Manchester City had a relatively quiet off-season in the transfer market.

City landed Jack Grealish from Aston Villa in a big-money move but failed in their efforts to sign Tottenham star Harry Kane following Sergio Aguero's exit.

But the Premier League champions could be more active in the January transfer window.

 

TOP STORY – CITY PLAN FOR DE JONG SWOOP

Manchester City are plotting a move for Barcelona star midfielder Frenkie de Jong, according to Calciomercato.

De Jong, who also has interest from Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich, signed a five-year deal with Barcelona effective from July 2019, tying him down to 2024.

The 24-year-old Netherlands international has made 11 appearances in all competitions this season and is yet to score.

 

ROUND-UP

- Fabrizio Romano claims Manchester United have made no official proposal for former Chelsea and Inter boss Antonio Conte yet amid doubts over the future of Red Devils manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer following Sunday's 5-0 rout at the hands of Liverpool. Zinedine Zidane and Ajax's Erik ten Hag are also possible options.

- Manchester United's wantaway Dutch midfielder Donny van de Beek is preparing to make a January move with Voetbal International claiming he has swapped agents. EvertonNewcastle United and Juventus are all interested in Van de Beek, per Metro.

Paris Saint-Germain will switch their attention to Bayern midfielder Corentin Tolisso if they cannot secure a move for Manchester United's Paul Pogba, reports Calciomercato. Pogba has also been linked with Juve and Real Madrid.

Newcastle and Juve are contending to sign Barca forward Ousmane Dembele, according to Sport. Dembele is set to exit Barca at the end of this season and his agent has reportedly been in touch with both clubs about a move, while Liverpool and United are also possible destinations.

 

Manchester United's 5-0 mauling at the hands of Liverpool could prove to be the beginning of the end, or indeed the final straw, for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

The team have performed poorly this season, failing to win any of their last five domestic games (losing four) and requiring last-minute winners from Cristiano Ronaldo to beat Villarreal and Atalanta in the Champions League following an embarrassing 2-1 loss to Young Boys.

Sunday's embarrassing scoreline set a number of unwanted records, including United's largest margin of defeat against Liverpool at home and the first time the Red Devils had trailed by four goals at half-time in the Premier League.

Solskjaer only signed a new three-year deal with an option for an additional year in July, but disappointing results have sparked speculation about the Norwegian's future.

If Solskjaer is indeed replaced, who might take his spot and be charged with guiding United back to the top? Stats Perform takes a look at some of the favourites.

 

Antonio Conte

Conte seems, in many ways, to be an ideal appointment for United. For starters, the Italian is a free agent, having left Inter after winning Serie A last season – breaking Juventus' nine-year grip in the process and ending the Nerazzurri’s long wait for a league title.

The first three of those nine consecutive league titles for Juventus were won by Conte himself, who took a Bianconeri side that had not won the Scudetto since their revoked success in 2005 and established an era of dominance, going undefeated in the league in his first season (2011-12) and setting the Serie A points record (102) in his third.

His achievements in Italy are coupled with experience and success in England, winning the Premier League with Chelsea in 2017 (racking up an impressive 93 points) and claiming an FA Cup the year after.

Conte does have a reputation for being a volatile coach, but his track record of titles will surely be tempting for United, who have not won the Premier League since Sir Alex Ferguson's retirement in 2013.

However, former United defender Gary Neville does not think the ex-Italy coach is a good fit for the club, telling Sky Sports: "Conte's available but I wouldn't bring him to Manchester United. I wouldn't bring him here now. I don't think Antonio Conte is a fit for Manchester United."

Zinedine Zidane

Another free agent – and a particularly glamorous option – is Zinedine Zidane. The Frenchman's second stint as Real Madrid boss came to an end in May and he remains available.

Zidane won the Champions League three times in a row in his first spell as Los Blancos head coach and also claimed two LaLiga titles over his five years in the role.

The 49-year-old is the record holder for most consecutive LaLiga away wins (13) and the longest unbeaten run in Spanish football (40 games) and United would surely see him as an upgrade on Solskjaer.

He has also previously coached Cristiano Ronaldo, to great success, and might be the perfect candidate to get United's stars working together cohesively. 

 

Brendan Rodgers

Brendan Rodgers is less decorated than the previous two names on this list, but has a wealth of experience in the English game and has done an admirable job in his current post as Leicester City head coach, guiding the Foxes to their first-ever FA Cup last season as well as successive fifth-placed Premier League finishes.

He also claimed back-to-back domestic trebles in his two-and-a-half seasons with Celtic, but his association with United's rivals Liverpool may prove to be an obstacle, having come within two points of winning the Premier League in his second season on Merseyside.

