MADRID (AP) — Zinedine Zidane quit as Real Madrid coach on Thursday, less than a week after leading the team to its third straight Champions League title, saying the club needed a change in command.
The 45-year-old Zidane, who was coach for two and half seasons, said he felt it was the right moment — for him and for the team — to make the move.
“This club needs a change to keep winning,” Zidane said. “With me it would have been complicated to keep winning.”
It was a surprising announcement by Zidane, who won nine titles as Madrid coach, including the three Champions League titles, one Spanish league title, one Spanish Super Cup, two UEFA Super Cups and two Club World Cups.
“It was a completely unexpected decision,” Madrid president Florentino Perez said. “Today is a sad day for me, for the fans and for all the people who work at the club. I wish we could always have Zidane by our side, but we know that when Zizou makes a decision, the only thing we can do is to accept it and respect it.”
Zidane said there wasn’t a specific reason that led him to his decision.
“You have to know when to quit,” he said. “After three years, (the club) needs a change in speech, a new work methodology.”
Zidane mentioned the struggles the team faced this season, including in the Spanish league and the Copa del Rey. Madrid finished third in the league — 17 points behind champion Barcelona — and was eliminated at home by Leganes in the quarterfinals of the Copa del Rey, a moment which Zidane said was the worst of his coaching career with the club.
“We went through good moments but also complicated ones, and I don’t forget them,” Zidane said. “I want to leave when everything is going well. This is a good moment to end it well.”
Zidane spoke little about his future but said he is not immediately looking to coach another club. Perez also didn’t talk much about the club’s search for a new coach.
Zidane said his best moment with Madrid was when he was signed to play for the club in 2001.
“As a coach, there were a lot things, like winning the Champions League, but if there was one specific moment, it was to win La Liga (in 2017). It was the greatest thing,” the Frenchman said.
Zidane’s decision to quit came after Cristiano Ronaldo hinted he could be leaving the club. The star forward said after the Champions League final against Liverpool in Kiev that “it was very beautiful” to have played with Madrid. He has yet to make any announcements about his future since then.
Zidane was hired in January 2016 for what was his first major head-coaching job. The former star player arrived surrounded by doubts because of his lack of coaching experience but quickly surpassed expectations.
Zidane replaced Rafa Benitez after a stint with Madrid’s “B” team. He had been an assistant to Carlo Ancelotti when Madrid won the Champions League in 2014.
As a player, Zidane was in two consecutive Champions League finals with Juventus, losing both times, including to Madrid in 1998. He finally won the European title as a Madrid player in 2002, scoring an amazing volley in the final against Bayer Leverkusen.
With France, he won the 1998 World Cup. In the 2006 final, he was sent off for headbutting Italy defender Marco Materazzi.
“It could be a ‘see you soon,’ because Madrid has given me everything and I’ll be linked to this club my entire life,” Zidane said. “The decision may not make a lot of sense to many, but it does to me. It was time to make a change.”