Three European Cups in a row in your first managerial position. Not bad, huh?
There were rumblings that Zinedine Zidane was on the brink of the sack earlier in the season with Madrid finishing behind Tottenham Hotspur in their Champions League group, followed by a humiliating exit from the Copa Del Rey at home to Leganés and a disappointing La Liga campaign, where they would ultimately finish 3rd and 17 points adrift of Barcelona.
So to quit now, on his terms, as a three time European Cup winning manager is not a bad way to go at all.
In his brief managerial career, Zidane has showed how to expertly manage a difficult dressing room full of big stars and bigger egos. A task that has proved too big for many of his predecessors.
With all that Zidane has achieved, it’s incredible to think how little he has changed since Rafael Benitez was dismissed in January 2016. Zidane has made no major additions to Madrid’s squad in his short tenure. He hasn’t gone out and smashed transfer records on a shiny new Galactico or signed a big name to please the fans. Thirteen out of the eighteen players who overcame Liverpool in Kiev were also there when Real Madrid overcame Atletico Madrid back in 2016 and none of the starting eleven were signed in the last four years. Zidane understood that he didn’t need to overhaul the team and he was more than happy to work with the talent he had. The difference between Benitez and Zidane is that the Frenchman commands a respect most managers can only dream of. Madrid’s players often referred to Benitez as ‘the No.10’ a mocking nickname due to fact Benitez never made it as a top player.
Managing so many of the worlds top players on a daily basis is a rare skill. How many top Premier League managers have lost the dressing room and seen their players down tools? Jose Mourinho in 2016 and Claudio Ranieri the following year spring to mind. They couldn’t handle their players, results dipped and they left a few months after winning the title. Despite winning the title last year and winning the FA Cup a few weeks ago, Antonio Conte may also join that list; having alienated the squad and lost the faith of the players.
Luka Modric spoke about Zidane after the 2017 final: “He has done great things since he arrived. He made sure we were a team, that we all contributed”. And that’s what Zidane has done expertly. He has united Real Madrid. To coach these elite players and command their respect has been the key.
It hasn’t all been plain sailing however. Some of Madrid’s top stars may be glad to see the back of him, most notably Gareth Bale. The huge point deficit in La Liga will also have played a part in his decision to step down. But Zidane’s status at Madrid as both a player and a coach is arguably the best in both categories. Zizou famously ended his playing career in disgrace, sent off in the 2006 World Cup Final as France were defeated by Italy, so its a romantic end that he leaves this role on his terms with a big trophy in his arms.