Although he spent only seven months at the club, Rafa Benitez’s sacking was as expected as much as his arrival, in the first place, was not. It was obvious from the onset that Benitez didn’t and wouldn’t enjoy the confidence of players and fans. His place was immediately taken by Zinedine Zidane, who will learn his coaching trade at no lesser stage than one of the biggest clubs in the world.
Many have started comparing Zidane with Pep Guardiola, although the popular Zizou doesn’t approve of that. However, his situation is perhaps more similar to that of Ryan Giggs at Man United. Zizou is a club legend who knows the club inside out and his success as manager would be heavenly for every Madridista. But, life is not a fairytale, and Zidane’s inexperience could prove to be too much.
Whilst he lacks experience for the job, he certainly doesn’t lack anything in the dedication department. His primary love is football – that’s what makes him happy. As a kid, he practiced simultaneously both football and judo. At the crossroads of his career he had to opt for only one sport – and though he was great at judo (some say even better than at football), he chose the sport he loved most. Even when he finished his incredible career he didn’t end his involvement in the sport.
So, what makes Zidane a good choice and what is it about him that might prevent him from succeeding?
Zizou moved from Juventus to Real Madrid in 2001 for a record fee of €75 million. He spent the rest of his career at the Santiago Bernabeu and was a leader of the Galacticos – with the likes of Figo, Ronaldo, Raul and Beckham alongside him, he was the best of the bunch. Shortly after his retirement, he became chairman Florentino Perez’s advisor in 2009. A year after, he became the club’s sporting director and was the link between Mourinho and the board.
He also worked alongside Ancelotti, this time as an assistant manager, when Real Madrid lifted the famous Decima – their tenth Champions League trophy. During Ancelotti’s last season at the club (he was sacked as most of the Real’s managers are in recent years), Zidane took charge of Real Madrid Castilla in Segunda B – the Spanish third-tier.
An inexperienced manager though he may be, Zidane has spent some time on each step of the club hierarchy and he knows exactly what ‘madridismo’ means. From 2001 (and that was 15 years ago!), his positions have spanned from player to member of staff to board member, and few will argue that there is somebody more competent at doing it the ‘Real Madrid way’.
Seeing how it all works
“When I stopped playing I did a lot of things, saw many people, studied a lot of football and did quite a few jobs, but when it comes down to it, you end up going back to what gives you energy – life. You have to do what you love, and for me that is football.”
These words, pointed out by Four-Four-Two journalist Andrew Murray were used to describe Zidane’s interest in management after being an assistant to Real’s Champions League winning side under Carlo Ancelotti. Zizou started out by analyzing things, watching everything happen from a quiet place in the background; soon he was able to make complex deductions on his own, he figured out how to motivate players, how to get the best out of each and every player available to the squad. The experience of working at a club such as Real is certainly one of a kind, and Zidane knows exactly how each and every one of its gears and levers works – this is an important advantage over any other coach hoping to take the helm of Los Blancos.
Zidane is most certainly not what one might call a “stubborn” manager. During his coaching time at Castilla, he wasn’t afraid to give up on some of his preferred formations and go for alternative solutions. He ended up sticking with a 4-3-2-1 formation in Real’s B side, after a run of bad results with variations of the 4-4-2 and 4-3-3. The last thing Real Madrid needs is a rigid way of thinking – the ability to tactically adapt to any given situation on the pitch has become one of the most important traits for a manager these days. What plan A lacks, plan B, C, D and E should be able to compensate for. Zidane’s natural instinct for football should prove vital in this regard. The Frenchman has studied the training methods of Pep Guardiola, but has already made it clear how pointless the comparison between him and Barcelona’s former manager is. Zidane wants things done his own way and he is ready to learn and soak up all the necessary material to make that happen.
The “Odegaard” Case
Labeled the highest rated ‘wunderkind’ on the planet, Martin Odegaard had a plethora of choices when he decided it was time to leave his Stromsgodset. Naturally, he chose Real Madrid, but stepped things up by adding a contract clause which stipulated he must take part in the training sessions of the first team, even though he was originally intended to play in Real B – Castilla. Unimpressed, Zinedine Zidane decided to leave him out of the squad each time he ditched ‘regular’ B team training. Zidane demands an atmosphere built on cohesion, togetherness, team spirit. Standing up to the attitude of the highest-paid young footballer in the world was a way of sending a clear message: There should be no place for arrogance and selfishness in Real.
“I discovered that, for the common good, you have to know how to tell players things they’re not ready to hear.”
Perhaps the biggest issue with Zidane taking over Real Madrid is his past experience. So far, he has only managed Real Madrid Castilla – and they weren’t enjoying a very dominant spell. The team find themselves second in the Segunda Division B, and have won only once in their last five matches. Pep Guardiola also had a high-profile first job, taking over Barcelona after managing their B team, but, contrary to Zidane, Guardiola’s B team played exceptionally and had developed a unique style of play.
On the other hand, 10 years of being at helm at Everton, a mid-table Premier League side, wasn’t enough for David Moyes to succeed at Man United and he just couldn’t cope with the pressure. The difference here is Zidane’s involvement with the club and his success as a player – he knows what it takes to win a trophy. Only time will tell if his lack of experience will make a big impact on his success with Real Madrid or if he will indeed do a Guardiola.
The Real Madrid Situation
Zizou is taking over a team in a very difficult state – there was a discord between the players and former manager Benitez, and every so often the media reported on a rift between the players themselves (most commonly, Ronaldo and Bale). Real Madrid have a star-studded squad with a lot of egos to please. In addition to this, club chairman Perez doesn’t allow his managers to make big decisions on their own and likes to be involved more than he should be.
Zidane himself announced he wasn’t ready to replace Ancelotti and since then, nothing of real significance happened in Zidane’s coaching career. So what has changed now? He takes over a team mid-season with disrupted harmony, three points behind the league leaders. He has one big task ahead of him.
An Introvert at Heart
‘All work and no play’ has been the motto for Zinedine Zidane his entire life. Often described as a somewhat shy and humble guy, Zizou has never been one to create scandals and drama on purpose.
It would be rather difficult to imagine him slapping players for fun or hugging them like Jurgen Klopp, and now he faces a huge challenge in providing motivation for Real’s flashy superstars. Many have tried and failed to keep the temperaments and ambitions of Los Blancos’ players in check, and we have no evidence of Zidane’s ability to do that just yet. He hasn’t given in to the demands of Martin Odegaard, which is great, but now the stakes are at least ten times higher and the palpable tension in the locker room might not be a setting best suited for a rookie manager. Perhaps Zinedine’s legacy as a footballer might be enough to turn things around, or perhaps not.
We have already seen Zinedine Zidane in many different roles and contexts: we’ve seen him head-butt a disrespectful Marco Materazzi, win a World Cup and lift the Champions League trophy and finally rise through the ranks of Real Madrid management by staying as patient and hard-working as ever. There is much debate about whether he can actually handle the pressure of working under Florentino Perez, but Zizou is a man who lives and breathes football. If the French legend can get the backing of his board, alongside some space and patience from the fans, he might be able to set up a system to his own liking – one which relies on continuity, keeping your head down and doing all the talking on the pitch. With all sorts of different rumors flying around Santiago Bernabeu, a tiny bit of cool-headedness could actually do Real Madrid some good.
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