Mauricio Pochettino

Pochettino has reportedly long been admired by United, being regularly linked with a move to Old Trafford in his five-year spell in north London, having taken Tottenham to a Champions League final in that time.

However, the Argentine only joined Paris Saint-Germain in January and signed a contract extension until 2023 in July, and is coaching a team that includes Lionel Messi, Neymar and Kylian Mbappe, not to mention the rest of PSG's star-studded squad.

Never say never, but this deal would certainly be a difficult one for United to pull off given the timing.

 

Erik ten Hag

Ten Hag has impressed in his time in the Netherlands, winning two Eredivisie titles with Ajax and embarking on a memorable run to the Champions League semi-finals in 2018-19, knocking Madrid and Juventus out before falling going out on away goals to Pochettino's Spurs.

Ajax have been entertaining and effective under Ten Hag and are four points clear at the top of the league once more this season, beating title rivals PSV 5-0 on Sunday.

However, it remains to be seen if the Dutchman – who has also been linked with Newcastle United – would be willing to leave mid-season.

What does the future hold for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer?

His position as Manchester United manager is becoming more uncertain after an embarrassing loss to Liverpool.

A former Premier League-winning boss, Antonio Conte, is believed to be waiting in the wings.

 

TOP STORY – CONTE EYEING UNITED ROLE?

The Manchester United job would be a priority for Antonio Conte should the Red Devils part with embattled manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, according to Sportitalia journalist Gianluigi Longari.

Solskjaer is facing fierce criticism following Sunday's humiliating 5-0 defeat to Premier League rivals Liverpool at Old Trafford.

Former Inter and Chelsea boss Conte has been linked with Newcastle United following talk of a pre-season move to Tottenham, while the likes of Zinedine Zidane, Ajax head coach Erik ten Hag and Paris Saint-Germain's Mauricio Pochettino could reportedly be considered for the United role.

 

ROUND-UP

- Chelsea defender Antonio Rudiger is in talks with Manchester City, Tottenham and Juventus, per Gianluca Di Marzio. The Germany international is available on a free transfer at season's end amid reported interest from Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain.

- Marcelo wants to leave Madrid for Fluminense in 2022, claims El Nacional. Marcelo is out of contract at the end of the season.

- El Nacional says Barcelona have decided to sell United States international Sergino Dest. The 20-year-old has struggled for form at Camp Nou and he has been linked with Bayern.

Inter and Juve both identified Fiorentina star Dusan Vlahovic and Sampdoria's Mikkel Damsgaard, per Calciomercato. Vlahovic has also been linked with City, Atletico Madrid, Tottenham and Arsenal.

- Calciomercato claims Serie A high-flyers Milan are eyeing Brest midfielder Romain Faivre.

 

Is Ole Gunnar Solskjaer running out of time at Old Trafford?

Manchester United are already five points off the pace in the Premier League and pressure is mounting.

United, though, are believed to be firmly in favour of sticking with their manager.

 

TOP STORY – SOLSKJAER WANTED AT THE WHEEL

Manchester United are still backing under-fire manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, according to Fabrizio Romano.

United slumped to a 4-2 Premier League defeat to Leicester City at the weekend, which has left the Red Devils with just two wins from their past seven games across all competitions.

As pressure mounts on Solskjaer, United still reportedly have faith in the Norwegian amid links with the likes of Antonio Conte, Zinedine Zidane and Erik ten Hag.

 

ROUND-UP

- Calciomercato reports Serie A champions Inter are ready to battle Arsenal for Madrid forward Luka Jovic. The Serbia international has struggled for form and fitness in the Spanish capital.

PSG want to swap Mauro Icardi for Barcelona's Sergio Aguero, claims El Nacional. The reports says Lionel Messi wants to reunite with countryman Aguero, who left Manchester City for Barca, only for Messi to join PSG.

- Monaco's Aurelien Tchouameni, Borussia Dortmund's Axel Witsel, Denis Zakaria of Borussia Monchengladbach and Ajax's Ryan Gravenberch are among Juventus' transfer targets as they look to add options in midfield, per Tuttosport. Tchouameni has also been linked with Chelsea, Manchester United, Madrid, Liverpool and Manchester City, while Roma have been eyeing Zakaria.

Karim Benzema deserves to become the first French winner of the Ballon d'Or since Zinedine Zidane – and that verdict comes from Zidane himself.

Real Madrid striker Benzema, who has taken over the captaincy since Sergio Ramos joined Paris Saint-Germain, is playing the best football of his career as he approaches his 34th birthday in December.

Zidane has seen that as close quarters, having had two spells as Madrid head coach during Benzema's time at the club.

