Zinedine Zidane walked out on Real Madrid because the club and its president, Florentino Pérez, systematically undermined him, according to an extraordinary open letter the Frenchman addressed to supporters.
In the letter, published in the sports daily AS four days after his resignation was made official, Zidane made it clear that he intends to continue coaching and offers his reasons for departing; above all, he paints a telling portrait of a culture at a club where coaches are not backed by the hierarchy and are subjected to distrust and strategic leaks that weaken their position.
“I am not abandoning ship and I am not tired of coaching,” Zidane wrote. “I am going because I feel that the club no longer gives me the trust I need and doesn’t offer me the support needed to build something in the mid and long term. Over the last few months, I would have liked my relationship with the club and the president to have been a bit different to that of other managers.”
This is the third time Zidane has walked away from Madrid, once as a player, twice as a manager and always on his own terms, the decision unilateral. This time, there will be no going back. Not after a damaging public statement like this in which he did not just point the finger at the president for failing to protect him but expressed his belief that reports of his imminent sacking in the autumn and winter came from within and destabilised the team. He also defended his players from criticism levelled at them, including from within, amid accusations that he was too close to them – the old guard particularly.
When Zidane told a press conference in February “tell me to my face that you want to get rid of me, not behind my back”, that was a message directed not just at the media but at the club that used them. The reference to “other managers” underlined that this is not just about him. Similar feelings could be expressed by Vicente del Bosque, Carlo Ancelotti, Carlos Queiroz and many others. They could even have been expressed by Zidane himself after his first spell, which ended four days after winning a third consecutive European Cup. He knew where he was returning to in March 2019 and he is not blameless, although he wrote that this departure was not the same. “Last time I left because I thought the team needed a new direction; this time is different,” he said.
“I know football and I know the demands of a club like Real Madrid, I know that when you don’t win you have to go,” Zidane wrote. “But something important has been forgotten here: everything I have built day to day, what I have contributed building the relationship with the players [and] the 150 people who work around the team. I am a born winner and I was here to conquer trophies but beyond that there are human beings, feelings, life, and I have the impression these things have not been appreciated, that it hasn’t been understood that a great club is also sustained by those relationships. I fact, I have even been criticised for that.”
“I want everything we did together to be respected,” Zidane added, insisting: “I am not asking for privileges, of course not, but a bit of memory.”
He also wrote: “These days a coach lasts two years. To last longer than that, human relationships are essential, more important than money, fame, everything. You have to look after those. That is why it hurt me so much when I read in the press after a defeat that they were going to sack me if I didn’t win the next game. It hurt me and it hurt my whole team because those messages, deliberately leaked to the media, created negative interference with the squad, created doubts and misunderstanding.
“Thankfully, I have marvellous lads who supported me to the death. When things got ugly, they saved me with great victories. Because they believed in me and they knew I believed in them. Of course, I am not the best coach in the world but I am capable of giving the strength and trust that everyone needs in their work, whether that’s a player, a member of the coaching staff, or any employee. I know perfectly well what the team needs.” Here the “unlike Pérez,” went without saying, but Zidane had said enough.