After retiring from an illustrious playing career, one which is still overshadowed by his ‘head over heart’ moment in the World Cup, Zinedine Zidane completed his coaching badges in France and went to visit coaches such as Marcelo Bielsa and Pep Guardiola. These visits reinforced his desire to step into the coaching side of things.
The Frenchman was then Carlo Ancelotti’s right hand man in the year Real Madrid claimed ‘La Decima’. The year after, he coached the Real Madrid B team, Castilla. At this point, Rafa Benitez was in charge of the first team and victories were few and far between, by Real Madrid standards that is. After the new year, the Spaniard was removed and Zidane was thrown into the fire, midway through the season. Six months later and Real Madrid are champions of Europe, beating Atletico Madrid on penalties. Another achievement, although ultimately to no avail, was a victory in the Camp Nou against a Barcelona side that were on a 39 game unbeaten streak. A Barcelona side that went on to win La Liga by just one point. Zidane’s impact was monumental.
Fastforward to the end of the next season and the Galacticos have added a league title, a Club World Cup and a European Super Cup to the trophy cabimet. If Zidane wasn’t a good choice, he certainly was now.
The Spanish side somehow managed to improve on this. The next season they made history, lifting the Champions League trophy for the second time in a row, beat Manchester United in the Super Cup, and embarrassed Barcelona over two legs in the Spanish Super Cup. They also won the league, losing on just three occasions. The only trophy that eluded them was the Copa Del Rey.
This led people to believe that this Real Madrid side is one of the best to ever play the game. While it’s borderline ridiculous to compare a modern side with, say. the Brazil team in the 1970’s, winning the toughest competition twice in a row deserves respect and admiration. But who should we respect and admire more? The incredible skill of the players in the white shirts? Or the tactical evolution and brilliant man management from Zizou?
The style of play that Zidane has got his side playing makes you think whether Pep Guardiola said a bit too much to the former Juventus man, who applied what he learnt against Pep’s beloved Barcelona. The positional play that’s normally associated with the Catalan side was implemented by Zidane and Real Madrid outplayed their opponents in every area of the pitch. This system has brought the best out of Isco and Modric. Casmeiro has also emerged as a contender for the world’s best defensive midfielder and with Bale, Benzema and Ronaldo upfront, goals will always be around the corner.
Some people believe that Zidane has taken a more relaxed approach, by allowing the big egos and the stars in the side to simply get on with it. But when you see the tall Frenchman speak about the game, you realise that he wants to win games a certain way and he knows that he has the best squad in the world to achieve this:
“I’m looking for the best style and that’s to have more possession against your opponent, even against Barcelona.”
A possession based style of play and the profile of the players in the squad, go hand in hand. But it takes a top class coach to understand what’s needed. Zidane has rescued Real Madrid from below Barcelona and they are now miles ahead. Not only are they ahead of their rivals, the gap is extending with every victory. Real Madrid have the potential to win another Club World Cup, consecutive La Liga trophies and a third Champions League in a row. With Zidane in charge, there is no reason why this can’t be achieved.
While Zidane has been blessed with the best talent in the world, he has managed to assert his authority and install a way of playing that has dominated European football for the last three years. If this dominance continues, then Zidane will be remembered as a superb player and a brilliant coach.