Although Zidane left Los Blancos at the end of last season, he is firmly in the Benzema camp when it comes to selecting a Ballon d'Or front-runner.

Speaking to TF1's Telefoot, Zidane said: "We're talking about a player who deserves to win this Ballon d'Or.

"He's an incredible player, I had the great honour of coaching him. He knows how to do everything on the pitch. I hope he can be rewarded with this Ballon d'Or. It's the right moment because he's at the top of his game."

 

France international Benzema has been Madrid's attacking spearhead since Cristiano Ronaldo departed for Juventus in 2018 and has risen to that challenge.

He has topped the 20-goal mark in LaLiga in the last three seasons and has nine strikes in eight games so far this term in the Spanish top flight.

Last season, Benzema's 23 league goals came at an average of one every 126.13 minutes. They also came from an expected goals total of 18.81, indicating he is excelling in taking the chances that come his way.

His LaLiga shot conversion rate so far in 2021-22 is 26.47 per cent, higher than he has achieved across any full league campaign since arriving in 2009 from Lyon.

With three LaLiga titles and four Champions League wins in 12 years, Benzema has accrued plenty of silverware while with Los Blancos, much of it during Zidane's time in charge. He also helped France win the Nations League last weekend, scoring a stunning goal against Spain in the final.

Now, individual acclaim may be coming his way, although Benzema faces stiff competition, with six-time winner Lionel Messi rated a favourite for the Ballon d'Or with British bookmakers, having helped Argentina win the Copa America.

Benzema recently said it had been a long-held "dream of mine" to win the coveted award.

Robert Lewandowski's record-breaking 41-goal Bundesliga season last term also puts him firmly into contention, while Jorginho has a strong claim after winning the Champions League with Chelsea and Euro 2020 with Italy.

The Ballon d'Or winner will be announced on November 29 at a ceremony in Paris.

Carlo Ancelotti believes Real Madrid's history in the Champions League gives them a slight advantage over their biggest rivals.

The Italian was in charge in 2014 when Madrid at last won the competition for the 10th time, beating Atletico Madrid in the final in Lisbon.

Los Blancos then achieved an historic three titles in a row under Zinedine Zidane from 2016 to 2018, a feat unseen in the modern format and only surpassed by Madrid themselves in the days of the European Cup, when they won five in a row from 1956 to 1960.

Madrid started their 2021-22 campaign with a 1-0 victory at Inter and are expected to follow up with three more points on Tuesday when they host competition debutants Sheriff.

Ancelotti admits his side's past successes help a little when it comes to their chances this season, as he aims to replicate Zidane's remarkable achievements.

"For us to represent this club is something special, it's the most complicated, most difficult competition," he said on Monday. "We are more used to winning it than others. We have a little advantage.

"It's difficult [to compare this team with Zidane's] because the players changed a little, the squad has changed, plus I don't like to compare this team with Zizou's team.

"Zizou did things as well as he could have done. He won the Champions League three times in a row. Hopefully, I can win another one."

Madrid played their home games at the Castilla's Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano last season while renovation work was being completed at the Santiago Bernabeu.

It means Sheriff, the 108th different side they have faced in the competition, will be the first to visit the famous ground in the Champions League since Manchester City in the last-16 first leg in 2019-20.

"It's a Champions League game. You have to prepare well for all Champions League games. We're really excited to return to the Bernabeu because we have really good memories," said Ancelotti.

"Sheriff are doing well. We have to be careful because it's a team not much is known about, but they're organised, fast going forward... we have to hold maximum concentration. We need three points."

Defender Nacho Fernandez claims the squad are not interested in whether others consider them among the favourites for this year's trophy, insisting they are confident they can challenge in the latter stages.

"The question of being favourites is not one that the rest of the squad and I are really bothered about," he said. "We face the same level of pressure regardless of whether we're favourites or not.

"We've got a great squad, are feeling really confident and are raring to having a good year in the Champions League. Nobody rules Real Madrid out from being involved right until the end."

Juventus legend David Trezeguet says nobody has been able to manage Cristiano Ronaldo in the same way as former Real Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane.

Five-time Ballon d'Or winner Ronaldo has spent the past three seasons at the Allianz Stadium after joining from Real Madrid in a €112million (£99.2m) deal.

The 36-year-old, who has another 12 months to run on his contract, is coming off the back of a campaign that saw him finish top of the Serie A scoring charts with 29 goals.

He has scored 81 times in 97 Serie A games since arriving in July 2018, a tally bettered only by Robert Lewandowski (93 goals in 97 Bundesliga games) and Lionel Messi (91 goals in 102 LaLiga games) in Europe's top five leagues.

