Florentino Perez’s face conveyed the shock felt at Zinedine Zidane’s sudden announcement. The Real Madrid president looked haunted at the words coming out of the Frenchman’s mouth confirming that having led the Spanish side to their third successive Champions League title just days ago, he would be leaving. Perez, just like everyone else, had been caught by surprise.
Now, rather unexpectedly, Perez is charged with finding a successor to Zidane. The Real Madrid president was probably looking forward to a serene summer break following his side’s triumph in Kiev, but all of a sudden he is faced with a watershed moment in the club’s recent history. Replacing Zidane won’t be easy.
While it is still too early to draw any solid conclusions over candidates, two men have already surfaced as potential successors – Jurgen Klopp and Mauricio Pochettino. Particularly in the case of the latter, the links through the press are strong, with Perez thought to be a big fan of the Argentine coach.
Indeed, it seems inevitable that Pochettino will one day occupy the Santiago Bernabeu dugout, but the ink has barely dried on the new five-year contract signed as Spurs just last week. There might well be a clause in the deal that allows the 46-year-old to talk to clubs of Real Madrid’s ilk, as has been widely reported, but praising him from Daniel Levy’s hands would be another matter altogether. It would a similar story in trying to snatch Klopp from Liverpool. The German has revitalised the Merseyside club over the past three seasons, with even more expected from the Reds have made the final of the Champions League this season, where they were beaten by Zidane’s Real Madrid. He is midway through a project at Anfield.
But if Real Madrid wants a manager to keep them at the top of the European game, they must aim high and both Klopp and Pochettino fit the bill. Both men would be a good fit for a club that doesn’t just expect their team to win, but to win in style. Klopp, in particular, would surely thrive with such attacking options at his disposal.
Zidane is a pragmatist and so while he achieved great success over his two-and-a-half year spell as Real Madrid manager, he leaves behind no great ideological legacy. His philosophy was winning, instilling a hardened mentality in all of his players, but stylistically, whoever comes in at the Santiago Bernabeu this summer will have a blank canvas to work with. In that, there is surely an attraction, as if the Real Madrid wasn’t naturally attractive enough.
Some at Real Madrid, perhaps including Perez, still send envious glances at Barcelona such is their clear identity as a team. The ‘Tiki-Taka’ era concluded at Camp Nou a long time ago, but the Catalans still stand for something as a side. A certain character is expected from their players. They must fit into a mould. The same can’t be said of Real Madrid at the moment.
This would be the primary appeal of Klopp and Pochettino. They would come with a philosophy, with a set of principles. The Santiago Bernabeu crowd can be difficult to please, but with either of these two men in charge, there would be the acceptance of a grander vision seen through a wider scope.
Other candidates might rise to the top in the coming weeks as Real Madrid’s shock at Zidane’s exit subsides and the process of appointing a successor begins. Antonio Conte, for instance, could soon be available. Joachim Loew might be open to a club move after the World Cup. Maurizio Sarri might even emerge as a potential option should his switch to Chelsea drag on any longer. But if all options are on the table, Real Madrid are faced with a choice of just two.