MADRID • Zinedine Zidane's smooth transition from Real Madrid legend as a player to Champions League-winning coach has caught many by surprise, but Real president Florentino Perez believes success was guaranteed by the Frenchman's "love story" with the Spanish giants.
Zidane dazzled for five years as a Real player after being signed by Perez in 2001. Yet his incredible record in 11 months since being handed his first senior managerial role has more than rivalled his accomplishments as a player.
Having suffered just two defeats in 48 games in charge, Zidane led Real to an 11th European Cup at the first time of asking in May and has Los Blancos on the way to a first La Liga title in five years by opening a six-point lead over Barcelona ahead of tomorrow's El Clasico.
"He changed the history of this club as a player and it was such an easy option for us. He is someone who came here to offer a new and distinct future... it was obvious that he would do a great job," Perez told AFP in an exclusive interview.
"It has been a beautiful and eternal love story and that is why I am not surprised by the results he is getting and those that are still to come."
Real's form under Zidane is even more remarkable, given that his predecessor Rafael Benitez lasted just seven months at the Bernabeu with his short-lived reign blighted by poor results and player revolts.
It is the respect garnered from his playing days that Perez believes sets Zidane apart.
"Zidane last year changed our lives. As well as working very well from a professional point of view, he has an authority with the players because he was a great player. He was one of the greatest ever," added Perez.
"When he says things, when he speaks with the players, he has the recognition and the authority you have to have."
As it is, he is also not the only Zidane to have impressed at the Bernabeu.
Enzo, the oldest of Zidane's four sons, scored on his senior debut on Wednesday as Real brushed aside third-tier Cultural Leonesa 6-1 to progress to the last 16 of the King's Cup 13-2 on aggregate.
Enzo was introduced at half-time and the 21-year-old midfielder showed a glimpse of his father's talent with a fine low finish from the edge of the area just after the hour mark.
"If I take off my hat as a coach then I am happy for him as a father too," said Zidane.
"But, in saying that, I watch what he does on the field as a coach and I am happy with how they all played."
Real's other goals of the night came from James Rodriguez, a hat-trick from Mariano Diaz and an own goal from Cesar Morgado.
Yeray Gonzalez scored a consolation goal for the visitors.
In contrast, Barcelona still have work to do to reach the next round after being held 1-1 at Hercules in the first leg of their last-32 tie.
Barca's Carles Alena struck a sublime effort in the 58th minute to cancel out David Mainz's close-range opener six minutes earlier as the Cup holders came from behind but had to accept a draw in a match they dominated.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS
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