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Sky's the limit for Zizou with 'job for life' at Real

Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane holding the Champions League trophy aloft. Just 17 months into his tenure at the Santiago Bernabeu, the Frenchman has already eclipsed some of football's most hallowed names.
Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane holding the Champions League trophy aloft. Just 17 months into his tenure at the Santiago Bernabeu, the Frenchman has already eclipsed some of football's most hallowed names.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

CARDIFF • Feted as one of the finest talents of his generation, Zinedine "Zizou" Zidane has made the transition to management so smoothly that he has already eclipsed some of the game's most hallowed names just 17 months into his spell as Real Madrid boss.

When Zidane's majestic strike flashed into the net to give Real victory in the 2002 Champions League final against Bayer Leverkusen, the Frenchman must have believed he would never surpass that golden moment in Europe's top-tier tournament.

Yet at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium on Saturday, he joined the managerial immortals as Real's 4-1 rout of Juventus made him the first coach to win successive European Cups since the great Arrigo Sacchi of AC Milan in 1989 and 1990. Not even Alex Ferguson, Jose Mourinho or Pep Guardiola have achieved that epic feat.

"All the coaches you mentioned, they're great coaches. I don't want to say I'm very good because before I was scandalously bad and now I'm supposed to be the best," Zidane said modestly. "I have the chance to be with this great squad. In the long run, everyone's been very important. For me that's the success."

Real's impressive win rightly sparked praise for Cristiano Ronaldo's predatory brace. But it was Zidane who provided the inspiration. Just ask Ronaldo.

"Zidane gave us a very positive half-time team talk and told us he really believed in us," Ronaldo said.

Real were revitalised after the break, scoring three times to seal victory.

Throughout an incredible playing career that brought him fame and fortune, he remained a reluctant hero, even when he became the idol of a nation by starring in France's 1998 World Cup triumph.

But it was that calm demeanour that appealed to Real chief Florentino Perez when he made the surprise decision to appoint Zidane as boss in January last year.

With only brief spells as Real's assistant coach and 'B' team boss on his resume, critics wondered how he would cope with a squad of fragile egos at a club rife with power struggles. Those doubters underestimated his inner resolve and the huge respect he was held in by the players. He did not shy away from big decisions either.

One of his first acts was to bring Casemiro - scorer of the second goal in Cardiff - back to the team.

If Perez had his way, Casemiro would not play. He once advised Rafael Benitez, Zidane's predecessor, to exclude him from the Clasico.

But Zidane understood that the Brazilian defensive midfielder gives the team balance.

Even the difficult decision of whether to recall Wales forward Gareth Bale for the final in his home town was no problem for Zidane, who kept faith with Isco and watched him pull the strings.

Zidane is the 11th coach to be appointed under Perez in just over 13 years, but could well be the last.

"Zidane can stay at Real Madrid for the rest of his life," Perez told Spanish radio station Cadena Ser after the Champions League triumph.

"Every Real Madrid fan is so grateful to him, he lifted our level of talent when he arrived in 2001 and was the best player in the world.

"Now he is the best coach in the world. He has been our coach for 17 months but he has done everything possible."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, NYTIMES, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 05, 2017, with the headline 'Sky's the limit for Zizou with 'job for life' at Real'. Print Edition | Subscribe