Zinedine Zidane has returned to Real Madrid less than a year after resigning in the wake of a third straight Champions League triumph.
With their defence of Europe’s premier club trophy having ended in a stunning last-16 elimination at the hands of Ajax, Madrid sacked their manager for the second time this season – a 4-1 win at Real Valladolid on Sunday suggesting the decision to dispense with Santiago Solari had already been made.
Los Blancos are simply playing for a top-four finish in LaLiga this season and a dismal campaign has led to uncertainty over the futures of a number of their big guns.
We look at how Zidane’s return may impact Gareth Bale, Sergio Ramos, Marcelo and Isco.
Bale no longer backed?
The duo shared a fraught relationship during Zidane’s trophy-laden first spell at Madrid and reports even suggested the Frenchman’s surprise resignation last May was due to president Florentino Perez backtracking on a commitment to sell Bale following his tremendous overhead-kick goal as Los Blancos beat Liverpool to claim a third straight Champions League title.
Having played a pivotal role in the triumph in Kiev, Bale, who was unhappy about starting the game as a substitute, suggested a move away was on the cards in the immediate aftermath.
— UEFA Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) May 26, 2018
“Obviously I feel that I need to be playing every week,” he said. “It’s something I feel like I should be doing and if it’s not the case here it’s something that I’ll have to reconsider.”
However, Bale’s failure to replace Cristiano Ronaldo as the leading man in Madrid combined with the return of Zidane suggests the club may have had another change of heart.
With Vinicius Junior proving he is capable of making an impact in the first team while the Welshman spent the start of 2019 on the sidelines with another calf injury, his time may now be up.
Still room for Ramos?
Before the appointment of Zidane, Jose Mourinho was being tipped as the leading candidate for a Santiago Bernabeu return.
As those rumours swirled, so did suggestions Ramos would push for a move away from Madrid if the Portuguese took charge for a second time.
Their issues stem from Mourinho’s outspoken criticism of the players in the wake of a 1-0 loss to Sevilla in September 2012, something Ramos took issue with and found himself dropped for the Champions League visit of Manchester City three days later. Their relationship never recovered.
An eagle-eyed photographer spotted Ramos wearing Mesut Ozil’s shirt under his own during a match against Deportivo La Coruna the following month, the German having been a persistent target of Mourinho’s ire, highlighting the divisions between the pair.
He will no doubt be relieved to have Zidane back at the helm, with his future now likely to remain in Madrid.
As footballers we like to do our talking on the pitch but this season is not turning out that way. Recent events have been disastrous and I’m not hiding. We are not hiding. We the players are primarily responsible and I, as captain, more than anyone. That’s why I thought that the most honest way to answer the questions that are circulating around us would be to tackle them directly. Was the yellow card in Amsterdam an error? Absolutely it was an error and I take the blame 200%. Why did you record the documentary? There are certain commitments made and it never remotely went through my head that the game could have turned out as it did. The recording itself was scaled down as the game went on. Did you argue with the President in the dressing room? Dressing room issues are discussed and resolved in the dressing room. There’s no problem whatsoever and everybody has the same interest: Real Madrid. Did you address your teammates and criticize them? We always talk and motivate each other in the dressing room and always in a constructive way. Did you have a confrontation with Marcelo? We have exchanges in every training session. It’s part of working with pressure. But it’s just an anecdote like so many others that happen from day to day. @Marcelotwelve is like a brother to me. Why did you travel to Valladolid? Because I wanted to be close and support my teammates. What’s happening with the coach? It’s a decision that’s not ours to make and in which we never interfere. We have enormous respect for the position and we always support the Real Madrid coach. These reflections are, without doubt, the result of a deeply disappointing season but if success didn’t stop us, we’re not going to let defeat stop us. It’s our obligation to carry on, to work and to evolve. And to remember that some of us are lucky enough to play for @realmadrid, some of us are lucky enough to form part of its history, but #RealMadrid was, is and will always be #RealMadrid. No one name makes the legend of Real Madrid, but we have all written that legend together. Together we have to work for the future and restore our hope. Madridista Commitment. #HalaMadrid
Marcelo to remain marginalised?
After four LaLiga, Champions League and Club World Cup titles, three Supercopas de Espana and UEFA Super Cups and a pair of Copas del Rey, Marcelo probably did not envision being axed from the Madrid line-up in his prime.
The 30-year-old Brazil left-back has long been a key figure at the Bernabeu but following Solari’s appointment he lost his place in the team to Castilla product Sergio Reguilon.
Marcelo started just five LaLiga matches under Solari and is a reported target for Juventus in the close-season, the Bianconeri said to be keen to add a familiar face for Ronaldo to avoid the Portugal captain’s move to Turin falling flat.
Although Zidane also started out as Castilla coach, he will surely have more faith in Marcelo than Reguilon.
It remains to be seen if a reported training-ground bust-up with Ramos has done irreparable damage to his place in the team, though.
— Marcelotwelve (@MarceloM12) February 6, 2019
Like Marcelo, Isco found himself on the fringes under Solari.
He looked set to play an important role for Julen Lopetegui but a bout of acute appendicitis brought a halt to his strong start to the season.
Isco’s opportunities dried up following Solari’s appointment and, seemingly irked by jeers and whistles, he appeared to confront a section of Madrid fans during the surprise 3-0 loss to CSKA Moscow at the Bernabeu last December – a match in which confusion over his refusal to take the captain’s armband led to further scorn.
However, the attacking midfielder played some of his best football for Madrid under Zidane, a fact evidenced by the five-year contract he was handed in September 2017.
That deal was understood to have included a staggering €700m release clause, underlining the regard he was held in by Zidane and the club just 18 months ago.
Isco will now hope to have a chance to prove worthy of such confidence.
Put a little magic in your life!
— LaLiga (@LaLigaEN) March 27, 2018
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