It wasn’t entirely certain who would walk through the door and into the Santiago Bernabeu press room. The Madrid press had been assembled for the presentation of a new Real Madrid manager, with Jose Mourinho presumed to be Florentino Perez’s first choice the week before. There had been suggestions that Zinedine Zidane would return, but few in that room that day would have put their house on it.
Of course, the Frenchman did indeed return to the Santiago Bernabeu, taking over less than a season after he’d quit at the end of the 2017/18 season. Real Madrid needed Zidane having gone through two managers since his departure. Their season was all but over and so the former Ballon d’Or winner was given the freedom he wanted in the first place to rebuild the side.
That rebuild happened over the summer with around £300 million spent on the squad. Eden Hazard was the marquee addition, the natural successor to Cristiano Ronaldo who should have arrived at the Santiago Bernabeu a year prior, but there were also big money moves for Luka Jovic, Eder Militao, Rodrygo, Ferland Mendy.
Despite all this, though, the early signs of Zidane’s rebuild have not been all that positive. Pre-season is only pre-season, but the temperature of Real Madrid’s preparations for the new campaign have been cold. The vibe has not been good and there is a sense that the clock might already be ticking on Zidane.
Before wins over Fenerbahce and Red Bull Salzburg, Real Madrid had lost all four of their pre-season games played over the summer, with the most damaging lost coming against rivals Atletico Madrid in New Jersey, where they shipped no fewer than seven goals.
Of course, this sort of thing can happen in pre-season, but Zidane is still struggling to impose an identity on his team. They have looked exceptionally open and vulnerable to opposition attacks all through pre-season, lacking in shape at the back and energy through the middle of the pitch. It’s a concerning combination from a Madridista perspective.
Real Madrid won’t hesitate in sacking Zidane should it come to that point this season. They were one result away from doing this just months before the Frenchman claimed a third successive Champions League title – indeed, it’s an open secret Zidane would have been dismissed had Real Madrid fallen to Paris Saint-Germain in the round of 16.
Just because Zidane was called upon as the saviour doesn’t mean that he will continue to be seen that way. Public image is very fluid at the Santiago Bernabeu (just as Gareth Bale) and Zidane’s will be tested over the coming weeks and months after a difficult summer.
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