Zinedine Zidane defied the odds and led Real Madrid to their 11th European title. Showing he has great potential as a coach, can Zizou continue this way?
When Zidane took over Real Madrid in January, replacing Rafa Benitez, many people wondered whether he had the coaching experience to lead the Spanish giants to titles in Spain and Europe.
Having been Carlo Ancelotti’s assistant on the club’s bench, and coach of Madrid’s B team, it was uncertain whether the decision, made by president Florentino Perez, to hire Zidane was the right one for the team.
The former French player, exceeded the expectations from the beginning, helping players understand they should enhance their overall performance, if they want to go all the way to the end.
Zidane managed to restore the squad’s confidence, creating a happier and more committed atmosphere within the side and convincing every player that he can offer decent solutions, both defensively and offensively.
Players like Gareth Bale, Toni Kroos and even the great Cristiano Ronaldo were playing much better defensively, with Casemiro having a basic role in the squad’s tactics with his presence in the midfield line.
Consequently, most players had an increased work rate and were more energetic and committed to helping the team.
So, his man-management skills made everybody in the roster play for one another, which certainly was his biggest accomplishment in those first five months.
Taking advantage of the fact that Real Madrid faced the likes of Roma, Wolfsburg and Manchester City, respectively, to advance to the Final (instead of playing against Barcelona or Bayern Munich, for instance). The 43-year-old coach grew more into the role game after game (apart from the 2-0 loss to the Wolves in Germany), making the team more effective and capable of getting the job done.
“When I considered coaching, I was really looking forward to starting from zero. I knew that being a good player wouldn’t necessarily mean I’d be a good coach. Obviously it should help a bit, but it’s important to approach the whole thing with a bit of humility and just get on with it.
You can’t be a player’s buddy all the time. If you want him to give you a hundred percent, you need to challenge him a bit. It’s all about knowing when to use the carrot and the stick, when to reward and when to threaten,” Zidane said.
Especially in the first half of the Final against Atletico Madrid, Real Madrid’s coach had prepared his players very well, both mentally and physically.
More specifically, the squad played more aggressively in the beginning of the game and scored first, with the side then trying to effectively protect their advantage and hit in the counter attack.
Although the Los Blancos failed to remain competitive in the second half (despite missing some clear chances), Zidane was tremendous in overtime, he kept his players’ confidence at high levels and his calmness was a key factor in the team’s concentration.
Consequently, Real claimed the Champions League title for an 11th time in their history, with the Frenchman becoming only the third manager that wins the Champions League title in his first year as a coach and the seventh to claim the title as both a player and coach.
“What I brought was my positive attitude. We are very talented, but work ethic is much more important. And we all worked very hard,” he said.
Overall, Zidane took advantage of his man-management skills and his coaching ones and exceeded the expectations, leading Real Madrid to the top of Europe and making history.