IT was hardly the news we expected to break on Friday. Surely any conventional football manager, having just secured a third successive Champions League crown for his club, would be ravenous for more silverware.

Zinedine Zidane is not your average football coach. Like many creative people, he decided his work was done and hence it felt like the right time to move on. This is not someone clinging on to an existence. Zidane has choices and a noble one is always to exit on the highest of highs and pursue something new.

At first it took me by surprise, only to then quickly understand. There is undoubtedly something of the perfectionist in Zizou and he must strongly believe his latest achievement in guiding Real Madrid to triumph against Liverpool is impossible to top. Many high profile managers in the recent past have not listened to that voice inside. Arsene Wenger represents a good example of this, as much as he has given to the game as a whole.

Zidane is one the best pure footballers I have watched in person and feel his managerial acumen has been greatly underestimated and his tactical nous, under emphasised. Many talk a lot about his gold-star status as a player under-pinning the respect he commands as a coach. But it is hard to believe that is the sum total of what Zidane brings to the table as a football thinker.

For all this, it was almost as though the Frenchman was an accidental choice after the contract of Rafa Benitez was terminated just seven months into his tenure. Few had thought of Zidane becoming Real Madrid’s future answer to Pep Guardiola.

But his achievements as a European Cup/Champions League coach set him apart from even the likes of Bob Paisley, Carlo Ancelotti, Alex Ferguson and Jupp Heynckes. No manager had won Europe’s most prestigious club competition three years running, until Zidane did it last week.

A closer look at Real Madrid and you see a squad dominated by veterans that will inevitably have to be freshened up sooner or later. Let us not forget they finished a poor third in La Liga, behind both Barcelona and Atletico, and a whopping 17 points in arrears of the former.

Yet under Zidane in the Champions League, Real Madrid have demonstrated they have the knack. It mattered little that they didn’t always outplay their opponents, although no one can argue that their final victory in Kiev was anything but thoroughly merited.

Rather than impose a strict philosophy on his high-profile players, Zidane had the good sense to let it be. But could he continue operating that way?

The 45-year-old has said he has no immediate plans to take over at another club. He wants a rest before contemplating the next venture and deserves it. I have long thought the Real Madrid job to be the most psychologically taxing in world football. The pressure is ceaseless and at a certain point, the only way is down.

In time, a logical fit for Zidane could be a return home. The French group about to emerge stands comparison with the finest footballing crops the country has produced. If Didier Deschamps elects to call it a day after the World Cup in Russia, who better to inspire the Mbappe/Dembele generation than a living legend. Deschamps was the workhorse of the 98 World Cup and 2000 Euro winners, but Zidane provided the sureness of touch and genuine artistry. It is easy to picture him at the helm of a national team with the potential to be the world’s best for a good number of years.

But for now, it is right to give Zizou space and time. There is no rush on his part but whoever succeeds in recruiting him next will be lucky indeed.

FOR those of us who attended Aberdeen’s Airyhall Primary and Hazlehead Academy in the ’70s and early ’80s, it was impossible to ignore Neale Cooper. Even the non-football fans knew of him and his footballing ability.

Neale was talented and it was clear when you saw him playing, whether for the school or just in the local park, his skill level was extraordinary.

When I think of Neale, I think simultaneously of Ernie Youngson, the bearded school janitor at Airyhall who effectively ran the sports department for many years. He was a father figure to Neale and was constantly encouraging and inspiring him. Neale confirmed to me when I bumped into him in Aberdeen a few years ago that he might not have taken the big step to the professional game had it not been for Youngson’s wisdom and guidance.

From being the school role model, it all seemed to happen like lightning for him. Before we knew it, Neale was in the Aberdeen first team, being praised by Franz Beckenbauer and lifting the European Cup-Winners’ Cup. It made it all the more special that we were watching one of our own.

In more recent years, I saw him at football grounds while on ESPN and BT Sport commentary duty, particularly when he was working for Ross County. He was always affable, quick with a joke or an impersonation. So many fans of other clubs have said they always found him friendly and likeable.

Aberdeen fans who never had the privilege of meeting him, felt as though he was part of their extended family.

A Gothenburg Great, but so much more than that. Neale was a North East loon who lived the dream. RIP, Tattie.