Barely a week after he carried Real Madrid to a third successive Champions League title, Zinedine Zidane parted ways with arguably the most decorated club in the world. Inevitably, conspiracy theories have bubbled to the fore: Fractured ties with club president Florentino Perez, wearying association with Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale, growing fan distrust.
As he bid farewell, Zidane neither refuted nor conceded the falling-out theories, but offered a more believable explanation of his departure. “It’s the moment to make a change. It would be difficult to keep winning if I stayed,” he said. The ambitions of contemporary managers have radically changed. No longer the iron-fisted autocrats, but just another cog in the club’s churning wheel, they do not see any gain in sticking forever to one successful club, like Alex Ferguson (27 years) or Arsene Wenger (22 years). That’s more or less the case with players too — few stay with a single club, like the Maldinis and Giggs of the world. Clubs also keep changing their personnel to slay predictability. Madrid, next season, is bracing for an overhaul.
Zidane and Wenger, two towering Frenchmen, present an intriguing parallel. Where the quintessence of the Wengerian era ends, the zeitgeist of Zidane’s time begins. Wenger, the perpetual idealist, hung around Arsenal, incrementally shaping its footballing philosophy and departed reluctantly. Zidane, on the other hand, clearly knew that it would be next to impossible to surpass what he has already accomplished. And the Madrid officialdom is notoriously impatient. Modern-day managers, like Zidane, are bound by a spirit of adventure, unchained by comfort, success, or even nostalgia. They are like fly-by-night mercenaries hopping from one club to the other, in a quest to learn and unlearn, define and redefine themselves. Or as Pep Guardiola said when leaving Barcelona, “I got bored of the football here.” Zidane used the word desgaste, implying he’s out of energy. And they have found that the best way to deal with fatigue is change. The coming years would only see more Zidanes and Guardiolas, not Wengers and Fergusons.