Speaking after watching his side slip to a 2-0 home defeat by Real Betis in their final La Liga fixture, Zidane, who returned to the Bernabeu to replace Santiago Solari in March, pulled no punches in his assessment of the campaign.
He told a press conference: “What happened this year has to be accepted. I’m to blame – we’ve had 11 games and won just 5. That is what it is.
“When a season starts off badly and then you are not playing for a trophy, I think it is hard to play well if there is nothing to play for. Motivation is a strange thing, it is part of our reality.
“During the week, it always seems like we are going to have a good match but in the end, it just doesn’t happen due to many circumstances.
“Now we have to focus on next season because we want to please the fans and I can tell them right now that we are going to prepare well in pre-season. We are going to have plenty of time to focus on our work and set up a great season. We’re going to compete from the off.”
Zidane has indicated he will overhaul the squad he inherited over the summer, with some big names likely to be casualties.
Wales international Gareth Bale has found himself at the centre of speculation in recent weeks, and his displeasure was clear as headed straight down the tunnel after he was left sitting on the bench.
However, Zidane would not be drawn on his future.
The manager said: “I don’t know what will happen. I’ve called upon other players lately. I’m making decisions about who plays and who is on the bench, but next year anything can happen.
“Today he didn’t play because others have come in. I’m sorry that he didn’t get minutes today, but next year who knows what will happen?
“I have to take decisions and when I don’t like things or something doesn’t seem right, I have to change them.
“Nobody is going to change what the player has done at this club, but day-to-day, it is like that. We live in the present, although we will not forget the past.”
If Zidane was looking to the future after the final whistle, opposite number Quique Setien was heading through the exit door, with Betis announcing his departure shortly after goals from Loren Morn and substitute Jese had sealed a famous win.
It was left to Jese to reflect upon a season which saw the club miss out on European qualification by nine points.
He told LaLiga TV: “The teams which manage to get into the Champions League or the Europa League, they need consistency, they need more points, they need to play well and maybe we have just let too many points slip away through our fingers, really.
“But that’s football. Football is about winning and to get into European competitions, you need to win.”
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Moron’s 61st-minute strike and a second from Jese with quarter of an hour remaining secured a deserved 2-0 win for the visitors as they secured away wins at Real and Barcelona in a single season for the first time in their history.
Bale, understandably, is the subject of our first talking point.
BALE DOESN’T SAY GOODBYE
It’s hard to picture a more tragic ending. At least Romeo and Juliet died with love in their hearts, Real Madrid’s is just overwhelmingly black.
The sadness begins with Zidane. His decision to impart one last dose of humiliation upon Bale was genuinely miserable.
To not start the Welshman in what is by all accounts his final game for Los Blancos in a completely pointless contest with Betis was petty enough.
To not even bring him on at all is borderline abhorrent.
There’s been plenty said and written about Bale during his Madrid career and in truth, not much of it is his fault.
Can he really be blamed for not impersonating Cristiano Ronaldo? Should Bale be despised for a career blighted by injuries?
If we’re playing the blame game, how about apportioning ‘blame’ for Real’s success instead?
From the La Decima winning header, that Copa del Rey final sprint and of course, the greatest Champions League final goal in the competition’s history last season.
There’s an understanding that he doesn’t warrant status as the club’s highest-earning star.
Yet it is simply cruel to treat a player who has achieved so much success worthy of celebration, in such a cold way.
There should be appreciation for what he has done, not what he could have been.
BIG JOB ON ZIDANE’S HANDS
Bale’s arrival might have served as some good PR for Zidane because he surely needs it right now.
The Bernabeu has quite the song sheet but these days there’s only a chorus of whistling on loop.
They were deafening when Betis went 2-0 up and then Lucas Vazquez arrived as the final substitution.
Zidane may have returned to the club with nothing left to play for, but the fact this team has played in exactly that fashion is very disconcerting.
Indeed, this was billed as a farewell for Bale and goalkeeper Keylor Navas, but to be honest, they won’t be alone on the evidence of recent weeks.
Marcelo has the ability to make fans laugh and cry, usually in separate instances, but when he wandered into a centre-forward position with 10 minutes left, supporters probably felt both emotions concurrently.
If he’s starting next season, Real have a problem. Luka Modric has endured an exhausting campaign but was still tracking back on Sunday to cover for the disappearance of the Brazilian.
Marco Asensio rose from the bench to failed to rouse any trust in his ability to make an impact. Karim Benzema has been the best of a bad bunch but maddeningly missed opportunities as he can be prone to doing.
Raphael Varane didn’t look particularly interested in defending Andres Guardado as the Betis midfielder comfortably found Moron for the opener.
Even Vinicius Jr. must mature quickly if this team is to be shaped around his raw talent.
The imminent transfers of Luka Jovic and Eden Hazard, maybe another midfielder, plus the already-acquired Eder Militao will mean changes are guaranteed.
Zidane has a huge job on his hands to oversee the necessary alterations.
ONE JUNIOR DOES IMPRESS
There’s the mitigating factor of Vinicius only just returning from a length injury spell so his inefficiency in front of goal can be forgiven.
But although one Junior didn’t particularly impress, another certainly did.
Betis’ left-back/wing-back Junior Firpo has enjoyed a breakout campaign.
The 22-year-old will be in high demand this summer – even Real are reportedly interested – and while the world watch Madrid self-combust, he lit up the Bernabeu.
Evidence of this was in Betis’ second after he roasted Dani Carvajal with an intelligent run inside full-back and centre-back before intelligently cutting the ball to Jese.
He offered creativity, bags of energy and natural piercing pace – all the hallmarks of a modern full-back.
Karim Benzema virtually ruled out a return to France at a later stage in his career in a wide-ranging interview in which he also discussed his continued absence from the national team.
Real Madrid signed the striker from Lyon, where he had won four Ligue 1 titles, in 2009, for an initial fee of £30million. Since then he has become the club’s fourth-highest all-time scorer, trailing only Cristiano Ronaldo – who joined the same summer as Benzema – Raul, and Alfredo di Stefano.
Though a dip in form last year prompted speculation that he could leave Madrid, he has bounced back this season to score 30 goals, and his 21 league goals are enough to put him joint-second in La Liga’s scoring charts for the season with one game left to play.
That return to form has put all talk of a move to rest, and even though Los Blancos are set to sign a striker this summer it will be to complement Benzema rather than immediately replace him, as the 31-year-old has been Madrid’s only consistent scorer this season.
And Benzema wants to continue to play at “the best club in the world” instead of entertain talk of a return to his home country.
“Come back to play in France? I am in the best club in the world,” he said on French TV show Quotidien. “It’s hard, I always want to play at the highest level.
“In France, I only have Olympique Lyonnais in my heart, where I left such a great image. I would love to leave it as such. At this moment, the answer is no.”
Despite his success at Madrid – he has won four Champions League titles and two La Liga triumphs during a glittering decade in the capital, in a total haul of 17 trophies – Benzema has been in exile from the French national team following a dispute over his supposed involvement in the alleged extortion of former France team-mate Mathieu Valbuena.
His last appearance for France came in 2015, meaning he missed out as the team won the World Cup last summer – but Benzema insists he has no regrets.
“The French national team has a new group — a new generation. They are world champions. It is what it is and it must be respected,” he said.
“I saw the final in Lyon at my mom’s house — with my family. Because I’m close to (Madrid team-mate Raphael) Varane I was happy.
“I would have loved to be there, which is normal for any footballer passionate for the game.
“I’ve had my great moments in Real Madrid, but it’s also good that they [France] won this World Cup. I don’t have a single regret.”