Zinedine Zidane has called time on his Real Madrid managerial career for the second time in three years. Why has the club legend decided to move on - again?
After Real's first trophyless season in more than a decade was confirmed by Atletico Madrid's La Liga title triumph last weekend, Zidane has left the Bernabeu again, having previously quit as manager so that a 'new project' could be started in 2018.
On that occasion, he left having just lifted the Champions League trophy, and was back within a year after that project, first led by Julen Lopetegui then Santiago Solari, quickly went off the rails.
So what's the back story to the same thing happening again?
- Zinedine Zidane steps down as Real Madrid manager
- Football facing 'downfall', say ESL trio Real, Barca and Juve
- Bale, Real talks on hold until after Euros
- Real Madrid miss out on Spanish title on final day
Why has Zidane decided to quit?
Unlike in 2018 when he left on a high, Zidane leaves Real without anything to add to the trophy cabinet this time around, in what is their first season without silverware since 2009/10.
As in 2018 though, his rationale is the same and has been hinted at in recent weeks, that the club needs to follow a new project, without him at the helm.
Last time he jumped ship with the club aiming to rebuild its squad in the coming years. That job has still yet to be done, with a number of his first-choice team from his first spell still regulars at the club.
The Spanish press reports Real are serious about making changes to their playing squad this summer, however, including the likes of Martin Odegaard and Dani Ceballos who were both loaned to Arsenal last season, and claim Zidane is, again, not willing to oversee that transition.
Spanish newspaper AS states Real are planning on letting Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane move on this summer, which has only strengthened Zidane's desire to leave.
"It reminds me to a certain extent of what happened the first time, under Florentino Perez," said Manu Carreno, journalist with Spanish outlet El Larguero. "In a certain way Zidane returned without a change of cycle having happened and now, that change of cycle, has to be done. Did Zidane want to be the man who told Marcelo, Isco and others they had to move on?"
Ahead of their final game of the season against Villarreal last weekend, at which point they still could have finished as La Liga champions, the manager said Real Madrid "could be a better team without me, for sure".
Less than a week later, he has followed through on that. Even so, Spanish newspaper Marca reports the news 'fell like a bomb' around a club which has traditionally proven ruthless towards its managers but had no intention of sacking this club legend.
How long has this been on the cards?
Zidane's future has been a matter for public debate, including with the manager himself, for a number of months. There were reports in Spain towards the end of 2020 that he could be fired at the end of the season with Real close to Champions League elimination in the group stage after a 2-0 reverse at Shakhtar Donetsk, after which he fended off questions about whether he would resign.
But given Real's revival and run to the semi-finals of the competition, so too bouncing back from three defeats in their first 10 La Liga games to take the title race to the final day, Zidane reportedly felt undermined by those assertions from within the club that he could be disposed of.
Will this affect his legend status?
Well, it's difficult for much to affect that - few others would have kept their position after a season returning not a single trophy. Managers have been sacked at the Bernabeu even after they have won silverware.
But this is now twice in three years that Zidane has walked out on his club, and while his legacy remains fully in tact, those actions have not gone unnoticed.
"We all expected this a bit, although there was the possibility that Madrid would convince him [to stay]," said El Larguero journalist Jesus Gallego. "What I do believe is that an explanation is necessary, this has to be explained by Zidane. Leaving twice while under contract - I have not seen someone else do this, leaving the club in the lurch twice in a row."
Who will Real Madrid appoint next?
There are three frontrunners listed in both AS and Marca as being early favourites for the top job: Antonio Conte, who has just left Inter Milan, Real Madrid legend Raul and Massimiliano Allegri, the former Juventus manager, although he is already close to returning to the Old Lady to replace Andrea Pirlo.
Conte certainly has a CV that a club like Real would be interested in, having won titles in Italy and England, with Juventus, Chelsea and now Inter.
Raul has no senior experience as a manager but has been the head coach of Real Madrid Castilla, their second team, for two years, which may play in his favour given AS reports the club plans to include more youth prospects in their first-team squad under the next regime.
Where will Zidane head now?
With Mauricio Pochettino already in talks to leave PSG and return to Tottenham, there could be a vacancy to interest Zidane sooner than he may have imagined should he leave the Parc des Princes.
Spanish football expert Alvaro Montero told Sky Sports News: "It's an option that Zidane could replace Mauricio Pochettino at PSG. He's unpredictable and he could well head back to France if Pochettino decides to return to Tottenham.
"It was thought that Juventus was an option before they turned to Massimiliano Allegri to replace Andrea Pirlo. But who knows what will happen after the Euros?
"Perhaps Didier Deschamps will leave the French national team and maybe Zidane will be his replacement. He's unpredictable so could stay a whole year without coaching."
Real Madrid will listen to offers for Eden Hazard and Gareth Bale this summer amid their continued interest in Kylian Mbappe and Erling Haaland.
Hazard has scored only five times since he moved from Chelsea two years ago in a deal worth up to £130m.
Injury problems mean the Belgian has featured in only 43 games across all competitions in two seasons in Spain.
The 30-year-old was not in the squad for Saturday's game against Villarreal as Real finished the campaign second in La Liga, two points behind champions Atletico Madrid.
The collapse of the proposed European Super League, plus their ongoing interest in Mbappe and Haaland, means Real Madrid need to raise money from player sales this summer.
As well as Hazard and Bale, Real will listen to offers for other players such as Luka Jovic.