Most people never thought Zinedine Zidane would make it to 100 matches as Real Madrid coach, much less win seven trophies along the way. It’s an incredible record of one cup every 92 days and the man many football people whispered would not be up to the task is already going down in history as one his club’s best-ever managers.
‘I always had a soft spot for him as a player, but now also as a coach too,’ said Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino in an interview with Spanish television this week.
‘It’s that calm that he displays on the touchline, it’s not easy to stay that cool,’ he added.
Since taking over for Rafa Benitez, Zidane’s record has been astonishing. First he won the European Cup no sooner then getting his feet under the table, then he won Real Madrid’s first league title for five years and then ensured they became the first team to retain the Champions League trophy. He is also the coach with the fewest defeats in his first century of matches in the club’s history.
He has won 74 matches and drawn 17. Only eight times has he fallen to defeat, and every time it has taken him just one dead-pan press conference to convince everyone that the loss was a mere temporary setback rather than a crisis and that normal service would soon be resumed.
He has made tactical errors at times. Taking off Luka Modric in Real Madrid’s recent home game against Betis contributed, in the eyes of most commentators, to the defeat and he perhaps did none of his squad any favours last season when he said that Karim Benzema, Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo were all automatic picks when fit. But the errors have been as scarce as the defeats.
Jose Mourinho and Carlo Ancelotti both managed more wins in their first 100 games but nowhere near the same trophy haul and regardless of whether Real Madrid beat Getafe the Frenchman will be ahead of Miguel Munoz who won nine league titles in the 1960s but only won 70 of his first 100 matches.
Munoz holds the record for most trophies won as coach. He lifted 14 but Zidane will be in second place if Real Madrid win the Club World Cup this December. That will put him ahead of Vicente del Bosque who managed seven. Zidane never let the doubts over his ability affect him. History will judge him far more kindly than those early critics. No one can argue with silverware.
In true underplayed Zidane style the word from Madrid is that he has already signed his first big contact renewal. There was no bright-lights-and-tickertape presentation to mark the moment but almost under the radar he has gone from €4.3million a season to €8m with a deal that will see him up until 2020.
One headline in El Mundo Deportivo on Friday read: ‘Zidane to say goodbye to Real in 2018?’ The story referred to his chances of taking over from Didier Deschamps after the World Cup if things do not go well for France in Russia.
It seemed like wishful thinking from the Barcelona-based paper. Zidane’s departure would be a blessing for Barca. When he took over they had high hopes that he would follow the tradition of great players who could never coach. Unfortunately for them in terms of genius players taking to the dugout Zidane has so far been more like Johan Cruyff than the likes of Pele and Diego Maradona.
One of his old team-mates, Claude Makelele, paid tribute to his compatriot this week, saying:
‘Zidane has not surprised me at all. The key is that he has put himself at the players’ level. He knows how things work. And what is more [if there is any dissent] he can always say to them: “Hey! I’m Zidane!”.’
Playing the ‘I was a great player’ card would only have worked for so long. You get the feeling he has not had to fall back on that too many times. Winning a trophy every 92 days has done the talking for him.
ZIDANE’S TROPHY HAUL As MANAGEr
- Champions League x2
- Club World Cup x1
- UEFA Super Cup x1
- La Liga x1
- Spanish Super Cup x1