“You don’t win three Champions Leagues, two La Liga titles and 13 out of 14 knockout games in Europe if you’re not a good manager, it’s crazy.”
When the French football journalist Julien Laurens thus frames the managerial CV of Zinedine Zidane on the Euro Leagues Podcast, it’s hard to disagree.
People do, however. And a lot of them.
Despite seven major trophies in four and a half years as boss of Real Madrid, the Frenchman continues to be seen by some as more of a club suit than a skilled tactician, a manager whose main attribute is not the knowledge or us but luck.
Ahead of this week’s Champions League semi-final second leg between Zidane’s Real and Chelsea – with a 1-1 draw – BBC Sport examines why he has yet to gain universal respect despite his achievements .
|Of||AT||Games||To win %||Trophies|
|January 4, 2016||May 31, 2018||149||70.47||La Liga, Champions League (3), Club World Cup (2)|
|March 11, 2019||Gift||109||60.19||the league|
“A slapper on the back, a costume and a cheerleader?” Absolute garbage ‘
Zidane is one of only three managers to have three European Cup / Champions League titles on their CVs, but the other two – Bob Paisley and Carlo Ancelotti – haven’t won three in a row.
In his first full season at the helm of Real, he achieved a La Liga-Champions League brace (the club’s first since 1958), as well as a victory in the Club World Cup and during his initial spell. , he won 70% of his matches in charge.
His second stint as manager saw him win La Liga last year and Zidane could still end this campaign with another league and a European double.
At the start of Wednesday’s game with Chelsea, their only loss in 14 Champions League knockout appearances is the 4-2 outright loss to Manchester City in last season’s round of 16.
His detractors, however, seek to undermine such accomplishments, pointing to the strength of the squad entrusted to him as a relative managerial rookie – particularly peak-era Cristiano Ronaldo, whose immense scoring feats have deepened Real in more than one hole.
And then there are the examples of fortune on the pitch which favored the Frenchman and his team: the favorable draw and the consecutive victory on penalties against Atletico Madrid in the 2016 final; the 2017 quarter-final with Bayern Munich in which the German team had a man sent off at each stage, missed a penalty in the first and were denied a free kick in the second; the injury of Mohamed Salah and the screams of Loris Karius in the 2018 final.
To Zidane’s credit, he doesn’t rule out the impact of luck on his actual career.
“I accept that I may be lucky,” he told reporters in January 2020. “I have been lucky in life. I have to be thankful and work for this. If you think that I’m lucky, that’s fine. It’s not. a problem. “
Zidane can’t control the luck, but he can control the way his team play on the pitch.
As noted on the Euro League podcast, he is tactically smarter than many people think.
“There are a lot of things Zidane does that affect the game,” said Spanish football writer Guillem Balague. “Small details like against Liverpool [in the Champions League quarter-final second leg] and an admission of inferiority in the way they played.
“They (Liverpool) are on their last legs, there’s not much left in the tank so let’s be compact and counterattack, let’s use Valverde’s rhythm.
“Klopp explained how the substitutions changed the shape and pace of the game. Zidane made the right decisions.”
Laurens continues the theme, suggesting that when Zidane makes smart moves, he isn’t praised in the same way other managers are.
“What’s his name? A slapper on the back, and a costume and a cheerleader? That’s absolute bullshit,” he adds.
“He might not be a Johan Cruyff or an Arrigo Sacchi or a Pep Guardiola in terms of the football revolution, but when Joao Cancelo plays well from full-back to inside midfielder, people say it’s is the genius of Guardiola.
“When Mendy does a pretty similar job for Real Madrid, no one is saying Zidane was good.”
“This is the most valuable season in Zidane’s career as a manager,” Balague added. “The absence of Sergio Ramos and Dani Carvajal due to injury, the loss of Ronaldo (to Juventus the previous summer) – means he had to maximize his potential.”
“ When Zidane speaks, the players listen ”
Ancelotti, under whom Zidane worked as a coach at Real in 2013-14, has already hinted at where the Frenchman’s real managerial talent lies.
“He (Zidane) has all the qualities needed to be a fantastic manager: charisma, personality and experience. When Zidane speaks, the players listen,” said the Italian.
It also explains why Zidane is a perfect fit for Real, a club that have historically bought players at the peak of their powers rather than developing talent from within.
“Real Madrid will continue to recruit the best players in the world,” said Balague. “They need a manager like Zidane who gives you a little bit but also lets them express themselves.”
Perhaps the clearest indicator of Zidane and Real’s fit is how the team fared when they parted ways for the first half of the 2018-19 season.
Under Julen Lopetegui and his interim successor Santiago Solari, they finished third in La Liga, 19 points behind winners Barcelona and were embarrassed in the Champions League the last 16 by Ajax.
“I don’t know why people have this perception that anyone could handle Real Madrid,” Laurens said. “No, no one could handle Real Madrid and we saw that when Zidane left the last time.”
How the pair proceed together from here largely depends on what kind of club Real want to be: the giant of the former Galacticos signatory or a forward-looking factory for production and youth development. talents.
“You can’t say Zidane is absolutely perfect because player improvement is where he’s not at his best,” Balague adds. “It’s not about improvement with Zidane and that was the club’s complaint – can he make young players better? He gives them time and confidence – but the detail? He doesn’t give that. “
Right now, however, it’s the perfect marriage.
“When you look at the results of the big games this season, no one has done better than him,” said Laurens. “They can win La Liga and the Champions League again – and he already did. Show some respect.”