“I want to bring the exciting game that this club has always had. Football has always been important here: nice football and balance. We're going to work in order to do as well as possible on the pitch,” Zinedine Zidane’s first words after taking charge at Real Madrid were not so different from any new manager at any football club across the globe, yet there was something refreshing in the Frenchman’s demeanour – his unorthodox appointment paving the path for Real Madrid’s unprecedented success in modern footballing history.
Zidane’s appointment came as a surprise to neutrals and Real Madrid fans alike, his managerial inexperience in top-flight football a potential stumbling block according to critics, but president Florentino Perez’s nomination of Zidane for the brutal post was a perfectly timed one. Although Real Madrid were in contention for the La Liga title and already through to the Round of 16 in the Champions League in 2015/16 season, those were turbulent times for the Los Blancos as supporters grew increasingly frustrated at Rafael Benitez’s cautious approach to games while players weren’t a big fan of his micro-managerial techniques either.
Boxed into a corner, with no big names available in mid-season, Perez opted for his trusted ally – the man who had already achieved all summits of greatness in his playing career – Zizou, a bona fide Galactico – an appointment which not only changed the world’s outlook towards Real Madrid but also proved terrific in terms of the club’s silverware pursuits. Zidane in his epically successful, rarely controversial playing days was revered not only for his technical abilities and his consistency, but also for his simplistic yet winning mentality – traits his Real Madrid side will embody right from the onset.
Zidane’s tenure at Real Madrid began with a 5-0 win over Deportivo La Coruna in La Liga and would end with a 3-1 victory over Liverpool in the final of the Champions League, the Frenchman boasting of an incredible winning percentage of 69.8% and an even more remarkable statistic of never losing a single knockout tie in Europe’s premier competition. To state that Zidane had a humbling beginning in a role in management would be wrong, but he didn’t spring upon a surprise of Homeric proportions either.
Zidane’s association with the Spanish club commenced long before his formal appointment in January 2016. One of Perez’s first moves after winning the Presidential elections in June 2009 was to appoint the esteemed Frenchman as his advisor and steadily transitioning him into an authoritative figure alongside general director Jorge Valdano and sporting director Miguel Pardeza. A little more than a year later, Zidane would take on a more hands-on approach in the day-to-day aspects of the first team squad when Jose Mourinho specially requested him to be appointed as an advisor to the first team, especially during Champions League matches.
Soon, he would take up the role of sporting director at the club, orchestrating the transfers of Luka Modric and Casemiro – two players who would go on to form the core of his first-team squad in the later years. Appointed as Carlo Ancelotti’s assistant in the summer of 2013, Zidane was an integral part of the management hierarchy which guided Real Madrid to the coveted La Decima. While Zidane’s playing excellence provided the Real Madrid first-team players with invaluable knowledge, these were the days which moulded the former midfielder into the managerial marvel he turned out to be. As he picked up the nitty-gritties of management, he also learnt from the errors the then-managers committed, imbibing all the travesties of the job.
From not alienating arguably the most unforgiving fan-base in Europe to ensuring the star players are content, for a manager is only as good as the players at his disposal, Zidane understood the little things which help Real Madrid tick as a club. Having been granted the privilege to observe one of the most fascinating clubs in world football from close quarters, learning from two of Europe’s finest ever managers in Jose Mourinho and Carlo Ancelotti, Zidane converted every experience into a learning curve.
“What sets Zidane apart is the way he manipulates a football, buying himself space that isn't there. Add his vision and it makes him very special,” Kevin Keegan once said about the midfielder’s restrained flamboyance as a player and it is this quality which again shone through during his managerial quests.
The summer of 2014 saw Zidane taking charge of the Real Madrid Castilla – his final lesson a perfect dress-rehearsal for what was to come next. Not perfect by any means, Zidane’s reign over the Real Madrid B team was essential in teaching him the ropes of the job – which defeats were an inherent aspect of the beautiful game but it was the ultimate triumphs which counted.
“The only thing important to me is winning games,” Zidane had stated authoritatively in his first press conference as the Real Madrid manager, but as he will find out in the “hard moments”, such as the defeat at the hands of Leganes in the Copa Del Rey or the club’s third-place finish seventeen points behind La Liga champions Barcelona in the recently concluded season, it is the process which matters.
Rome wasn’t built in a day and Zinedine Zidane’s sensational managerial performance at Real Madrid didn’t happen by fluke, rather it was the organic education of his often-understated brilliant mind in football’s toughest job which shaped up his plaudits. While the three consecutive Champions League triumphs were the proverbial cherry on the sundae, perhaps Zidane’s greatest achievement during his two and a half seasons at Santiago Bernabeu was to transform the biggest job in European football to an idyllic setting.
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Updated Date: Jun 01, 2018 11:04:59 IST