On the 31st May 2018 the football world was surprised by the news that the man who led Real Madrid to three straight Champions League titles, Zinedine Zidane, had decided to walk away from the club. Less than a year later, the football world was arguably even more shocked to find out that Zizou had decided to come back to Los Blancos.
Most people have met this announcement with excitement, due to the success that Zidane was able to achieve in his previous stint at the Santiago Bernabeu, and surely if he has agreed to return then he must have been given the promises that Club President Florentino Perez did not give him last summer.
Since last summer, Real Madrid have been in a tailspin, with the whole debacle around Julen Lopetegui and then Santiago Solari overseeing one of the worst weeks in recent memory, as Real exited the Champions League, Copa del Rey, and basically had their slim hopes of a title dashed by Barcelona. The words I keep hearing is that Zidane is playing chess, whilst everyone else is playing checkers, having abandoned ship when he saw things heading south. Leaving a hero and returning as the saviour. But to me, it seems that the former World Cup winner has returned to the Titanic after being given the chance to get out ahead.
The assumption that Perez has crawled back to Zidane on hands and knees is probably a fair one, why else would he return so quickly after deciding that his situation in Madrid was untenable? The main promise that people expect Zidane was given is free reign over transfer policy, able to dispense with the players he deems unfit (Gareth Bale) and bring in the players he wants (Eden Hazard).
Unfortunately for the world’s most attractive bald man, the transfer market is rarely this simple. Players like Bale may be stagnating at Real but getting rid of him is nowhere near as easy as most would expect. Due to his extortionate pay packet, the Welshman can only really go to a handful of clubs able to pay that kind of money. This creates a rather troublesome Venn diagram of clubs who can afford Gareth Bale and clubs that want him. Bale is pretty much always the player that Spurs want to bring back, but Daniel Levy will never pay the wages he demands and Real wouldn’t want to foot the bill for him potentially playing against them in the Champions League. On the other side, clubs like Manchester City, who could afford Bale, don’t really need him due to the wealth (if you’ll pardon the pun) of attacking talent that resides at the Etihad.
On the other side of the transfer equation is bringing players in. Eden Hazard is assumed to be the top target of Los Blancos, hence his previous link with the Chelsea job, and he wants to go there. But UEFA have thrown a rather hefty spanner into the works of this move by refusing to move Chelsea’s transfer ban back by six-months. This means that Hazard could not be replaced by the Blues and lord knows Premier League clubs don’t need the money, so Chelsea have no real motivation to sell the only reason they have scored any goals this season. This would leave Zidane having to shift his attentions elsewhere, the other targets listed always seem to be PSG duo, Kylian Mbappe and Neymar. As much as they might want to leave, they are incredibly expensive players and PSG are far from finished with getting knocked-out of the Champions League at the round-of-sixteen every season yet. So, logically, which of the top targets he was doubtless promised would he actually get to work with next season?
So, with this established, Zidane has walked back into a club a long way behind the one he left in the summer of 2018. He has come back to an ageing squad with many internal issues in the shape of former favourites Isco and Marcelo, and, crucially, without Cristiano Ronaldo. It probably would have been best for Zizou to leave his legacy where it was in the Spanish capital, as one of their all-time best players and managers, and tried his hand somewhere else, because, whatever Perez said to him as he kissed his feet, none of it is likely to actually be there for him.