In the end it was Zinedine Zidane, not Jose Mourinho, who replaced Santiago Solari at the Bernabeu. So why did Real Madrid make that choice?
Real Madrid's turbulent season took another twist on Monday as Santiago Solari was given the boot, paving the way for Zinedine Zidane to return as head coach.
It was just over nine months ago that Zidane stepped down, having led the club to a third straight Champions League crown.
Julen Lopetegui came and went prior to the appointment of Solari, for whom the writing was on the wall after successive defeats to Barcelona and a 4-1 humiliation at the hands of Ajax left Madrid out of the running in LaLiga, Copa del Rey and in Europe.
It was widely expected the Santiago Bernabeu hierarchy would return to a familiar face but it was Jose Mourinho, not Zidane, being touted as the next man into the hotseat.
And yet on Monday, it quickly became clear it would be the Frenchman handed a contract until June 2022. So what prompted the Madrid board to plump for Zidane over Mourinho?
Three is the magic number
Madrid covet the Champions League more than any other trophy, so it is perhaps unsurprising to see them turn back to a man who oversaw successive triumphs between 2016 and 2018. That domination ended with the ill-fated tenures of Lopetegui and Solari, of course, as Ajax ran riot at the Bernabeu last week. That thrashing effectively hammered the final nail in Solari's coffin, and Madrid will hope the return of Zidane delivers a 14th European Cup in 2019-20. Mourinho, by contrast, lifted the second of his titles in 2010 with Inter, before three campaigns at the Bernabeu delivered a trio of semi-final appearances. He subsequently failed to guide Chelsea or Manchester United beyond that stage, suffering a surprise last-16 exit at the hands of Sevilla at Old Trafford last season. Perhaps Madrid feel Mourinho's days of European glory are behind him.
Mourinho's course character causes ructions
Although Mourinho's reign in Madrid delivered one sensational LaLiga crown in 2011-12, breaking records aplenty, his tenure was also notable for several fall-outs with senior members of his squad. Club icon Iker Casillas was one such example, incurring the wrath of the Portuguese due to his friendship with a number of the Barcelona team. Casillas has long since moved on but the likes of Sergio Ramos remain influential figures at the club and it was suggested the captain was threatening to leave if the Bernabeu board appointed Mourinho for a second time. Additionally, the club's hierarchy itself was said to be split over the wisdom of bringing back such a divisive figure. Among players and directors alike, Zidane appears a far more popular choice.
The French Connection
Two things have become synonymous with Real Madrid: the European Cup, and the signing of marquee players. Zidane himself was hailed as one of the 'Galacticos' when he arrived from Juventus in 2001 for €77 million. The market has moved on since then, with the game's current superstars fetching two to three times that amount. Unquestionably falling within that bracket is Kylian Mbappe, who continues to dazzle at Paris Saint-Germain and has frequently been linked with a move to Madrid. So, could Zidane make it happen? President Florentino Perez thinks his latest appointment may have an edge over other potential suitors, saying: "He's French. Perhaps he can do something." Perez was talking in light-hearted terms but one would not be surprised to see Madrid mount a concerted effort to bring football's brightest talent to the Bernabeu. The club has a long-standing tradition of doing so and they may feel Mourinho – who reportedly bickered repeatedly with United's board over transfer targets – does not offer them the same opportunity to continue that custom.