Zinedine Zidane’s managerial career feels like it has only just started, but already he has experienced more glory than most managers could ever dream of.
During his brief managerial career, he has been able to assemble a squad so talented that the likes of James Rodriguez were not deemed worthy of a place in the matchday squad for a Champions League final.
Of course, the pool Zizou inherited was filled with world class ability, but these players undoubtedly improved under the Frenchman and several will go down as all-time greats. With these talents in mind, let’s take a look at Zidane’s all-time best starting XI.
Goalkeeper & Defenders
Kaylor Navas (GK): One of the most underrated keepers in the modern game, it is no surprise that Zidane’s first move upon his reappointment as Madrid manager earlier this year was to reinstate the Costa Rican into the starting lineup. The stopper was a loyal servant to Zizou and kept goal for Los Blancos’ three consecutive Champions League ?triumphs between 2016 and 2018.
Dani Carvajal (RB): Perhaps the unluckiest player Zidane has managed, Carvajal would be a much more renowned name in the world of football, were it not for his fitness issues. Having played key roles in getting Madrid to three consecutive Champions League finals, the Spaniard had to depart two of those games prematurely through injury. Nevertheless, the right-back remains one of his manager’s most trusted players to this day.
Sergio Ramos (CB): Mr. Madrid. Mr. Champions League. Mr. Yellow Card. Call him what you want, Ramos will go down as one of the best centre-halves of his generation. Few players can match his desire to win and Zidane seems only to have boosted that trait since first taking over as Madrid boss in 2016.
Raphael Varane (CB): One of those players who it is easy to gloss over when you watch him. Some defenders make defending look like an art, Varane makes it look like child’s play. With four European Cups and one World Cup under his belt, it’s a testament to Zizou’s management that he can continue to get the best out of his fellow countryman.
Marcelo (LB): Yet another player who makes everything look so easy; yet another player who flourished under Zidane. In an age where full-backs have been great at going forward, but suspect defensively, Marcelo has been able to master both disciplines. He has been a wonderful servant to Zidane, and played an integral role in one of the most successful periods in the club’s history.
?Casemiro (CM): In the season prior to Zidane’s arrival, Casemiro was deemed surplus to requirements and sent out on loan to FC Porto. But Zidane clearly saw the Brazilian’s potential and made him a key part of his team. He spent most of his time alongside two of the best passers in world football and as a result gone under the radar in his more defensive role. In reality, the former Sao Paulo man is perhaps the most important cog in this midfield machine.
Toni Kroos (CM): A midfielder who neither scores many goals nor wins many tackles can often be overlooked by a manager, but the trust Zidane has in the German is clear for all to see. From 2016 to 2018, Madrid’s primary threat came from the front three, which is why Kroos’ ability to pass through the lines was so pivotal to the way they played. Never the poster boy of this side, but a hugely important player nonetheless.
Luka Modric (CM): Modric was one of several Madrid players who found a seemingly unachievable extra level under Zidane. Prior to the Frenchman’s arrival, the Croatian was one of the most technically gifted midfielders in world football, but Zizou moulded him into the dominant, tempo-setting, Ballon d’Or winning maestro he is today.
?Gareth Bale (RW): Bale and Zidane haven’t always seen eye to eye, but there is no question that the Welshman’s best performances have come under the Frenchman. In Zizou’s first ever game as a manager, Bale scored a hat-trick in a 5-0 win. A lover of the big occasion, the former Spurs man scored in one of Zidane’s Champions League final wins as well as calmly tucking away a penalty in another.
Karim Benzema (ST): When playing alongside two of the best players in the world, what Zidane needed was an unselfish striker who could get the best out of those around him. Someone who was willing to play for the team. And with 23 assists in Zidane’s two and a half seasons at the helm, Benzema was just what the doctor ordered.
Cristiano Ronaldo (LW): Zidane took over at Madrid at the start of 2016 and at the end of the year, Ronaldo was awarded his fourth Ballon d’Or with the joint highest margin of the votes in history. One year later he had his fifth. The Frenchman was able to transform the Portuguese forward from great individual player into a serial winner. Having won just seven trophies in six and a half years at the Bernabeu, Ronaldo added eight winners medals to his collection in the two and half years under Zidane.
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