Article by Mudit Vashistha
It has been a happy year- a very happy one. He took over at Real Madrid exactly 12 months ago and, short of winning the league, he achieved everything he set out to by lifting the European Cup and the Club World Cup, breaking the record for consecutive games without defeat, taking the team to the top of La Liga, nicking a point off of Barcelona in El Clasico and generally bringing calm and harmony to a dressing room that was anything but when Rafa Benitez was in charge.
The most impressive thing about Zidane’s year is that no one really expected it. The whispers around the club last January were that for all his ability as a player Zidane just wasn’t cut out to be a coach. His training sessions were routine and likely to bore top players. He was unable to impact on games once the first whistle had been blown and while his past record inspired, nothing much of what he said had anywhere near the same effect.
None of that has been born out by the passing of time. There have been dips. Real were shaky when he first took over and a 1-0 home defeat by Atletico Madrid at the end of February suggested all the doubters had been right. The sight of players jogging back towards their own goal as Diego Simeone‘s side stormed forward to score the only goal of the game smacked of a side not responding to their new coach but two of the slackers from that city derby, Isco and James Rodriguez, suddenly found themselves out of favour as younger keener players such as Lucas Vazquez– who has since made it into the Spain squad– took their places.
Much of what Zidane did towards the end of last season, his predecessor Benitez had tried to do. The current Newcastle manager was also partisan to playing the lively Vazquez instead of the occasionally pedestrian James and he believed Madrid operated more smoothly with holding midfielder Casemiro in the team but whereas Benitez’s attempts to drop big name players to make room for some worker ants were met with resistance by the powers that be, Zidane was given free reign. Who was going to argue with one of the greatest players in the club’s history? No one.
Zidane brought in Antonio Pintus from Lyon and the fitness coach he had worked with at Juventus has played a big part in getting the players right physically. Team spirit has also been helped by a rare summer when there were no big-name signings to assimilate– just a series of bumper new contracts for existing players and Zidane has worked squad rotation to great effect, convincing Cristiano Ronaldo he needs to rest from time to time and giving enough minutes to all players meaning that, with the possible exception of James and Isco, every member of the squad is happy.
It’s true that Real still rely heavily on heroic comebacks and last-minute goals; they don’t dominate games and often switch off for periods in matches allowing their opponents to take control and despite the record and last season’s Champions League success, the football has not always been brilliant but the long winning run and the trophy successes are hard to argue with. It may also be the case that a super coach in the Jose Mourinho– Pep Guardiola mould is not what Real Madrid need anyway as the team is doing fairly well in the different competitions.