Zinedine Zidane is no stranger to success.
The Frenchman is rightly regarded as being a genuine legend of the modern game and the former Juventus and Real Madrid midfielder was the outstanding player of his generation. Those that were fortunate enough to witness Zidane grace pitches across Europe around the turn of the century can attest to his brilliance, genius and intelligence when a ball was at his feet. His list of personal accolades – including being crowned the World Player of the Year three times between 1998 and 2003 – can be used as an indication, but not a truthful explanation, of just how good he was.
Zidane’s achievements on the pitch are cemented and celebrated in the annuls of football history, but Real Madrid’s triumph in Cardiff on Saturday night suggests that the Frenchman’s success as a player will be continued now that he has taken his place in the dugout.
Seventeen months of glory
Two goals scored by Cristiano Ronaldo coupled with strikes from Casemiro and Marco Asensio enabled Real Madrid to retain their Champions League crown in spectacular style on Saturday night in Cardiff. Juventus were brushed aside as Los Blancos produced a remarkable second-half display to secure their twelfth European title and cement their position as the leading club in world football having won the Champions League three times in the last four seasons.
The attention was predictably, and some would say appropriately, directed towards Ronaldo when the game concluded but it has been the arrival of Zinedine Zidane that has resulted in Real Madrid climbing back onto the top pedestal that has for so long been occupied by Barcelona in recent years.
Zidane was hired as the latest manager at the Santiago Bernabeu in January 2016 after his predecessor, Rafael Benitez, was unceremoniously dumped after just seven months in charge. There was little excitement or enthusiasm at the Frenchman’s appointment. Despite being regarded as a club legend for his achievements as a player, he stepped into the role with no coaching experience at the highest level and having only achieved moderate success with Real’s second team, Castilla. The common perception was that Zidane was little more than a short-term stop gap – little was expected of him.
Which makes Real’s triumph in Cardiff even more remarkable.
In less than seventeen months Zidane has risen from being regarded as a short-term solution to become one of the leading coaches in world football. He has won two European Cups – the same as Pep Guardiola, Jose Mourinho and Sir Alex Ferguson – secured Real’s first La Liga title in five years and has also added the less glamorous European Super Cup and Club World Cup to the trophy cabinet in Madrid. His team are the first side in almost three decades to defend their European title and are the first to do so in the Champions League era. Quite simply, Zidane’s performance as manager in his short time in charge has been astonishing.
There is a common saying in British football that declares something along the lines of “great players do not necessarily become great managers”. However, it now appears that the greatest player of his generation could well become one of the best managers in the world.
Zinedine Zidane’s success throughout his seventeen months in charge of Real Madrid has been built on allowing artistic expression. Attacking players are provided with the freedom to be creative and innovative in possession safe in the knowledge that a staunch defensive unit has been built behind them should they lose the ball. The team are encouraged to play on the front foot and make positive decisions. Attractive, exciting football is the end result and is facilitated by Zindane’s willingness to allow his players the freedom to express themselves – it has been devastatingly effective.
One of the criticisms directed at Zidane is that he has some of the most talented players in world football at his disposal – how could he possibly fail? It is a lazy and misguided view.
Yes, having the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema, Toni Kroos, Luka Modric and James Rodriguez is beneficial, but it has failed to bring Real success prior to his arrival. It is one thing to have an abundance of world class individual players to work with – but it is an entirely different challenge to get them playing in an effective unit.
Therein lies Zidane’s greatest achievement. The Frenchman is familiar with world class talent and he is attuned to the attitudes, egos and expectations of players who consider themselves to be genuine super stars of the modern game. His reputation as a player undoubtedly earned him initial respect but his ability to mould a group of individuals into a cohesive team and manage the egos of leading players has facilitated his success over the last season and a half.
Zidane remains one of the greatest players that the modern game has seen and it would appear that his success on the pitch will be followed by an accomplished career in the dugout.
Featured Image: All Rights Reserved Ai Kagou (Ai Kagou)