When Zinedine Zidane took over as Coach of Real Madrid, it looked as though the season was going to be a write-off and that the Frenchman was merely installed out of convenience. Kicked out of the Copa del Rey for fielding an ineligible Denis Cheryshev and what was assumed to be an unassailable lead for Barcelona at the top of La Liga, many thought that Los Blancos’ domestic campaign was over already, and why not? Barca were the treble winners who seemed to be winning games and breaking records one after the other, with nothing about to stop them. Yet, things can quickly change in football.
Madrid, along with city rivals Atletico, were happy to take a backseat. The pressure was firmly on Barca, and before Wednesday night’s 8-0 thrashing of Deportivo La Coruna, the Catalans had drawn one and lost three of their last four League games. Zidane has turned the tide for Madrid, and suddenly their season could be very successful as they lie just a point behind Barca and Atleti and in the semi-finals of the Champions League.
The difference between Zidane and Rafa Benitez is the respect that the players have for their Coach. The Spaniard is very meticulous and likes to lead a strict regime, whereas his successor is more flexible and, in this sense, quite similar to Carlo Ancelotti, the man who brought La Decima to Madrid. What’s more, Zidane’s illustrious playing career automatically earns the respects he needs to manage the egos of the dressing room at the Santiago Bernabeu, even if his only experience prior to landing the top job at Madrid was with the youth teams.
Watching Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale track back in the Clasico, even to their own penalty boxes in some situations, is evidence of just how much the players want to win for the 43-year-old. Even Jose Mourinho, Ronaldo’s compatriot and one of the best Coaches at getting the most out of his players, did not try to get Ronaldo to defend, instead devising a system to deal with the Portuguese’s unwillingness to help the team.
The man from Marseille picks his own team, and the inclusion of Casemiro as a defensive midfielder in the big games is helping Los Meringues find some balance between defence and attack. Players like James Rodriguez, someone who President Florentino Perez would like to see playing due to his hefty price tag, are struggling to find a way into the starting XI, and that is down to Zidane picking the team that he thinks will win the game.
Ultimately, though, despite a change in fortunes for Madrid and an opportunity to do the double, they could still end up with no silverware come the end of the season. They probably have the toughest run-in of games in the League and face stiff competition in winning their 11th European Cup.
Whether or not they win any trophies, Zidane should still be the Coach of Real Madrid next season. Perez needs to learn from his mistakes and stick with a guy who has clearly won over the dressing room and salvaged what looked like a very disappointing campaign.