Four big-name coaches have been linked with the job at Real Madrid after Zinedine Zidane stepped down from his position as manager on Thursday.
As had been widely predicted by the Spanish press in the hour leading up to the press conference, Zidane revealed he had decided to resign from his role as head coach.
“I spoke to him [president Florentino Perez] to explain a little what I was thinking at the moment,” Zidane told the media.
“First for me, the squad, the club I think it’s a bit of a weird moment but an important one that is good for everyone.
“What I think is that this team needs to continue winning but I think it needs a change, a different voice, another methodology and that’s why I took this decision.
“I love this club and the president who gave me the chance to play for this club and manage the club of my dreams.
“But everything changes and that’s why I’ve taken the decision to leave.”
Perez then commented, stating: “This was a totally unexpected decision and today is a sad day for me and for everyone who works for this club.
“When he says he’s taken a decision though, we have to accept it.
“I tried to convince him but I know how it is. He knows he has all our love and support.
“One can’t be prepared for something like this. I remember the first time I went to his house and asked him to coach Real Madrid and he was absolutely convinced he could win things.
“We must thank him for his care and passion for Real Madrid over these years.
“The only thing I want to say is ‘hasta pronto’ because I know he will return, maybe after a rest.”
The former Real and Juventus midfielder was understood to be under contract in Madrid until 2020.
Stepping up from managing the ‘Castilla’ B team, he replaced Rafael Benitez in January 2016 and although Real were runners-up to Barcelona at the end of that league campaign, he toasted European glory as city rivals Atletico Madrid were vanquished after penalties in Milan.
Zidane followed up his maiden Champions League crown as a coach with a LaLiga title and in June 2017 his side delivered a more emphatic European Cup final triumph as his former employers Juve were humbled 4-1 in Cardiff.
Although Real lost only two of their first 15 league matches in the recently concluded Spanish championship, Ernesto Valverde’s Barca were able to run away with the league following their vital 3-0 El Clasico win at the Bernabeu in December.
Zidane did stabilise results and duly blazed a trail to Kiev in the continental competition, but reports of dissatisfaction with his approach to domestic matters – namely the handling of Wales forward Gareth Bale, who has publicly expressed his own unhappiness with a reduced role – meant for regular rumours of a potential exit.
Real captain Sergio Ramos was among the first players to express his gratitude for Zidane’s coaching.
As a player and coach you decided to say goodbye at the top. Thank you for two and a half incredible years. Your legacy will never be erased, one of the most successful chapters in the history of our beloved @realmadrid pic.twitter.com/dO6bw74aA3
— Sergio Ramos (@SergioRamos) May 31, 2018
He tweeted: “As a player and coach you decided to say goodbye at the top. Thank you for two and a half incredible years. Your legacy will never be erased, one of the most successful chapters in the history of our beloved @realmadrid”.
The quest to find a high-profile successor will now commence and Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino, former Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger and the Italian Maurizio Sarri, most recently of Napoli, have all been linked with the role.
Wenger quickly emerged as the favourite, while reports in Italy speculated that Zidane could become Juventus manager if Real could persuade Massimiliano Allegri to step into the Bernabeu hotseat.
Resolving the futures of Bale and star striker Cristiano Ronaldo will be priorities for whoever the new boss may be.
It remains to be seen whether Marseille-born Zidane will opt to take a break from the game or pursue a fresh challenge immediately.
Vacancies at top European clubs are currently limited, but the fallout from this summer’s World Cup in Russia might present a first international challenge to Zidane.