There was widespread surprise amongst residents of planet football in March as Frenchman Zinedine Zidane announced he would return as manager of Real Madrid just 10 months after leaving the La Liga kingpins.
The former player walked in May of last year after guiding Blancos to a third straight Champions League trophy, but the club has struggled to find success following the Frenchman’s departure and were delighted to see him sign a deal that would keep him in charge until 2022.
Zidane arrives at the Bernabeu with the 33-time Spanish top-flight champions stuck third in La Liga, having failed to win 11 of their first 27 matches, sitting a dozen points behind a Barcelona side who look well on their way to defending the title they won last year at a canter. Madrid are also out of the Champions League – smashed 5-3 on aggregate by Dutch club Ajax at the Round of 16 stage – meaning there will be no historic quadruple.
Drastic measures were called for and the board will be thankful they were able to persuade Zidane to return to the helm but there’s no doubts it would’ve taken strong promises to get their man, including a serious cash-injection needed to overhaul the underperforming squad.
Zidane has already spoken to the press about the players he wants to keep but the 46-year-old World Cup winner is holding his cards close to his chest regarding potential targets and the men he’d like to recruit this summer to push Real back towards the top of La Liga. That has left the gossip columns and tabloid newspapers free to make assumptions, sometimes fair, wild on most occasions.
One man who has been strongly linked to Real Madrid in the summer is Chelsea playmaker Eden Hazard. Bad news for followers of The Blues. 28-year-old Belgian has been making headlines on the back of standout performances for the London club and it appears he is one of many who has caught the eye of Zidane during his time away from management.
Many respected sports columns would have us believe a move is in the pipeline with Madrid ready to test Chelsea’s resolve with a big money bid. Major UK bookmakers, including Coral, have slashed the betting odds on Hazard joining Real Madrid and punters can act early to secure a share of the value. Those looking for a bit of a safety net can back him to join any Spanish club which, surely, covers Real Madrid and Barcelona if the two were to be dragged into a war.
With £300m thought to be in the coffers, could Zidane be tempted to spend a large portion of that on wonderkid Kylian Mbappe? The 20-year-old striking sensation from Paris is thought to be the brightest prospect in the game and with employers PSG making their mark on the transfer market with the record signing of Cristiano Ronaldo from Real Madrid, the Spaniards could send out a real signal of intent by splashing the cash to return the favour.
With Madrid scoring 22 goals less than Barcelona after 27 league matches, it’s obvious they are in need of firepower for the coming season. If not Mbappe, then who?
Man City goal machine Raheem Sterling could be the answer and as the England attacker hasn’t always been afforded the respect he believes he deserves by the English press, and even sections of The Cityzens support over the years, it’s safe to say he would give any transfer serious consideration.
If Madrid were to make a move for young-guns Mbappe or Sterling, it would require serious financial clout to make the players’ current employers sit up and take note but getting either on the books would be a real statement of intent by Zidane and the board.
Real have already moved for Porto defender Eder Militao, tying the Brazilian down until 2025 when activating a 50m euros buy-out clause written into his contract. That made Madrid fans take note and showed Zidane is serious about improving the squad and the board intend on backing him. It just goes to show, you never know what you’ve got until its gone. Real will be relieved they’ve got a second chance from Zidane.