Zinedine Zidane should retire if Real Madrid win the Champions League. This is an odd topic for a Dortmund blog – although he showed his managerial abilities versus the Black and Yellow earlier this season – but the reason for the column has application to Bayern Munich, BVB, or almost any club with a manager who has seen any success. The key for any manager is to determine the right time to leave to preserve their legacy.
Or, as Barry says in High Fidelity, is it better to burn out or to fade away?
Dortmund has an easy example of a manager having the self-reflection that lets him know when the right time is to leave. Jurgen Klopp admitted when he left Dortmund that he was no longer a good fit for the club as it was, and his time with them was up. Certainly, his success allowed him to find future employment but he knew that he had done what he could do, and that was it.
The news that Arsene Wenger is leaving Arsenal has prompted numerous thought-pieces on how he has overstayed his welcome with the North London club. Opinions on when he should have actually left are numerous, but everyone agrees that 2018 was too long. The contrast often used is with Sir Alex Ferguson, who engineered his departure in a season that ended with a league trophy.
The truth is it is hard for a manager to decide when is the right time to leave a club, and mainly that’s because it is such a results-driven business. If you meet the metric that allows your contract to be extended or not terminated (promotion, finishing above last season, a trophy), you the manager intrinsically think you can take that next step. It is part of the personality for the position, that you are always fighting the win the next match and prove yourself.
In the perfect world, then, a third party could determine when the right time is to replace the manager. However, those in the front office are just as consumed by the wrong metrics as a manager. Add in the monetary elements – such as if the club is making money or fans are buying merchandise because of performance – and that influences the decision-makers in a way that might not be as logical as simply seeing if the manager can manage that team.
In an illogical world of sport, then, managers should make the hard decision to step away when they have reached a peak they cannot surpass. Granted, there are always more trophies to win, more honours to achieve, and more accolades to build. Zidane, for example, could become the only manager to win four Champions League titles if his Real Madrid side won this year and next, a not impossible idea. However, the next step could always be a step-down, and once you take a step down it is much harder to take that next step up.
There is a reason why the actor James Dean is idolized by movie watchers, and it was not because he was a superior actor. He had the right hits at the right time, then unfortunately died before he could make bad films. In the same way, managers like Zidane should take a good risk/benefit analysis to their career and not be afraid to walk away at what is likely to be the height of their careers to try a new challenge with a new club or new position.