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Blame the kids! Why Zidane quitting Real Madrid no real shock

COMMENT: Stunning. Bombshell. A shock. Zinedine Zidane's resignation has rocked the game. But there's no mystery about why he's quit. The now ex-Real Madrid coach spelt it out in today's farewell media conference.

The reason to walk away now is simple: it's the players. Not the senior clique. Not Sergio Ramos, Cristiano Ronaldo or Marcelo. As they say in Spain, that lot "will go to death" for their mister. But the next generation? The younger ones? Well, that's a different story. Indeed, that was the group Zidane was talking about when he suggested today's European champions needed a "another voice".

"I think this team should keep winning and needs a change," were the Frenchman's first words to a stunned media room. "The team needs another voice and another working methodology. This club, to which I thank for everything, today we have to change."

And that's it. There was a question about the senior players. Whether they had pushed him to resign. But he denied it. Of course, the cynical would predictably suggest he's simply playing coy. But it wasn't the older players which were the problem for Zidane this season. His frustrations lay with the younger players. Their impatience. Their ego. Zidane, we know, was fed-up with the constant leaks from the locker room. The accusations of playing favourites. Of always going with the experienced man over the youngster. Whether this was what tipped him over the edge, only he can confirm. But it's no secret there was tension between the coach and the locker room's young, Spanish clique.

Isco, Marco Asensio, Dani Ceballos... they all had their problems with Zidane's selection policy. Borja Mayoral, Theo Hernandez... they were barely seen. His support of Karim Benzema. A refusal to withdraw Cristiano Ronaldo during his midseason slump. Even his backing of Gareth Bale, despite little warmth between the pair, left the Welshman's younger teammates infuriated. Their feelings regularly made their way to the Madrid press. Complaints were lodged with supportive directors - including president Florentino Perez. Of course, it all fell on deaf ears. As Florentino said today, sitting next to Zidane, there's no-one in football he respects more than his now former coach.

"I loved him like nobody else as a player and now as a coach and I want him to be always by my side," Florentino, visibly drained by the news, stated. "It made a big impact when he transmitted the decision to me yesterday. The only thing I can do is offer my love and support."

And those words really run at the heart of this decision. For the president. The captain. The senior leaders. Zidane the coach - the man - can do no wrong. But for those early 20-somethings, the Frenchman - as a player - is just a myth. They've only known Zidane the coach. The connection - the loyalty - he enjoyed with the older players, simply didn't exist with the less experienced. And even by his own admission, Zidane relied on his playing reputation to inspire.

Ahead of Kiev, Enzo Francescoli, the Uruguayan great, declared Zidane's greatness as a player was his biggest coaching strength.

"I agree because it's the truth," Zidane responded, defiantly. "I lived 18 years as a player, inside, with many coaches and players, with a lot of ego because that's what it is, and I know the dressing room very well and I know well how a player's head works.

"I'm not the best coach tactically, you do not have to say it because I've said it, but I have something else. The vision and the passion I have and that is worth much more."

But that passion requires a willing recipient. And while he could demand his senior men go to the well again and again. The same couldn't be said of those demanding more minutes without - in Zidane's eyes - justification.

As much as a third consecutive Champions League triumph is the stuff of legend, it must be remembered Real fell 17 points short of champions Barcelona this season. And in the Copa del Rey they only reached the last eight, being bundled out by little Leganes. It was in those games where Zidane's message, his influence, fell short. Rousing proven players for a decisive Champions League game was one thing, but finding a way to motivate the kids for a Copa tie at Fuenlabrada was something else.

The message wasn't cutting through. Not with those Real would need more and more come next season. If this team needs renewal. If they're to lean more on youth. Then Zidane knew he wasn't right manager to take Real Madrid forward.

He spelt it all out in today's farewell: this team "needs another voice".

Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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