Zinedine Zidane has the Wins at Real Madrid. Where is the Praise?
it may be time to consider the distinct possibility that Zinedine Zidane — winner of the Champions League in each of his first two seasons as a manager, and now on the brink of guiding Real Madrid to the competition’s final for a third year in a row — may be quite a good coach.
That his brief managerial career has thus far delivered eight trophies in not quite 30 months should have made that perfectly obvious, of course; by this stage, the fact that he could steer his team to a 2-1 victory at Bayern Munich in the first leg of a Champions League semifinal should barely be worthy of note. Zidane the coach, not unlike Zidane the player, has known nothing but success.
And yet the sort of acclaim that flows so freely toward some of his contemporaries, the breathless paeans of praise, the lavish adjectives, the exclamations of genius have, for some reason, continued to elude Zidane, even as he has picked up prize after prize.
He often does not receive mention in discussion as to who, precisely, are the finest coaches of this generation. Pep Guardiola and José Mourinho, of course, would be the first to spring to mind; Zidane has won the Champions League as many times as either of them, and in a fraction of the time.
With the exception of his one-time boss Carlo Ancelotti, Zidane’s resume, on a continental level, compares favorably to all of the other contenders who might warrant a mention, too: Massimiliano Allegri, Jürgen Klopp, Maurizio Sarri and Antonio Conte have never won club soccer’s greatest honor, and yet all seem to be held in higher esteem than Zidane, the first coach to retain the Champions League, a man just two games away from becoming only the third coach ever to win the competition three times, and the first to do so in consecutive years.
Zidane does not fit that mold at all. He speaks slowly, deliberately, as if he is fastidiously refusing to say anything noteworthy. He is by nature taciturn, bordering on shy. He does not pretend to be the standard-bearer for a school of thought, to have some higher purpose, to wish to transform the game.
He selects his team, and his team plays well, and — in the Champions League at least — invariably wins. In a culture that demands complication, he represents a simplicity bordering on asceticism.
His successes, of course, are the most powerful proof that he is more than he seems, but there are the small details, too, the way he fulfills the most basic, most important requirement of a manager: to influence the course of an individual game.
Zidane has it, in spades. In last year’s final, against Juventus, the game was finely poised at halftime. All he asked of his players, then, was to move five meters further forward. Real, tied 1-1 at the break, won 4-1.
That skill is not quite as enticing, quite as compelling, as listening to a preacher expound his great vision of what soccer can be; it does not fuel the belief that someone is in control of the chaos. Rather, it embraces it, proves that even the slightest change can have vast consequences.
It almost seems too easy to be worthy of comparison, too basic a task to be significant. Complexity, though, is not always importance. Zidane does the simple things well. He might, just might, know what he is doing.