That compares to 311 goals in 292 LaLiga appearances during his nine seasons with Madrid, during which time he won 15 trophies, including four Champions League crowns.

Ronaldo spent two seasons playing under Zidane at the Santiago Bernabeu, and Trezeguet does not believe Massimiliano Allegri, Maurizio Sarri and Andrea Pirlo have got the most out of the Portuguese in the same way as Zidane.

"I think nobody has been able to manage him as Zinedine Zidane. Perhaps there has been a lack of dialogue at Juventus at some point," he told La Gazzetta dello Sport. 

"One coach can tell a player: 'Look at this game, you walked for 90 minutes and you must help me win the games'.

"There are players you don't want to play against because they make you win the matches. Ronaldo is one of them, [Paulo] Dybala as well. Some of the others, with all due respect, not as much."

 

Doubts remain over Ronaldo's future in Turin amid recent links with former clubs Madrid and Manchester United, as well as French giants Paris Saint-Germain.

Newly-appointed Juventus director Federico Cherubini this week insisted the superstar forward has not asked to leave the club, however, and he now looks set to remain for at least another season.

"Ronaldo was the best signing from Juventus, one that nobody expected," Trezeguet added. 

"There have been some problems with his team-mates, and you could see that, but he's scored 100 goals since joining."

Despite having Ronaldo on board, Juventus failed to win the Scudetto last season for the first time in a decade and only just finished in a Champions League qualification spot.

Allegri was reappointed last month following the departure of Pirlo, but Trezeguet would have preferred to see a different coach on the bench next season.

"The problem for me is the mentality," said Juve's fourth all-time record goalscorer. "The world of football no longer thinks Italian football is good. In Italy we defend low and ask more of the attacker.

"Abroad, everyone plays constantly at full speed. I am in favour of radical changes. If not Allegri, I would have gone for a foreign coach. But I understand greats like [Pep] Guardiola and [Jurgen] Klopp cost money."

Zinedine Zidane described his time working with Sergio Ramos as "a great pleasure and an honour" after the defender's departure from Real Madrid was announced.

Ramos and Zidane won two LaLiga titles, two Supercopa de Espana titles and four Champions Leagues together at Madrid during the Frenchman's two spells as coach.

Madrid announced on Wednesday that Ramos' future had been resolved and that the 35-year-old is to leave the club.

In a tribute to Ramos on Instagram, Zidane, who left Madrid at the end of May, said: "LEGEND.

"It was a great pleasure and honor to have you as a partner and player!

"A great captain for history! Thank you so much for everything."

Carlo Ancelotti's return to Real Madrid feels like a homecoming for the Italian, who believes the extra six years of experience he has since his previous spell can only benefit the club.

The experienced Italian was a somewhat surprising choice by the Madrid hierarchy given his work at Everton was not exactly universally praised, with the Toffees finishing 10th in the Premier League in 2020-21.

He dramatically leapt to the front of the queue for the Madrid job despite Raul and Mauricio Pochettino appearing to be the most-likely options to replace Zinedine Zidane, who stepped down citing a lack of support from those in charge.

Ancelotti's hiring sees him return to the club that dismissed him back in 2015, though president Florentino Perez stressed at the time that their relationship was still strong on a personal level.

That has seemingly remained the case in the intervening years and Ancelotti is confident he is a wiser manager, having missed out on a LaLiga title during his previous two-year spell, though he did preside over Los Blancos’ 10th Champions League crown in 2014.

"I'm very happy to be back here," he told the club's official media channels. "I've got fantastic memories from my time here, we had a lot of success in the two years.

"It's very important because I'm coming back to my home. I'm really excited and I'm going to give all my energy to help Real Madrid get as high as possible.

"You have to try to improve every day. I've had positive experiences in Germany, Italy and England. Each experience makes you grow and I'm coming back with six more years of experience. I hope it'll be good for Real Madrid.

"I've got responsibility, hope and I'm going to work to the best of my ability. We know what Real Madrid's objectives are every year and we're going to try to meet them with all the experience and energy I can bring.

"I'm so happy to be back because I love this club. I'm very happy and it's hard to explain how I feel. Madrid is the most prestigious club in the world and a club where I really enjoyed the two years I was here. I've got unforgettable memories.

"I have to thank Everton, where I was very happy during the one-and-a-half years I was there. The atmosphere was positive and the people were hard-working.

"I'm back with more experience, I know Real Madrid very well, the squad and I've met some of the players in the past. We're going to do well."

There were periods during Zidane's two tenures where supporters voiced frustration at the style of play adopted by the Frenchman, with Madrid not always embracing the vibrant attacking football perhaps associated with the club in the past.

