’s card may be marked.
The two men barely spoke at the end of Zidane’s final season at the club and Bale was one of the few Real Madrid players who did not make a public ‘goodbye and good luck’ message to him when he left.
Zidane is not known for holding grudges. But Bale — who earns 15m euros a season until 2022, making a return to England difficult — will know that Zidane’s return does not aid his cause.
As news broke of Zidane’s return yesterday, Bale was tweeting about the Players Championship golf tournament in Jacksonville.
This was not lost on his critics, who have jumped on a revelation in a recent Thibaut Courtois interview that team-mates have nicknamed him ‘The Golfer’, due to his obsession with the sport.
By Pete Jensen
© Associated Newspapers Ltd.