Universally popular versus a divisive figure - why Real Madrid chose Zidane over Mourinho

By Sports Desk March 12, 2019

Real Madrid's turbulent season took another twist on Monday as Santiago Solari was given the boot, paving the way for Zinedine Zidane to return as head coach.

It was just over nine months ago that Zidane stepped down, having led the club to a third straight Champions League crown.

Julen Lopetegui came and went prior to the appointment of Solari, for whom the writing was on the wall after successive defeats to Barcelona and a 4-1 humiliation at the hands of Ajax left Madrid out of the running in LaLiga, Copa del Rey and in Europe.

It was widely expected the Santiago Bernabeu hierarchy would return to a familiar face but it was Jose Mourinho, not Zidane, being touted as the next man into the hotseat.

And yet on Monday, it quickly became clear it would be the Frenchman handed a contract until June 2022. So what prompted the Madrid board to plump for Zidane over Mourinho?



Madrid covet the Champions League more than any other trophy, so it is perhaps unsurprising to see them turn back to a man who oversaw successive triumphs between 2016 and 2018. That domination ended with the ill-fated tenures of Lopetegui and Solari, of course, as Ajax ran riot at the Bernabeu last week. That thrashing effectively hammered the final nail in Solari's coffin, and Madrid will hope the return of Zidane delivers a 14th European Cup in 2019-20. Mourinho, by contrast, lifted the second of his titles in 2010 with Inter, before three campaigns at the Bernabeu delivered a trio of semi-final appearances. He subsequently failed to guide Chelsea or Manchester United beyond that stage, suffering a surprise last-16 exit at the hands of Sevilla at Old Trafford last season. Perhaps Madrid feel Mourinho's days of European glory are behind him.


Although Mourinho's reign in Madrid delivered one sensational LaLiga crown in 2011-12, breaking records aplenty, his tenure was also notable for several fall-outs with senior members of his squad. Club icon Iker Casillas was one such example, incurring the wrath of the Portuguese due to his friendship with a number of the Barcelona team. Casillas has long since moved on but the likes of Sergio Ramos remain influential figures at the club and it was suggested the captain was threatening to leave if the Bernabeu board appointed Mourinho for a second time. Additionally, the club's hierarchy itself was said to be split over the wisdom of bringing back such a divisive figure. Among players and directors alike, Zidane appears a far more popular choice.


Two things have become synonymous with Real Madrid: the European Cup, and the signing of marquee players. Zidane himself was hailed as one of the 'Galacticos' when he arrived from Juventus in 2001 for €77million. The market has moved on since then, with the game's current superstars fetching two to three times that amount. Unquestionably falling within that bracket is Kylian Mbappe, who continues to dazzle at Paris Saint-Germain and has frequently been linked with a move to Madrid. So, could Zidane make it happen? President Florentino Perez thinks his latest appointment may have an edge over other potential suitors, saying: "He's French. Perhaps he can do something." Perez was talking in light-hearted terms but one would not be surprised to see Madrid mount a concerted effort to bring football's brightest talent to the Bernabeu. The club has a long-standing tradition of doing so and they may feel Mourinho – who reportedly bickered repeatedly with United's board over transfer targets – does not offer them the same opportunity to continue that custom.

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    Zidane was billed a "disgrace" by Bale's agent Jonathan Barnett, who has previously confirmed the coach and player have a fraught relationship, with the Frenchman seemingly not valuing Bale's ability despite his contribution to three consecutive Champions League titles.

    It was Bale's double that sealed Madrid's last European crown a year ago, a stunning overhead kick contributing to a 3-1 defeat of Liverpool in Kiev that proved Zidane's last match in charge - soon after he announced his shock resignation.

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    The romantic option, a return to Tottenham would enable Bale to play first-team football and slot back into a club where he became a global superstar. Finances would surely scupper a permanent move although Spurs have smashed their club record to buy Lyon midfielder Tanguy Ndombele and are reportedly considering doing so again to sign Giovani Lo Celso from Real Betis. An initial loan has been mooted but Madrid would still likely have to cover a large portion of Bale's massive wages - how desperate are they to move him on? Bale would certainly improve Mauricio Pochettino's forward options and a front three of Son Heung-min, Harry Kane and Bale looks incredibly strong on paper.


    Bale has long been linked with United, but their failure to qualify for the Champions League does not make them an attractive option for top-level players right now although they remain among the world's biggest clubs. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has also indicated he is willing to put his faith in young players such as the talented teenager Mason Greenwood, who has impressed in pre-season to force his way into first-team contention at Old Trafford despite being just 17. Bale would be an upgrade on United's wing options but they seem to be going in a different direction with the arrivals of Dan James and Aaron Wan-Bissaka signalling a long-needed change in transfer policy. Madrid's reported interest in Paul Pogba could see Bale offered to United as part of a potential deal, though.


    If PSG lose Neymar - the club confirmed recently he wants to leave - they will have room for another elite talent and Bale might just fit the bill. Whether moving to what is essentially a one-team league due to PSG's financial firepower is attractive to the Welshman is unclear, but teaming up with a thrilling talent like Kylian Mbappe could be persuasive. PSG are also one of a very small number of teams who could pay Bale the wages he has become accustomed to earning in Madrid and he has plenty of experience of winning the Champions League, which remains PSG's goal.


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    Reports in Spain previously claimed Bale is happy to see out his contract at the Santiago Bernabeu, which still has three years to run. It would be a tempting option given no other clubs are likely to match his pay packet, while the lack of stability in the dugout could play in his favour. Zidane was Madrid's third permanent head coach last term and failed to inspire any significant improvement in the latter weeks of the 2018-19 campaign. Although the Frenchman has considerable credit from his trio of consecutive Champions League titles, it is not impossible to see Madrid starting the season poorly and president Florentino Perez opting for yet another change of head coach. Another man in charge could see Bale as an asset so the 30-year-old may choose to stay put for now.

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    "We had a conversation and decided this is best for the club and for me," Filipe Luis said at his farewell announcement on Sunday.

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