However, Ancelotti insists it is what he hopes to bring to the Santiago Bernabeu – indeed, his Madrid team led the way in LaLiga for goals scored in 2013-14 and 2014-15 – while he is also pledging to continue bringing through talented youngsters from the club's second team, Castilla.

"At this club we demand to play attacking, exciting, quality and intense football. It's the same way of playing and nothing has changed," he said.

"A coach alone can't win. The winning combination of coach, players and club is the way to succeed.

"I think experience is very important, but youth is also important because it brings a lot of energy and passion when doing things.

"When I was here the first time, four players came up from Castilla and this mix of youth and experience has brought us a lot of success in the past and also in the present."

For Carlo Ancelotti, the lure of Real Madrid proved too good to turn down. Again.

A first full season in charge at Everton had resulted in a 10th-place finish in the Premier League, though there was no sign of the Italian doing anything other than planning for the future at Goodison Park during the close-season.

Then, however, Zinedine Zidane left Madrid and everything changed. In a flash, Ancelotti is now back in the Spanish capital six years after Los Blancos said 'thanks, but no thanks', ending a first stint in charge that spanned two eventful years and included a historic Champions League triumph.

"What did Ancelotti do wrong? I don't know," club president Florentino Perez said when announcing Ancelotti's exit in 2015. The pair parted ways as work colleagues but the personal relationship remained intact, allowing them to come back together again.

Perez opted to dispense with Ancelotti despite him delivering 'La Decima', as well as the Copa del Rey and FIFA Club World Cup. He also boasted the best success rate of any head coach to be at Madrid for a minimum of 50 games at 74.8 per cent, winning 89 of his 119 games. That number eclipses Jose Mourinho (71.9 per cent) and comfortably Zidane, too (65.4 per cent).

However, there was no league title the first time around. Now the former Milan, Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain boss gets another crack at conquering LaLiga, with Los Blancos aiming to knock noisy neighbours Atletico Madrid off their perch.

Attack the best form of defence

There will be some familiar faces in the dressing room to greet Ancelotti upon his return, but also some notable absentees from the squad he left behind.

Across his previous reign, Madrid averaged 2.7 goals per game. That number was aided by the presence of Cristiano Ronaldo, the club's all-time leading scorer now taking up residence in Turin.

In LaLiga, Ancelotti's side led the way in terms of goals, getting 104 in 2013-14 and then 118 in the following campaign, eight more than a Barcelona squad led by Luis Enrique that clinched a famous treble. His Madrid averaged 18.1 shots per game – the same number as Zidane's side during his first stint – with a conversion rate of 14.9 per cent.

The Frenchman's time between January 2016 and May 2018 sees similarities in terms of attacking numbers to the period under Ancelotti, the common denominator being they both had the irrepressible Ronaldo to call upon.

Zidane's comeback saw a different Madrid, one that attempted more passes – they averaged out at 596.5 per game, compared to 576 previously – but dipped in terms of attacking output, their goals-per-outing number dropping from 2.6 to 1.8.

There was an over-reliance on Karim Benzema in 2020-21, the French striker scoring 23 times in the league. No other Madrid squad member reached double figures, Casemiro next on six. Well, Gareth Bale did, though that was during a year on loan at Tottenham.

Ancelotti may struggle to match the offensive numbers of his previous version of Madrid, but he is acutely aware of what is expected from his team.

"The history of this club forces you to play well and have a spectacular game. I believe that football has changed in these years towards a more organisational approach, but the idea of ​​Real Madrid must remain the same," he told the media.

The same Ancelotti, only different

"This is not the same Carlo Ancelotti from six years ago. I have six more years of experience. Positive and negative. I was very happy at Everton and I have grown as a person and as a coach."

Those were the words of the man himself at a news conference on Wednesday which covered a number of topics, including Sergio Ramos' future, the potential arrivals of Kylian Mbappe and Ronaldo, plus the open letter released by the man he has now replaced.

Ancelotti's appointment at Everton was seen as a coup for the Merseyside club and while there were high points during his reign, including a long-awaited win at Anfield (one of 11 away victories in 2020-21), but inconsistent results at home sunk hopes of securing European football, with a resounding 5-0 defeat to Premier League champions Manchester City ultimately bookending the 61-year-old's tenure.

Still, Ancelotti averaged 1.53 points per game, better than any other previous Everton boss to have at least 10 games in charge, including David Moyes (1.50) and Ronald Koeman (1.47), who – if reports are to be believed – will be staying on at Barca, meaning the Toffees will have been coached by both men in charge for next season's Clasico contests.

