When he scored Real Madrid's third on Wednesday, Marcelo ran to Zinedine Zidane and kneeled down in front of his coach, before hugging him. It was a curious gesture; one of acknowledgement and allegiance that isn't all that common. Not long afterwards, Sergio Ramos raised eyebrows by admitting he wasn't sure that Zidane will stay even if he wins the Champions League. Maybe he'll be the one who decides it's time to part ways, is what he was getting at. Those two episodes were then followed by Zidane's own remarks yesterday. Far from seeming happy about the new direction Real's season could take after the first-leg win over PSG, he talked about coaching being a draining job, more so at the Bernabéu.
Real Madrid's coach is no longer his old optimistic self
There's been a change in Zidane. As a coach, he's always come across as quietly optimistic. At times, not so quietly. After all, he's been known to come out with the phrase "estoy de puta madre" ("I feel fucking great"). Now he's struggling to hide his despondency, no doubt because, as the grapevine would have you believe, the club has for some weeks been sounding out options to replace him as soon as the season's over. Most of his players are right behind him: hence Marcelo's celebration and Ramos's comments, which felt like a sounding of the alarm. They're not keen on the idea of another coach. They've had recent experiences (Mourinho, Benítez...) that they didn't much enjoy. Under Zidane, they're settled.
Pérez prefers coaches who crack the whip, and Zidane knows it
But that's exactly what Florentino Pérez most dislikes: the impression that his squad is getting all too cozy with its coach. When he feels that a Del Bosque, an Ancelotti or a Zidane is being too soft on his players, is letting the dressing room call the shots, it hurts his authoritarian urges. Funnily enough, though, it's this type of coach that has delivered his Champions Leagues as Real Madrid president - not those known for their toughness or stifling tactical obsessions. But still Pérez won't admit defeat on that score. Zidane knows that better than anyone, of course. He knows he'll be out of a job if he doesn't win the Champions League; but at the same time he's wondering whether it's worth staying on even if he does.