Football

Zidane goes back to the future with Real

Legendary Los Blancos goalkeeper Casillas hails Frenchman's return to Real Madrid

Real Madrid favourite Zinedine Zidane returned for a second spell as coach on Monday with plans to rebuild the Spanish giants, who have fallen into crisis since he left in May, after winning an unprecedented third straight Champions League.

Zidane also won a La Liga title in 2017, among nine trophies, before standing down having taken the club to the European summit. But they have endured a miserable season in his absence, first sacking Julen Lopetegui and then Santiago Solari.

Solari's dismissal was expected after three consecutive home losses - to Barcelona, twice, and Ajax Amsterdam - deemed Madrid's season all but over before the middle of March, reported Reuters.

Real goalkeeping legend Iker Casillas hailed Zidane's return, tweeting in Spanish: "I thought that Back to the Future II was the best second part to a film but no, I was wrong.

"The best second part is the return of Zidane to Real Madrid, again!"

Zidane said he never had any doubts about returning to Madrid, saying: "When the president called me, the first thing I thought was: Go."

"I could not say no, I never had any doubts about going back."

Zidane has been given a contract until June 2022.

With only 11 games left in La Liga and almost nothing to play for, his return is a surprise, particularly after he left on the incredible high of yet another European triumph.

"I left because a change was needed at the end of last season, for the good of everyone, after winning so much," the 46-year-old said.

"I returned because the president called me. I love him and I love this club, so here I am."

Zidane inherits a squad that has evolved even in the short time he has been away, with Cristiano Ronaldo gone and the likes of Thibaut Courtois, Vinicius and Sergio Reguilon all enjoying greater prominence this season.

The challenge will be for the Frenchman to oversee a period of change in the summer, when older players could be replaced and younger talents brought through.

"I do not want to forget what we won but I also do not forget all the things we did badly last year," Zidane said.

"We lost in the league and cup, we won the Champions League, fine, but I know where I am.

"We will change things, for sure, for the years to come.

"But now is not about that - the important thing is I am back.

"We will have time to talk with the president, with the club, about what we can do."

Before the announcement of Zidane's return, fellow former Real boss Jose Mourinho had been linked with a comeback, particularly by former president Ramon Calderon - who said that he was 90 per cent certain the Portuguese would be appointed.

Yesterday he explained that the reason the former Manchester United boss didn't get the job was due to the influence of some key figures in the Real dressing room.

He told Sky Sports: "The dressing room leaders pushed to reject the possibility of Jose Mourinho...

"He is a good coach with a lot of trophies.

"But many of the leaders in the dressing room didn't like him and I think that was important in the decision-making."

On Zidane, he added: "The players loved him and he was able to change the ideas of coaches like Rafa Benitez and Jose Mourinho, who managed with a strong hand.

"And of course he is an idol with the fans."

Mourinho, meanwhile, insisted that he was never keen on returning to Real.

He said on beIN Sports: "Would I go back to a club I've been at before?

"If I thought it was the right club, right structure, the right ambitions, no problem at all.

"It is a reason of pride when a club where you worked before wanted you to come back.

"The only moment where I had this feeling was with Chelsea, not with Real Madrid."

With reports in the Spanish media suggesting that Zidane will have unprecedented power, speculation inevitably turned towards transfer targets.

At Zidane's unveiling yesterday, Real president Florentino Perez suggested the 46-year-old may try to lure his compatriot and Paris Saint-Germain star Kylian Mbappe to the Bernabeu.

He said: "Zidane is French, so with Mbappe he could do something, no?

"Now what we need to do is finish the season well and prepare for next year."

When then asked if he would prefer Mbappe or his PSG teammate and reported Real target Neymar, Perez replied: "I'd take them both."

Heading to the Bernabeu?

Heading to the Bernabeu?
KYLIAN MBAPPEPHOTO: AFP

KYLIAN MBAPPE

Kylian Mbappe was a reported Real Madrid target before his move from AS Monaco to Paris Saint-Germain in 2017.

Real president Florentino Perez added fuel to the speculation, talking up a move for the 20-year-old at Zinedine Zidane's unveiling.

Heading to the Bernabeu?
NEYMARPHOTO: AFP

NEYMAR

Neymar has been regularly linked with a return to La Liga since he left Barcelona to join PSG in 2017, with multiple reports that he is unhappy in Paris.

Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu has ruled out a return but Perez is keen.

Heading to the Bernabeu?
EDEN HAZARDPHOTO: AFP

EDEN HAZARD

Eden Hazard has openly flirted with Real Madrid for some time now, and has previously said that Zidane was his idol growing up.

There were reports that one of the reasons Zidane quit in May was over Real's failure to pursue the Belgian.

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