Zinedine Zidane was arguably one of the greatest players of all time. His ability to control a game from midfield has been replicated by precious few players, and who can forget his strike against Bayer Leverkusen in the Champions League final. Truly, world class.
But, as football fans know all too well, a world class player doesn’t necessarily equal world class manager.
So, the arrival of Zidane in a managerial position at the Bernabeu in 2016 following his role with Real Madrid’s B team brought up a few doubts. His appointment came on the same day the club sacked Rafa Benitez, and appeared to be a ‘plastering over the cracks’ job. Fast forward a season and a half later, and the Frenchman has just picked up the award for Coach of the Year at FIFA’s Best awards.
How did the former World Cup winner go from possibly tarnishing his legacy to enhancing it? Here are six key points that led to Zidane being regarded as the world’s best coach…
1. Winning His Debut Match 5-0 Against Deportivo de La Coruña
Many fans were excited about Zidane’s appointment, but equally as worried about the legendary midfielder not succeeding in his role. His first match in charge came against Deportivo de La Coruña, and with his side only losing one of their past nine games, he didn’t need to change much.
His tenure got off to the perfect start thanks to a Gareth Bale hat-trick and a brace from Karim Benzema. Issues were apparent throughout the match, but there was plenty of time to fix them.
2. Ending Barça’s Winning Streak in His First Clasico
Zidane had steadied the ship during his first few months in charge putting him in a good position ahead of Madrid’s trip to Camp Nou, and his first as a manager. His side were trailing both Barcelona and Atletico Madrid in La Liga, but an incredible fight back saw Madrid prevail as 2-1 winners.
The result meant that Madrid ended Barca’s unbeaten run at 39 games, and, despite being a man down, managed to come from a goal down to take all three points. Bale again had a phenomenal game for his club, with Zidane seemingly getting the best out of the Welshman.
3. Claiming His First Champions League Title
Five months to do the day after taking over, Zidane’s side earned themselves a place in the Champions League final after beating Manchester City 1-0 on aggregate. Later that month, his team came up against fierce rivals Atletico Madrid in Milan. The game ended 1-1 in normal time after Yannick Carrasco cancelled out Sergio Ramos’ opener. Extra time brought about no more goals before Cristiano Ronaldo struck the winning penalty.
Zidane had brought home Madrid’s 11th Champions League trophy and the first of his managerial career. He became the seventh man to win the European Cup as both a player and a manager, joining an elite list.
4. Finishing Second to Barcelona in La Liga
Sounds strange, but finishing second to Barcelona in his first season may have been a positive factor for Zidane in the long-term. His side lost out on the title by just one, bitterly disappointing point. Los Blancos had scored 110 league goals and looked like the Real Madrid of old, but early season form had come back to haunt them.
However, by missing out by such a short margin may have been a good thing, as it spurred his side on to be triumphant the following year.
5. Claiming La Liga for the First Time in Five Years
The despair of the previous season was completely forgotten by all Madridistas as they claimed their 33rd La Liga title and first in five years at the end of Zidane’s first full season in charge. The Frenchman gave Isco a much larger role in his starting XI and the Spaniard stepped up to the task.
Madrid were a much stronger attacking force and relied less on Cristiano Ronaldo to make things happen when it mattered. However, the best was yet to come…
6. Becoming the First Club to Retain the Champions League
After clinching his first league title, Zidane then guided his side to back-to-back Champions Leagues – a feat that hadn’t been achieved by any team in history.
Arguably his best career moments, Real Madrid didn’t just clinch the title, they battered Juventus 4-1 in Cardiff to take home the trophy.
The Frenchman has since gone on to win UEFA Super Cup and the Supercopa de España, meaning Zidane has won as many trophies (seven) as he’s lost games in charge of Los Blancos. A phenomenal achievement from a manager who wasn’t initially brought in for the long-term.