Zidane's team selection and the multiple messages it sends
Zinedine Zidane dusted down some of the old furniture at Real Madrid and named them in his starting eleven last Saturday afternoon against Celta Vigo. It served many purposes. “The most important things was to win three points,” he said after the game. Winning three points was important to cleanse the side and the stadium of those three horrible games that saw Real Madrid crash out of the Copa and the Champions League and lose significant ground in LaLiga. And who better to restore that good feeling than the players who know what Zidane requires and who know how to implement his instructions.
“I want to recover all of the players,” he said too though, which proved there was more to his team selection. Whatever about Marcelo’s form and fitness, and Isco’s attitude and application, these players are amongst the best in the world and they can offer something. "We aren't on the playground," Zidane said after the game and with 10 games to go and futures on the line, the audition has begun.
“You can’t go into three competitions with just one keeper in good form,” he said looking at it from a more practical standpoint. The players are being paid handsomely and are keen to play. Why not start a competition for places again, which is something that seemed to die under Santiago Solari. During that stint that saw Solari lose his job as the manager of the club, he used just 14 players and two of those were goalkeepers. The players who hadn't been playing were out of shape and form because they weren't playing and they weren't playing because they were out of shape and form. Zidane plans to fix that.
Zidane looking to create competition
Creating that competition amongst players without it turning towards the nasty side of jealousy is easier said than done but it’s something Zidane is an expert at. He will speak to his stalwarts in private and ease the youngsters into the fold when necessary without casting anyone aside or making any enemies. There will be some fallout given the fact that there is 23 players jockeying for eleven spots with each and every one of them believing in their hearts that they should play. But with Zidane, and with the victories he tends to bring, the fallout will be kept to a minimum.
And Zidane has what few managers at any club has at the moment. Some wiggle room to fail - within reason. For the remainder of the season, he has a laboraratory for experiment with little pressure. He still has to show progression and good performances, of course, but the occasional loss can be explained away by the situation he has inherited. “There are ten games left and you have to finish well,” he said. Finishing well has several meanings though.
If this was a Rocky Balboa movie, this would be the scene where Rocky is chasing the chicken around the yard or lifting weights in outer Siberia; getting stronger and testing his limits so see where exactly they lie. The fights against Clubber Lang and Ivan Drago come next season.
No matter what happens in the coming weeks, Zidane is a winner. As of now, there is a feeling of apathy towards the season. The closer we get to the summer and the fresh breeze that blows in once the transfer window is opened, the more hope springs. And with it, the dreams of a brighter future.
If he plays the old guard, which he did against Celta Vigo, and they play well, it either changes things for the summer and their futures or it increases their transfer value. If they don’t perform, you can close the chapter with a little more assuredness than if the likes of Marcelo and Kroos were to leave through the back door. All the while, a hierarchy restores itself, which, for better or worse, a club needs. If the lunatics had taken over the asylum, the calm, well-dressed and very serious Zidane has arrived to administer tranquilizer and make sense of a difficult situation.
Zidane can take care of more than just team management
There was even a message for Florentino Pérez in his team selection. Thibaut Courtois, a player many consider a luxury buy that wasn’t needed, was dropped for Keylor Navas, the ever-loyal, treble Champions League winning shot-stopper. “We can’t forget what these players have done,” might as well have been an “I'll take it from here, Flo” from the kind of manager that can be both director of football and manager at once at a club that desperately needs it but always tends to fall back on the president as their chief scout, negotiator and executioner.
Zidane’s return and the immediate good vibes that came with it is further proof that this is a team that needs a soft hand. Everyone will play, or at least be given a chance to.
Sergio Ramos said “you don’t impose respect, you have to earn it” when asked about the potential arrival of Antonio Conte earlier in the season and the returning French legend has done that in his previous stint. That should make the next few months that little bit easier but with plenty to be read into who plays, who performs and who gets the cold shoulder.