When Zinedine Zidane returned to manage Real Madrid for a second time, it was felt he would bring back the good times.
It hasn’t quite turned out that way.
A three-time Champions League winner in his first stint, Zidane did lead Real to the La Liga title last season after returning, but he is facing the very real prospect of overseeing the club’s worst European campaign in 30 years.
The Spanish giants’ defeat by Shakhtar Donetsk on Tuesday leaves them in danger of failing to get beyond the Champions League group stage for the first time. In La Liga, Zidane’s side are fourth and seven points adrift of first place – albeit with a game in hand.
With games against Sevilla, Borussia Monchengladbach and Atletico Madrid coming up next, it certainly isn’t going to get any easier for Zidane.
Is he about to be sacked?
The loss to Shakhtar left Real third in Group B and needing to win against Monchengladbach next week to guarantee their place in the knockout rounds.
That will be easier said than done considering their recent form – they have won just four of their previous 11 games in all competitions – but when asked after the Shakhtar defeat if he would consider resigning, Zidane was in defiant mood.
“I will not resign,” he said. “We’ve had tricky times in the past. I have the strength to continue and I’ll give my all and so will the players.”
But if he won’t resign, is there a chance he could be sacked?
Speaking to BBC Radio 5 Live’s Football Daily podcast, Spanish football expert Guillem Balague said: “The decision maker at Real Madrid has sent a very clear message to two or three journalists, which was ‘I will get rid of Zidane if we lose to Borussia Monchengladbach’.
“The same decision maker has also sent messages to journalists saying ‘I will not get rid of him if we lose to Borussia Monchengladbach!’
“The financial situation is bad for Real Madrid and they need to reduce their budget by about 250m euros and that’s a priority.
“They don’t want to rock the boat. But at the same time the next step for everybody is to criticise the president and when that happens you sack the manager.”
Is Zidane to blame for Real’s struggles?
There is no doubt Zidane has had some tough situations to deal with.
Real Madrid clearly still miss Cristiano Ronaldo’s influence and ability to win games almost singlehandedly, while Eden Hazard’s injury problems have not helped.
The Belgium international has made just 28 appearances for Real since joining in June 2019 and his latest injury setback is set to rule him out for the majority of December.
“I understand the pressure and results haven’t been good enough,” French football journalist Julien Laurens said.
“If they fail to qualify [for the Champions League knockout stages] it’s unacceptable.
“But it’s not his fault Hazard has been injured pretty much the whole time he’s been at the club. It’s not his fault there was no recruitment last summer for the first time in who knows how many years.
“He’s showing some limits tactically in the decisions he’s made and there are things I don’t understand. But Raphael Varane has made more mistakes in his past 10 games than in his previous 70 in the Champions League, so you can’t blame the manager for that either.”
Balague added: “The club knows they haven’t given Zidane the best cards – he wanted Paul Pogba and they didn’t get him.
“It is not the strongest side and if the likes of Sergio Ramos or Dani Carvajal are injured then the team drops massively. They know it wouldn’t be fair to get rid of him.
“The message I got from the club is he’s a legend and we cannot get rid of him, but at the same time it would be very difficult to see Zidane having a future if he loses to Sevilla and gets knocked out of the Champions League.”
- Missed Industry?: Fast-living, expensive exploits and fallouts await in this hit new drama
- Barack Obama Exclusive: The former president on his cautious optimism for the future and more