Zinedine Zidane’s start to management with Real Madrid has been scarcely believable: In eighteen months, he has narrowly missed out on one La Liga title that in truth was already beyond reach when he took over, won the Champions League and then completed the double in his first full season.
We know he’s not reloading Football Manager every time he loses a key game, because, well, this isn’t Football Manager, but we can’t help wondering if somehow he is.
A large part of his success is, we’re told, down to his man-management. The Frenchman certainly comes across as very affable in interviews, and most of the players seem to love him. In the undignified exit of club legend, Pepe, though, there is a rare case against Zizou.
The Portuguese-Brazilian defender is as of this summer no longer a Madrid player. He leaves Los Blancos behind after ten glorious years and an 229 appearances, the sixth most any non-Spaniard has notched.
In that time, he’s managed to win the league and Champions League three times, and made UEFA’s European Championship Team of the Tournament with Portugal in three consecutive editions, including just last year when he inspired them to victory. All this, and Pepe is still remarkably only 34.
One would think then, that Pepe would be very highly valued by the club. One would think that, despite his advancing years, they would be looking to keep him at the Bernabéu for his invaluable experience and determination. One would think that they would fight as hard for Pepe as Pepe has so often fought for Real Madrid.
Oddly, though, they have not. The club refused to offer the ex-Porto man anything longer than a one-year extension on his existing deal, and with that he has left – a parting as abrupt and violent as one of the younger Pepe’s challenges.
This in itself, although considered to be folly by many, isn’t the strangest thing in the world. Madrid have Sergio Ramos at the peak of his powers, Raphael Varane looking better every season and are seemingly intent on bringing in another world-class defender to compete with them. Add to that the cheap but reliable cover that is Nacho, and perhaps a case can be made for the decision.
Pepe finally leaving Real Madrid. One of the best CBs of his generation. Absolute beast. I’m glad we won’t have to face him anymore.
— Jamsheed (@_Jamsheed_) June 5, 2017
What is bizarre and regrettable is the way the relationship has ended. In what is undoubtedly a black mark against manager and club – the first for Zizou the coach but one of an infinite amount for Real Madrid the club – Pepe has almost been ushered out of the back door, a forgotten man amongst the double celebrations who wasn’t even afford a place on the bench in Cardiff despite his return to fitness and brilliant pre-injury form.
It may be that this is all politics within the club hierarchy, but Pepe himself seems to think differently. If recent quotes on Spanish radio are to be believed, he appears to view the manager as a bit of a snake.
“What he’s done for Madrid is spectacular, but there are things that I still don’t understand, I don’t know how to explain. I don’t know why I disappeared from the team.”
It’s a fair thing to question; as mentioned previously, Pepe was in great form before picking up an injury against Atlético, a game in which he also scored a crucial goal that proved to be decisive.
He might also question why he wasn’t given a minor role in one of the latter games of the season, or afforded a testimonial in which he could bid goodbye to adoring fans.
Indeed, former teammate Dani Carvajal has complained about the fact, voicing his dismay at the muted adieu.
“He’s been here ten years and given everything for the club. It’s a shame that he hasn’t had a game in the Bernabéu where the fans could give him an ovation. His goodbye has been a little grey.”
We’re not going to start questioning the seemingly infallible Frenchman, but perhaps this is one occasion in which Zidane has got it wrong.
After all, Zizou the player was known for the odd regrettable action every now and then…