This time last year, Real Madrid were a shambles. The previous summer, club chief Florentino Pérez had had a bright idea that no-one could understand: that of sacking Carlo Ancelotti - who he felt overly indulged the players - and hiring Rafa Benítez to bring 'em into line. But the team didn't impress, Benítez looked shaky and Real were on the wrong end of a 4-0 walloping by Barcelona. And to top it off, there was embarrassment in the Copa del Rey as they were thrown out of the competition for fielding the ineligible Denis Cheryshev at Cádiz. As 2016 got underway, Real were third in LaLiga, four points off Atlético Madrid and two behind Barça, who had a game in hand and had just won the Club World Cup. A disaster.
Zidane's promotion from within just the tonic
After a bungled flirtation with bringing back José Mourinho (concealed in a deceptive phone survey), Pérez looked in-house and appointed Zinedine Zidane, who having been Ancelotti's assistant in the Italian's first season in Madrid was now coach of Castilla, Real's 'B' team. It worked a treat. He eased all the tension: the squad found release from the overwhelming flood of instructions Benítez had subjected them to, while an angry fanbase was calmed and gave the benefit of the doubt to 'Zizou', who was relaxed in front of the media, was prudent in his decisions and began to turn things round. He found the key to success with Casemiro as the midfield anchorman, correcting an imbalance to the side that was becoming chronic.
Three trophies in 2016 under the Frenchman
In the past 12 months, Zidane has won the Champions League, UEFA Super Cup and Club World Cup. Last term in LaLiga he finished just one point off Barça, and this season he's three ahead of them having played one fewer. He manages the egos, shields his players from the president, preaches a sensible message and has banished all the drama. Of 53 matches in charge, he's won 40, drawn 11 and lost only two. The notion that a coach the players feel at ease with is no use emanates only from minds trapped by a needless authoritarian urge. It's not about yelling at the players and watching over their every move; it's about leading a squad with the type of conviction born out of knowledge of the game and a keen sense of fairness.