With a resounding victory over a much-lauded Juventus side in Cardiff on Saturday night, Zinedine Zidane – manager of Real Madrid for all of 17 months – has now surely put his name among the elite list of managers most highly regarded in the football world.
Having been in charge of Los Blancos for a mere season and a half, the Frenchman has not only collected two Champions League trophies, but has also reclaimed the La Liga title for the first time since 2012. In total, the former France and Real Madrid midfielder has overseen a haul of five pieces of silverware since being put in charge by Real president Florentino Perez, following Rafael Benitez’s dismissal.
During this period, it has been frequently commented upon that these victories and the manner with which the team is consistently performing only goes to further highlight the achievement of Zidane and his managerial style. It is no secret that being Real Madrid manager is the most strenuous, demanding and trip mine-laden job in football. The margin for error is nil, and as long as Perez oversees proceedings, even collecting a trophy in one season cannot guarantee any kind of longevity.
But Zidane, despite the pressure to produce, despite all the internal politics that are involved with the role, has flourished. This could be down to the fact he had spent so much of his career at this club before taking the job, and not only as a player. He of course was Carlo Ancelotti’s assistant during the Italian’s spell in charge, and this will no doubt have given Zidane a real insight into the internal workings of the club.
All of the above considered, it is hard to deny that Zidane must now be regarded as one of the best working managers in the world. Another point to back this up is the fact that he has not chosen to simply play his strongest side every game and avoid the risk of mixing things up by giving other players a chance to perform. Players such as Lucas Vazquez and Marco Asensio – undoubtedly bit-part players this season – have done well when called upon by the manager, and look to be real prospects for the future.
So it is interesting to note that the man who has been in charge of Real’s biggest rivals since 2014, and won a barrel-load of trophies along the way, may not been regarded in the same way.
When Luis Enrique announced in March that this season would be his last with the Catalan club, it was met with a notable lack of overwhelming sadness or regret by the fans and local media, despite the fact the former Barca player had won a staggering eight trophies for the club (nine come the end of the season with victory in the Copa del Rey) during his three-year tenure.
The possible reason for this would go a long way to further highlighting what has made Zidane’s managerial career to date a far more credible success.
The famous Barcelona trident of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez is arguably the most dangerous and potent attacking front line in history. It was indeed Enrique who assembled the trio, who since they were formed have between them contributed a jaw-dropping 363 goals in all competitions.
But besides the front three, there had been very little contribution from elsewhere on the pitch. An ageing Andres Iniesta has struggled of late, and it will be very difficult for new manager Ernesto Valverde to find a replacement for. Youth products such as Sergi Roberto and Rafinha have struggled for minutes and usual bench players like Paco Alcacer and Andre Gomes – signed for €30m and €35m respectively – have failed to make any significant impact.
Enrique changed very little during his time in charge. It often looked as though he would be entirely dependent on his three saviours up top, who in most cases would produce and get the goals needed to win games.
From 2014 to perhaps the beginning of the season just gone Barcelona would have been in most people’s top five teams in the world, if not at the very top for a large majority. If asked to compile a list of the five best managers working during that same period, it would be difficult to assume many people would include Enrique amongst their picks.
What Zidane has done during his time in charge of Real Madrid is explode the theory that all a manager at a major club needs to do is preserve the status quo and keep the best players happy. In many ways, he has treated his job like a manager dealing with a side threatened by relegation. He has used many players, altered formations, often times left big players out and yet has delivered trophy after trophy at a club where any and every decision you make could be your last.
How much longer he will remain manager is difficult to judge. Even with all this success in such a brief amount of time, surely not even the great Zidane would last very long under the regime of billionaire Perez should a dry spell occur next season.
But what’s interesting to consider is that the Frenchman, regarded by many as the greatest midfield player of his time, could well be the first man to buck the trend of managers at Real Madrid consistently being shown the door despite apparent success.
Perhaps, his will be a tenure that lasts longer than any of us would have foreseen.
David Newman, Pundit Arena