What can I say about Zizou that hasn’t already been said? Was there ever doubting this man when he took over the managerial reins at Los Blancos ? The enigma that is Zidane always seems to answer all our questions in a manner that belies his quiet personality.
Zidane the player was an absolute delight to watch with the ball at his feet. The dribbles, pirouettes, vision in passing and that oh so silky first touch. And did I mention, he always showed up with game-changing, match winning goals when the team most needed it. While Zidane the player and his exploits are now the tale of footballing legend, it was unthinkable not so long ago that he would cut it as a manager. Yet, as things stand, Real are on the cusp of a historic double; and the prospect of becoming the first club to successfully defend their champions league title looms large.
When Zizou was handed the unenviable task of guiding Real to instant success, everything about the situation was hardly ideal. Rafa Benitez had just been sacked following a run of poor performances, not least a 4-0 thrashing at the Bernabeau against arch rivals FC Barcelona. To make matters worse, the team was in disarray as Benitez’s detailed & methodical approach had alienated the players. In walked Zidane, and…..voila !!
The Magic & Charisma of the name Zidane
The remainder of Real’s season turned out to be a polar opposite of Rafa’s 6-month stint at the helm. Victory after victory in an unbelievable turn around resulted in Real winning the Champions League and just finishing a point off Barcelona in the final league standings. The manner of some of these victories also stood out. The comeback victories against Barca and Wolfsburg seemed to exemplify the new found spirit in the team. Zidane had magically instilled a winning mentality in the squad in such a short time. More importantly, however, was that the players believed in him and it appeared as though the players were playing for Zidane.
Despite the instant success, there were question marks. The team’s football didn’t always look pretty and his tactics and team selection appeared safe and conservative. Many labeled Zidane lucky. It didn’t really help his case either that Real got favourable draws in the run up to the champions league final.
Brilliance however wasn’t far away….
The Acid Test
In his first full season in charge, Zidane had it all to do once again. Rumours were also rife that Mourinho had been contacted by Perez in the hopes of taking over from Zidane. Zizou’s champions league victory however meant that he had earned a right to mould the team in his own image….for a season at least. This time, he was partially helped by the fact that Real had a transfer ban. Hence, he didn’t have to shoehorn another expensive attacking talent into an already top heavy team.
The team got off to a very wobbly start with consecutive draws in multiple competitions. To make matters worse, the famed BBC trident turned in inconsistent performances. Add to that, a wonky rotation schedule and many players weren’t getting enough minutes on the pitch. What transpired after this phase, however, has been nothing short of spectacular. A record unbeaten run, 3 trophies and a goal scoring run that now sits alone at the top of Europe.
Once again….How does he do it ?
Breaking down the Success
Real Madrid is not every manager’s cup of tea given the club’s notoriously trigger happy culture. For long, the fans have been deprived of enjoying an extended run of terrific football as a result of this. At Real, only a certain kind of manager has been shown to succeed in this not so ideal managerial environment. Vicente Del Bosque and Carlo Ancelotti are two names that have managed this success in recent history. The tactical aspect aside, their greatest asset has always been their ability to get the best out of the players while adopting a more passive approach towards managing.
Zidane has clearly imbibed the ethos of these two great managers. Where he has surpassed them, however, is that he has managed to give the entire squad minutes throughout the season. The fact that more than 20 members of the squad have racked up more than 1000 minutes this season is testament to this. At the same time, he has managed to keep the entire squad happy and motivated. Nothing has exemplified this more than the so called B-Team. They have allowed the key starters to stay fresh for the most crucial part of the season while driving the team forward. Isco, Asensio, Kovacic, James, Danilo, Casilla, Morata, Vazquez, Nacho and even Mariano have emerged as key contributors.
Another forte of this squad that has emerged over the last 12 months is its ability to eke out a victory or favourable result in a bleak situation. There have been times when the team hasn’t played the best or prettiest football and yet they somehow manage to pull through. It is telling that the team has managed to salvage more than 15 points this season with goals scored after the 75th minute. He has also managed to re-invent Ronaldo in a new role and he is now reaping the rewards. Convincing Ronaldo to save himself for the bigger games was never going to be easy and yet, once gain Zidane has hit all the right notes.
Lastly, Zidane has also proved that he is no tactical spring chicken. Ancelotti, for all the beautiful style of play and the success he brought to Madrid, just couldn’t pull a number over Simeone’s Atletico side. Zidane did just that at the Calderon by allowing Isco to play just behind Ronaldo in a free role and by letting Gareth Bale run riot on the left flank. Ronaldo scored a hat trick and Real won 3-0. He managed similar success against Atletico in the Champions League semi-finals. Zidane has also been open to experimentation with some strange schemes being employed in certain games. They have backfired at times but it just shows how much he believes in what he is doing. It is this belief that he has managed to successfully transfer to his players. His legendary status as a player for club and country has also no doubt played a huge role in this regard.
Zidane will now most likely be given something close to full freedom to run the club in the way he sees fit. Potential big name signings could hinder his success but if his success is anything to go by, the opposite might well prove to be true. His policy of promoting young Spanish talent has also proved to be fruitful.
At long last, Real Madrid has a blueprint for lasting success. Could Zidane finally be the one to create a footballing dynasty at Real ? A dynasty not seen since the glorious 60s under Miguel Munoz ? Time will tell….