Zinedine Zidane’s decision to quit Real Madrid came as a surprise to even his friends, former international teammate Christian Karembeu told ESPN FC and revealed he spoke to the departing head coach in the days before the announcement and had no idea of the decision.
The surprise news came just five days after Zidane led Real Madrid to their third consecutive Champions League under his tutelage, and Karembeu believes Zidane would have kept his decision quiet out of respect for Florentino Perez, the Madrid president.
“I did not know. I spoke to him yesterday, or two days ago,” Karembeu told ESPN FC. “Maybe he had taken this decision before the final, I don’t know, maybe he talked with some of the players, but I don’t know.
“He will always surprise us. We need to have thanks for what he has achieved and will expect him to have a great future. I did not know, maybe secretly he knew because he wanted to make it happen with Mr. Perez, not with us. He had a great respect for him.
“He [Zidane] will always surprise us, but we will always admire him.”
Karembeu, who started alongside Zidane in the 1998 World Cup final, knows full well the pressure of Real Madrid. He played for three seasons there, winning two Champions League titles, and left a year before Zidane joined in 2001.
“He [Zidane] remembers the victories but for sure when you are in a club like Real Madrid there is pressure on each decision on the pitch and action, change on the pitch and defeat,” Karembeu said. “After three Champions Leagues in a row, and titles he decided to leave. I think it’s also a clever decision as it’s good timing with these titles. He lived in the dressing room and an environment we don’t know about and only he can make this decision.”
Karembeu said Zidane will take time to rest and be with his family before deciding on his next step.
“It’s not goodbye, it’s ‘au revoir‘ meaning he could one day come back to Madrid,” Karembeu said.
Didier Deschamps has a contract with France until 2020, but Karembeu believes Zidane has the reputation and ability to one day coach the national side.
“It’s different between managing daily and every six months or whatever in a year,” he said. “It’s not easy. He has shown his capacity of managing a great team, great club. If he had the opportunity, anyone with his career and pathway, he’s built to be. But there’s Deschamps with his contract, we will see.”
Karembeu believes whoever replaces Zidane will need to be able to carry the weight of expectation and history of Real Madrid. When asked whether he feels a Frenchman may replace Zidane — with Arsene Wenger among the names mentioned to fill the vacancy — he responded: “I don’t think so. What he has achieved, the bar is so high. Either they will go for experienced, or inexperienced to fill the gap. It’s not easy to find a manager for Real Madrid after Zinedine.”