However, it is Atleti who are the top team in Spain. Diego Simeone's side faltered with the line in sight, but still managed to finish first in a title race that had seemed set to be a procession at one stage during the campaign.

LaLiga is the solitary title in the top five European leagues to so far evade Ancelotti, who knows better than anyone that not even on-pitch success is always enough to keep you in one of the biggest jobs in football.

Zinedine Zidane revealed he left LaLiga giants Real Madrid as the "club no longer has the faith in me I need".

Zidane called time on his second spell with Madrid after Los Blancos were dethroned by city rivals Atletico Madrid in LaLiga this past season.

The 48-year-old Frenchman returned to the Santiago Bernabeu in March 2019, having delivered three successive Champions League titles and one LaLiga trophy between January 2016 and May 2018.

While Zidane led Madrid to LaLiga glory in 2019-20, the Spanish capital side endured a difficult 2020-21 campaign – eliminated by minnows Alcoyano in the Copa del Rey, edged out by Chelsea in the Champions League semi-finals, and pipped to back-to-back LaLiga trophies by Atletico.

Zidane lifted the lid on his Madrid exit via an open letter published on Monday as the club reportedly eye former Inter boss Antonio Conte, Paris Saint-Germain coach Mauricio Pochettino and Raul as replacements.

"For more than 20 years, from the first day I arrived in Madrid and wore the white shirt, you've shown me your love," Zidane said in the letter published by Diario AS. "I've always felt that there was something special between us. I've had the enormous honour of being a player and the coach of the greatest club ever, but above all I'm just another Madrid fan. For all these reasons I wanted to write this letter, to say goodbye to you and explain my decision to leave the coaching job.

"When, in March 2019, I accepted the offer to return to Madrid after a break of eight months it was, of course, because president Florentino Perez asked me, but also because all of you asked me every day to do so. When I met any of you in the street I felt your support and the desire to see me with the team again. Because I share the values of Real Madrid; this club belongs to its members, its fans and the entire world. I've tried to follow these values in everything I have done, and I've tried to be an example. 

"Being at Madrid for 20 years is the most beautiful thing that's happened to me in my life and I know I owe that entirely to the fact Florentino Perez backed me in 2001, he fought to get me, to bring me here when some people were against it. I say it from the heart when I say that I will always be grateful to the 'presi' for that. Always.

"I have now decided to leave and I want to properly explain the reasons. I'm going, but I'm not jumping overboard, nor am I tired of coaching. In May 2018 I left because after two and a half years, with so many victories and so many trophies, I felt the team needed a new approach to stay at the very highest level. Right now, things are different. I'm leaving because I feel the club no longer has the faith in me I need, nor the support to build something in the medium or long term. 

"I understand football and I know the demands of a club like Real Madrid. I know when you don't win, you have to leave. But with this a very important thing has been forgotten, everything I built day-to-day has been forgotten, what I brought to my relationships with the players, with the 150 people who work with and around the team. 

"I'm a natural-born winner and I was here to win trophies, but even more important than this are the people, their feelings, life itself and I have the sensation these things have not been taken into account, that there has been a failure to understand that these things also keep the dynamics of a great club going. To some extent I have even been rebuked for it.

"I want there to be respect for what we have achieved together. I would have liked my relationship with the club and the president over the past few months to have been a little different to that of other coaches. I wasn't asking for privileges, of course not, just a little more recollection. These days the life of a coach in the dugout at a big club is two seasons, little more. For it to last longer the human relationships are essential, they are more important than money, more important than fame, more important than everything. They need to be nurtured. That's why it hurt me so much when I read in the press, after a defeat, that I would be sacked if I didn't win the next game. It hurt me and the whole team because these deliberately leaked messages to the media negatively influenced the squad, they created doubts and misunderstandings. 

"Luckily I had these amazing lads who were with me to the death. When things turned ugly they saved me with magnificent victories. Because they believed in me and knew I believed in them. Of course I'm not the best coach in the world, but I'm able to give everyone, whether it's a player, a member of the coaching staff or any employee, the strength and confidence they need in their job. I know perfectly well what a team needs. 

"Over these 20 years at Madrid I've learnt that you, the fans, want to win, of course, but above all you want us to give our all: the coach, the staff, the employees and of course the players. And I can assure you we've given 100 per cent of ourselves to this club."

Zinedine Zidane said he would have liked his relationship with Real Madrid and president Florentino Perez to have been a "little different" following his Los Blancos exit.

Zidane led Madrid to the 2019-20 LaLiga title in his second spell in charge, but the Frenchman elected to move on after the club's runners-up finish behind city rivals Atletico Madrid in 2020-21.

