Zinedine Zidane left Real Madrid fans, players and even the president dumbfounded when he confirmed he would be leaving the club as head coach.
The former France star has won nine trophies in less than three seasons in charge, including an unprecedented three Champions Leagues in a row, the latest secured just five days ago against Liverpool in Kiev.
Florentino Perez said on Thursday he would have preferred Zidane to be by his side “forever” and expressed his hope the 45-year-old will return to the club in the future.
For now, though, Perez is once again tasked with finding a replacement head coach. Here are just five of the biggest names who could take over at the Santiago Bernabeu, and their chances of doing so in the coming weeks…
It seems only a matter of time until Conte leaves Chelsea. In fact, it has rather felt that way ever since they lost their opening Premier League game of the 2017-18 season at home to Burnley.
Whenever his departure is finally confirmed, Conte can at least walk away with his head held high, having won the Premier League and FA Cup in his two campaigns at the helm. Madrid would also benefit from not having to buy him out of any existing contract.
His record of three Serie A titles in a row at Juventus must make him a tempting option for Madrid, given their eagerness to win back LaLiga from Barcelona, and he has certainly shown himself to be a coach who is happy to take on dressing-room egos.
The problem might be in Europe, though. Conte has never coached a side further than the quarter-finals of the Champions League and, with the pride around the Santiago Bernabeu when it comes to Madrid’s record in that competition, they could be put off a coach who does not seem to share their love of lifting ‘big ears’.
Chance of taking over: 6/10
Two and a half years ago, Madrid would probably not have considered fast-tracking a youth coach to the top job. Zidane has certainly changed things on that front.
Guti, a winner of five LaLiga titles and three Champions Leagues as a player – who played alongside Zidane, of course – has been quietly forging a strong reputation as a coach within the Madrid youth system.
He guided the Juvenil A side to a Copa del Rey and Copa de Campeones double, as well as the semi-finals of the UEFA Youth League, before admitting in April that he will likely leave his post, citing the need for “new motivation”.
He has been tipped to take over the Castilla side, coached by former Madrid team-mate Santi Solari, but Perez could be tempted to take a gamble and offer him the reins of the senior team.
Chance of taking over: 8/10
Pochettino has long been linked with the Madrid job and his chances of taking over appeared quite strong earlier this year, as talk began to emerge of him calling time on his Tottenham career.
He has since signed a fresh five-year contract with the club and appears set on leading them into their first season in their new stadium, although the idea of a Madrid offer turning his head cannot be discounted.
Perez could be put off by the inevitably high compensation package they would need to put together to buy Pochettino out of his new deal, but there is no question about his credentials. He has turned Spurs into a vibrant, attacking side who have consistently challenged the more established elite in England, and he masterminded a 3-1 win over Madrid in the Champions League group stage this season.
His loyalty to Espanyol has seen him rule out ever taking the Barcelona job. Perhaps that could even give him extra motivation to pitch up at their fierce rivals…
Chance of taking over: 4/10
It seemed certain Sarri would take over as Chelsea boss, but there has yet to be any real breakthrough between the club and his representatives.
Although Stamford Bridge is still his most likely destination, any further dithering from the Blues – who announced on Thursday that financial worries have seen them put off their new stadium plans – could force Sarri to look elsewhere, with Carlo Ancelotti having already taken his job at Napoli.
Sarri has cultivated stylish, attacking football in Serie A, although the title has always eluded him, and it would certainly be fascinating to see a squad with Madrid’s level of talent playing to his tune.
However, he is also a combustible personality who has spent the last three years working with a belligerent president, so perhaps both parties would benefit from staying clear.
Chance of taking over: 5/10
Another free agent, Arsene Wenger has claimed to have turned down Madrid on more than one occasion in the past due to his commitment to Arsenal.
With his 22-year spell in London now at an end, the 68-year-old has admitted to being eager for a fresh challenge, telling beIN SPORTS this week: “It’s exciting now because I can be tested again. That’s what I want in my life. I’m a competitor who wants to be tested.”
Well, there is arguably no bigger test in club football. Wenger would be expected to challenge in Europe – something he struggled to do throughout his time at Arsenal – and also win his first league title since 2004.
That said, Wenger has always been respected by players for his handling of the dressing room, and his football has rarely been anything but stylish, even if not always wildly successful. He might even have plenty of money to spend, too…
Chance of taking over: 8/10