Former France and Bayern Munich left-back Bixente Lizarazu, who now works as a pundit for French radio station RTL, television channel TF1 and sports daily L'Equipe, talked to FIFA.com about his old teammate Zinedine Zidane, a contender for The Best FIFA Men's coach 2016.
A few years ago, did you ever imagine Zinedine Zidane becoming a coach?
If you look at someone like Didier Deschamps, he was already a coach during his playing days due to his way of thinking. Zizou wasn't necessarily the same, but everyone has their own approach. He told himself that this was the best way of getting back into football and he did everything he could to understand the job. That's what makes him exceptional – that determination he puts into something when he's decided to do it. People who don't know him don't realise how determined he is, in addition to his talent. And he's followed this path with a lot of humility, step by step. He got his badges, observed, listened and then decided at some point he was ready. What's incredible is that he won the Champions League in just a few months. Plus he's overseen a long unbeaten run. He's currently beating every record in terms of getting early success.
How do you account for his rapid success as a coach?
Zizou does nothing piecemeal. His career has been built over a long period, with a certain consistency at important moments. He had lots of great moments with France and Real Madrid, and it's his entire career that's been incredible. He's started very well as a coach, but for me that's something else he'll build over a long period. It's very difficult to win the Champions League, even for an experienced coach.
How do you explain Zidane becoming a leader of men after being fairly quiet during his playing days?
I think he's revealed new talents that he didn't necessarily have to use when he was a player, or he just had to perform well on the pitch to get his team-mates to up their game. He didn't need to be very communicative because he communicated so well with his feet. From the outside, I find his way of communicating incredible. He's clear and very much at ease with the media and you can tell he has the support of every player. I can also see how clever he's been with Cristiano Ronaldo, unlike Rafael Benitez, who criticised him when he arrived. That's not the kind of thing you do with your best player who gets you 50 goals a season.
Were you surprised that he accepted the coaching role at a club like Real Madrid so early in his career?
No, because everything that happens to him is extraordinary. He scored two headers in the World Cup Final and an incredible volley in the 2002 Champions League final. Things like this always happen to him, so there's a definite sense of continuity! When you want to coach a club, it's important to know it well, and that's how it is for him at Madrid, where he knows the club officials and who he can or can't rely on. He picked all that up in various different roles, from being Jose Mourinho's assistant to presidential advisor and then coach of the reserves. He also gained confidence from being Carlo Ancelotti's assistant, when his role was to speak with the players. He did a lot of jobs before becoming [head] coach so he knows every inch of the club off by heart. That's all very important if you want to avoid banana skins.
What kind of coach do you think he is day to day?
I can't answer that because I'm not with him day to day. But what I can say is that I was particularly struck by a moment during the Champions League final against Atletico when you could see Zizou and Ronaldo speaking to each other and smiling before the penalty shoot-out. What gives great players their strength is that ability to be calm, relaxed and confident at big moments. Having already lived through high-pressure moments as a player and having that experience is priceless. That's also what gives him his strength as a coach. Sometimes I see coaches getting over-excited or nervous on the touchline and I think that's counterproductive. There's no need to increase the pressure or add to the nerves during a final. Zidane knows how to find the right words.
How do you rate Zidane's chances of beatingFernando Santos and Claudio Ranieri to the honour of being named The Best FIFA Men's Coach 2016?
The three men have different arguments in their favour. Zizou won the Champions League after five months and that's a huge achievement even if Real have great players, because you still have to manage them. Fernando Santos also deserves a lot of credit because he didn't necessarily have the best team but took them all the way. What Claudio Ranieri achieved with Leicester has a bit less worth for me because it wasn't in Europe, but it was still fantastic to finish as champions ahead of all the usual heavyweights. It's difficult to compare them, but my heart says Zizou. Not sure if I'm objective, though (laughs)!
Is the hardest part still to come for Zidane?
The hardest part is always still to come because the most difficult thing of all is remaining successful. He knows that and he's proved it throughout his career by continuing to progress and reaching new levels. He didn't stop playing football after winning the World Cup in 1998. When you reach the summit of Everest it's difficult to stay at the top because there are plenty of people who want to steal your place.