In his first spell, from January 2016 to May 2018, Zidane delivered three successive Champions League triumphs and one LaLiga title.

Drawn back to the club in March 2019, his second tenure did not prove quite as successful, although he led Madrid to LaLiga success in the 2019-20 season.

Zidane departed after a barren campaign on the trophy front, however, with Madrid losing early to minnows Alcoyano in the Copa del Rey, edged out by Chelsea in the Champions League semi-finals, and pipped to back-to-back LaLiga trophies by Atletico.

The 48-year-old – who was linked with former club Juventus before Massimiliano Allegri's return – is lifting the lid on his Madrid exit in an open letter set to be published in full on Monday.

"I understand football and I know the demands of a club like Real Madrid. I know when you don't win, you have to leave," Zidane said in a preview of the letter via Diario AS.

"I'm not jumping overboard, nor am I tired of coaching. I would have liked my relationship with the club and the president over the past few months to have been a little different."

Zidane had 263 games in charge in all competitions across his two tenures in Madrid, winning 65.4 per cent of them.

He achieved a points-per-game ratio of 2.17, an average that sits behind both Rafael Benitez (2.21) and Manuel Pellegrini (2.35).

In comparison to the notable head coaches who reached a century of matches, both Mourinho (2.31) and Carlo Ancelotti (2.36) exceeded Zidane in terms of points per game. Leo Beenhakker – who won three successive titles in the late 1980s – however, managed 2.11 during his reign.

"Being at Madrid for 20 years is the most beautiful thing that's happened to me in my life and I know I owe that entirely to Florentino Perez," Zidane added.

Zidane's second spell lowered his overall points-per-game average, as he won 68 out of 114 matches upon his return – a notable drop-off when compared to his time between January 2016 and the end of the 2017-18 season, when he rattled along at 2.29 points per outing.

His win percentage in LaLiga in his initial spell was 70.8. After returning to replace Santiago Solari in March 2019, that 87-game span produced 188 points, three more than rivals Barcelona managed – though both won the same number of games (56) – and it puts Madrid 12 points ahead of newly crowned champions Atleti.

Karim Benzema lauded the qualities of Zinedine Zidane as a coach and a man after his decision to leave the top job at Real Madrid for a second time.

It was announced on Thursday that Zidane would depart the hot seat at the Santiago Bernabeu after a season in which Madrid failed to win a trophy.

However, Zidane did lead them to the LaLiga title in 2019-20 and Benzema, speaking while on international duty after his surprise recall for France, was full of praise for the 48-year-old.

"He's a very great coach, on a human level, he's the perfect man," he said.

"With me, he's magnificent. I'm disappointed that he is leaving Real, but that's how it is. Life goes on."

Madrid ended the last campaign with an 18-game unbeaten streak (W13 D5) in LaLiga – the longest current undefeated run of any team in the competition, and their best such spell without a loss within the same league campaign since March 2014 under Carlo Ancelotti (W15 D3).

Benzema was involved in 32 goals in LaLiga this season (23 goals and nine assists), representing his best tally in a single campaign in the league after surpassing the 2015-16 term (31 – 24 goals and seven assists).

That form put him back in Didier Deschamps' plans ahead of France's Euro 2020 campaign, which begins against Germany on June 15.

Benzema had been frozen out by Deschamps since 2015 after becoming embroiled in a blackmail scandal involving international team-mate Mathieu Valbuena.

The 33-year-old has denied the claims and is due to stand trial on the charge of complicity in attempted blackmail in October.

He is now ready and raring to go once again on the international stage, where he is particularly looking forward to teaming up with Kylian Mbappe.

Asked how the Paris Saint-Germain striker stacks up against the world's best, Benzema said: "I don't like to compare, but he's a young player, a phenomenon.

"I was able to train with him, we play in one touch, there is movement, he puts a lot of speed, he is skilful. He's a very, very good player. "

Benzema won the most recent of his 81 caps for France against Armenia in October 2015, scoring twice in that 4-0 friendly victory to take his Les Bleus goal tally to 27.

Is David de Gea's time at Manchester United coming to an end?

De Gea has spent a decade with the Red Devils but his form has been scrutinised in recent years.

A swap involving Atletico Madrid goalkeeper Jan Oblak could solve United's problems.

 

TOP STORY – DE GEA OUT, OBLAK IN?

Manchester United are lining up a swap deal involving star goalkeeper David de Gea and Atletico Madrid's Jan Oblak, according to The Sun.

De Gea's future has been uncertain since Dean Henderson signed a long-term contract extension at United, who remain uncertain about the pair.

