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...and Zinedine Zidane's Real


In a different way to 'El Cholo', you could say almost stealthily, Zinedine Zidane also exerts strong leadership at Real Madrid. He took over in tricky times and with a sparse coaching CV; feeling complete confidence in him wasn't easy. His promotion smacked of a self-defence manoeuvre by Florentino Pérez, a man on a sticky wicket once it was clear his appointment of Rafa Benítez had got Los Blancos nowhere. No-one could understand Carlo Ancelotti's sacking, and on top of that Real's prominent figurehead was racking up embarrassments he hadn't bargained on, such as the failed David de Gea deal and the Copa fiasco in Cadiz. Chants against him began to be heard, and he opted to put on a pretty mask: that of Zidane.

The Madrid squad welcomed the Frenchman readily. Having put up with Benítez, whom one player described to me as a 'complete and utter pain', it was a release they had been desperate for. Zidane relaxed the mood, bringing a modus operandi that was to their liking. What's more, he stood beside them, shielding the dressing room from the club's meddling. The players appreciated that, too. And gradually 'Zizou' set about identifying his best team, rather than picking one with all the big names - as Benítez did the night of 'El Clásico', the result being that 4-0 walloping. He's balanced up the midfield with Casemiro and, in the wake of the poor defeat at VfL Wolfsburg, plumped for Dani Carvajal over Danilo once and for all.

Such measures create a more balanced and competitive unit out on the field of play, but they don't exactly indulge his president. Zidane's not the type of coach who's particularly to Florentino's taste; in line with his own authoritarian impulses, the Real Madrid chief's obsession is with the more heavy-handed approach of the likes of Benítez and José Mourinho. Zidane is more in the mould of a Vicente del Bosque or an Ancelotti: a boss who manages his players on a long leash. He has brought calm to the team from the touchline, just as he did on the pitch when playing with the same understated grace he displays in his press conferences. But I fear that he needs to win this Champions League final; otherwise...