Zinedine Zidane has returned to Real Madrid for a second coming after pleas from the club President, but can a glorious history repeat for the Frenchman?
I would actually pay quite a hefty sum of money for someone to explain to me the train of thought followed by Real Madrid’s president Florentino Pérez over the last fortnight.
From believing Santiago Solari was the right fit for the job to lose everything at Barcelona and Ajax’s hands… to being sure that Jose Mourinho was the answer… to finally calling Zinedine Zidane and pleading with him to come back.
As random as all this seems, that last step is the product of quite a high level of desperation inside Perez’s mind.
See, Zidane is a smart guy. Very smart.
In the same way as he swiftly danced over the pitch when he played, his wits and suave attitude allowed him to slowly poke his head into the managing business, be put in charge of Real’s B-team and, ultimately, be appointed as head coach in 2016. No bragging, no shouting, no pissing contests: that is, not being José Mourinho.
His success in the Champions League (three trophies in a row, a feat that I’m 99% sure nobody will ever top) made Real Madrid thrive and fans going mad with pride at the same time that all the football world asked themselves how the hell it was possible. They never played the best football, they never seemed to be 100% in control… but they got the job done. Time after time after time.
Once the 2018 Champions League final came around, Zidane could see his impressive run coming to an end. Rumblings of a possible Cristiano departure, his already bad relationship with Gareth Bale and a number of other reasons factors into his ultimate choice: once the trophy was conquered, he was out of there. Unscathed. With his reputation at an all-time high. Undefeated.
— Real Madrid C.F. ???? (@realmadriden) March 13, 2019
However, Perez perceived his departure as a betrayal. He trusted Zizou and wanted him to stay. Even though he wasn’t ready to tackle some profound changes that the manager had pointed out were absolutely necessary. So, mad at the Frenchman, he sought a replacement. And failed. And failed again. And yet again. And so he eventually contacted Julen Lopetegui, wrecked the Spanish national team from the inside and got what he wanted at the expense of a whole country.
But I digress. After Lopetegui’s failure (he had a three year contract), along came Solari. A few wins later, and after signing him yet another three-year contract, things went south again and Real Madrid’s week of horrors sabotaged any chance of ending the season on a high note. So then Solari was sacked. And Perez, swallowing his pride, called Zizou in a desperate move.
And the manager said ‘yes’.
Zidane’s new task has quite a number a perks and almost no disadvantages. For starters, nobody expects anything from the current season, so he can use the remaining 11 games as a benchmark for potential starters, new tactics and trials for a squad who have lost their competitive hunger.
A few players, such as Gareth Bale himself, Dani Ceballos, Mariano, Marcos Llorente or even newcomer Thibaut Courtois, already have doubts over their future under the new coach, as Zizou has made it clear many times in the past that ‘his’ players were going to be fostered and defended as much as possible.
On the other hand, lost causes such as Isco Alarcon and Marcelo might have another shot at redemption if they’re able to get back into form (in all meanings of the word) as quickly as possible.
Many believe Zidane said yes to Florentino’s request after securing that a number of signings will take place next summer. A revolution which was reportedly requested by the Frenchman in early 2018 and which, after his terms were declined, ultimately pushed the coach away from the club.
Florentino wasn’t keen on spending all the money necessary to reinvigorate the squad; now, after burning through two managers and utterly failing as a club in the 2018-2019 season, the president might be more eager to please the guy in charge of his locker room.
Up to this point, everything was good news for Zizou. The only downside: his legacy. It’s not going to be easy to live up to his own reputation. In fact, if the stars don’t align in the same way they did in the past (some questionable ref calls in clutch Champions League games, for example, are gone after the arrival of VAR), he could perfectly tarnish a spotless record.
And if his mega-successful manager also fails… who would Perez use as a scapegoat then?