Spain international De Gea joined United from Atletico in 2011 and the Red Devils are prepared to offer the LaLiga giants a reunion in exchange for star Oblak.

 

ROUND-UP

- TV3 reports Barcelona have offered Lionel Messi a new contract. Messi's current deal is due to expire on June 30 and the superstar captain has been linked with Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain.

Saul Niguez is adamant he wants to leave LaLiga champions Atletico and Juventus lead the race to sign the Spaniard, claims Marca. United – long-term admirers – Bayern Munich and PSG are also interested.

- PSG head coach Mauricio Pochettino is the favourite to replace Zinedine Zidane at Real Madrid, says the front page of Friday's Mundo Deportivo. Zidane has announced his departure. Former Inter boss Antonio Conte, Castilla coach and club great Raul and Xabi Alonso – currently in charge of Real Sociedad's reserve side – are also on the list. Pochettino has also been linked with a sensational return to Tottenham.

Barca have held talks regarding goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma, according to Fabrizio Romano. Donnarumma's Milan contract is due to expire and his departure is already confirmed. After talking with agent Mino Raiola, Barca are set to decide whether to sign Donnarumma, who has also been linked with Juve and United.

- Premier League champions City are looking to smash their transfer record to bring in £100million-rated Aston Villa captain Jack Grealish, reports the Daily Mail. City are also interested in Tottenham's Harry Kane – a target for rivals United, Chelsea, Madrid and Barca.

- The Telegraph says United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is set to sign a new three-year contract in Manchester. Solskjaer guided United to a second-placed finish in the Premier League, while the club were stunned by Villarreal in the Europa League final this season.

Barca are close to completing free transfers for Liverpool midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum and Lyon star Memphis Depay, according to Mundo Deportivo. Ronald Koeman's men are also eyeing City's free agent pair Sergio Aguero and Eric Garcia.

- FootMercato reports PSG have made an approach for star Milan full-back Theo Hernandez.

Chelsea and Tottenham both have strong interest in Borussia Monchengladbach attacker Jonas Hofmann, claims Sport1.

Captain Sergio Ramos told Zinedine Zidane he was "the one and only" as the Real Madrid head coach quit the Spanish giants.

Zidane stood down five days after his team missed out on the LaLiga title to Atletico Madrid, finishing second in the table, two points off top spot.

Madrid ended the season empty handed but have achieved plenty of success during Zidane's two spells in charge, which were separated by a chaotic nine months in which Julen Lopetegui and Santiago Solari both struggled to get to grips with the job.

It is unclear whether Zidane wants to work again as a coach, or whether he has other plans, but there was an outpouring of thanks from senior Madrid stars on Thursday.

Ramos said on Instagram: "ZZ, the one and only. I wish you all the best. You deserve it, you've earned it.

"Enjoy life, enjoy family. Big hug, mister. Thank you, @zidane."

High hopes and aspirations for Zidane's second stint in charge resulted in just one major title, the 2019-20 LaLiga.

With Cristiano Ronaldo having followed Zidane in leaving at the end of the 2017-18 campaign, success has not come quite as easily as it did previously, with three Champions League titles the highlight of his first period as boss.

Striker and fellow Frenchman Karim Benzema wrote: "Thank you bro for everything you have given me both collectively and personally ...

"I am proud and honoured to have been able to move forward and grow with the man that you are. See you ..."

Goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois added: "It has been an honor to have a legend like you as a coach. Thank you for what you have taught me, for the trust you have always had in me and for what we have won together @zidane. Hopefully we meet again. I wish you the best!"

Zidane left Madrid with a 59.65 per cent winning record from his second spell, which began in March 2019, down on the 69.8 per cent he achieved in his previous 149 games at the helm.

It has been tougher without Ronaldo, who left for Juventus but has frequently been linked with a possible return that has yet to come to fruition.

In the first spell, which ran from January 2016 to the end of May 2018, Real Madrid had eight hat-tricks by players in LaLiga – Ronaldo with six of those – and a big chance conversion rate of 45.74 per cent.

Since returning to the club, Madrid have had just one hat-trick in the league, from Benzema, and their big chance conversion rate has dipped to 43.67 per cent overall and just 40.86 per cent in 2020-21 compared to Atletico's 48.19 per cent.

Veteran playmaker Luka Modric, a player whose skillset evokes memories of Zidane in his playing days for Los Blancos, only signed a new contract this week.

Modric must now wait to learn who his coach will be for the coming season, his 10th at Madrid.

The 35-year-old thanked Zidane for backing his ability to run games by saying: "Mister, It's been a great honor playing for you and winning alongside you. You are top. Best of luck"

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