Zinedine Zidane stunned Real Madrid on Thursday afternoon by announcing his departure as the club’s manager.
After a highly successful two-and-a-half year spell at the Bernabeu in which he won three Champions League titles, the French legend has decided to step down to hand the reins over to someone else.
Given the fact that Zidane’s resignation was a big surprise for Florentino Perez and Real Madrid, the chances of a quick appointment are very slim. However, Real will have no shortage of candidates to take over as the club’s new manager and attempt to uphold their strong recent record both in domestic and European competition.
Arsene Wenger (unattached). Perez is a noted fan of Wenger, and has tried to bring the former Arsenal boss to the Bernabeu on at least two occasions. Wenger had always been mindful of not breaking his contracts, but after his recent Emirates departure, the way is now clear for the three-time Premier League winner to take charge of the Spanish giants.
At the age of 68, it would not be a long-term appointment – but with Perez now in a position to get the manager he has wanted for years, would he be able to pass up the chance to make one last play at convincing him?
Mauricio Pochettino (Tottenham). Had Pochettino waited a few days longer to sign that lengthy contract of his, the speculation surrounding him and the now-vacant job at the Bernabeu would be far more intense. As it is, his five-year deal makes a move unlikely but that probably won’t stop Perez from at least enquiring.
Pochettino enjoys a growing reputation in European football and the idea that Real would one day come calling is one that has reared its head on multiple occasions. His ideals of developing young talent would not fit in with the Galacticos ethos but if Real continue with Zidane’s methods, then it would be a more compatible prospect.
All of that said, the Spurs manager’s contract would make an appointment extremely tricky to navigate.
Max Allegri (Juventus). The Italian has effectively conquered Italy with Juventus with four consecutive Serie A titles, but may have grown bored of the relatively small pond. Allegri has always hinted that he would like to stay at the club for longer, but if the Real job is offered to him then it’s hard to see him turning it down.
After coming close to winning the Champions League twice with Juve, joining Real would put him much closer to achieving that aim.
Antonio Conte (Chelsea). That Antonio Conte is even still at Chelsea is a surprise in and of itself, given the inevitability of his departure from Stamford Bridge. The Italian’s relationship with the Stamford Bridge hierarchy is said to have broken down to the point where even winning the FA Cup barely made a ripple in his chances of staying on at the club.
That said, Conte maintains a high profile in the game and is sure to be on Real’s watchlist.
Maurizio Sarri (unattached). Although Sarri was relieved of his duties by Napoli last week, the Serie A side still retain the rights to his contract. As such, Real would still need to negotiate with Aurelio De Laurentiis (assuming, of course, they choose not to activate the €8m release clause that expires on Thursday).
Sarri pushed Juventus all the way with Napoli in the season just gone, and while he seems all set to replace Conte at Chelsea in the near future, the sudden availability of the Real job could be an interesting game-changer.
Guti (Real Madrid). Should Real want to continue the policy of hiring from within that proved so successful with Zidane, there are few candidates more qualified than Guti. The former midfielder is already something of a legend a the club having amassed over 500 appearances their in a 15-year playing spell, and the strong regard fans have for him would allow him more leeway in a bedding-in period.
His lack of senior managerial experience would go against him, but with his intimate knowledge of the inner workings of the club – from both a playing and coaching perspective – his would be a very popular appointment.
Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid). It’s a long shot – a very long shot, in fact – but Real Madrid are hardly a predictable club. Handing the reins to Ronaldo on a player-manager basis would be foolhardy but it’s hard to ascertain the full extent of the lengths they will go to to keep the Portuguese forward happy.
Ronaldo’s ego would love the opportunity to lead the club to Champions League glory as a manager – and despite the “lunatics running the asylum” feel to such an appointment, it’s Real Madrid so it can’t be fully ruled out.