Madrid, May 31: Fresh from winning his third consecutive Champions League title with Real Madrid, Zinedine Zidane stunned the football world on Thursday by announcing his resignation as coach of the multiple La Liga champions.
In a surprise press conference held alongside the club's president Florentino Pérez, the French coach explained that it was time for a change after three years at the helm, reports Efe.
"I've taken the decision to not continue next year as Real Madrid's coach," Zidane said.
"I think that this team needs to keep on winning and it needs a change for that. After three years, it needs a different work methodology," he added. "I've made this decision because I love this club very much."
Zidane said he would always be grateful to the president for bringing him to Madrid.
Pérez, looking ashen and visibly shaken, said the decision which he had been informed of the previous day had taken him by surprise.
"It's a sad day for me, for the fans, the players and everyone working for this club," he said.
"I've loved him as a player and as a coach, and would have liked to always have him by my side," he added. "I can only remind him that this house is his family."
Pérez, who had given reporters less than an hour to make it to the club for the conference, said one cannot be prepared for news such as this, and thanked Zidane for his sacrifice, his passion and his affection.
"His behaviour has always been exemplary and in accordance with Real Madrid's values. I have no doubt that he will return someday," he added.
Zidane, who won the Ballon D'Or in 1998 as an outstanding attacking midfielder with a magnificent left foot, arrived at Real Madrid in 2001, when Pérez paid 77.5 million euros ($90.7 million) -- then an all-time record -- for his transfer from Juventus Turin.
That season, he won the Champions League, scoring a spectacular volley in the final in Glasgow that is widely considered one of the best goals of all time.
He retired as a professional player in 2006, after the FIFA World Cup in Germany, in which his French national team ended as runner-up following the loss to Italy in the final's penalty shootout.
Despite seeing a red card in that final after headbutting Italian defender Marco Materazzi in the chest, he still won the Golden Ball for the tournament's best player.
With France, he had previously won the 1998 World Cup at home and the UEFA Euro 2000 in Belgium and the Netherlands while putting in decisive performances.
He was named FIFA World Player of the Year in 1998, 2000 and 2003.
After retiring, he became an assistant coach at Real Madrid in 2013-14, when the team was helmed by Carlo Ancelotti, and won both the Champions League and the Copa del Rey that season.
In 2014, he took over as head coach for Real Madrid's B squad, Real Madrid Castilla.
But his big break as manager came in January 2016, when Rafael Benítez was fired mid-season from the bench and Zidane was tapped as his replacement.
That year, Real Madrid won its 11th Champions League after defeating Atletico Madrid in the penalty shootout.
The two seasons that followed also saw the Spanish club snagging the coveted European crown: in 2017, it won 4-1 in the final against Juventus Turin, and Saturday, it vanquished Liverpool 3-1 in Kiev.
Born in 1972 to Algerian immigrants in the multicultural southern French port city of Marseille, Zidane first started his professional career in 1989 at AS Cannes, before moving to Girondins de Bordeaux in 1992.
In 1996, Juventus signed him and he soon became the Italian league's most outstanding player, with his elegant ball control, superlative vision and impeccable technique becoming widely recognized across Europe.
The late Alfredo Di Stefano, a Real Madrid legend who won the European Champions' Cup five times in a row and is generally ranked among the best players in history, had high praise for Zidane after his first season with the Spanish team.
"He dominates the ball, he is a walking spectacle and he plays as if he had silk gloves on each foot. He makes it worthwhile going to the stadium... he's one of the best I have ever seen," Di Stefano said. IANS