Zidane is on the brink of elite managerial status

Pep Guardiola, Jose Mourinho and Carlo Ancelotti; often regarded as the world’s managerial elite, all three are managers who have won the UEFA Champions League multiple times since its inception in 1992.

All three revered for their famous sides that captured the ultimate European glory. However, all three have failed to achieve a feat Zinedine Zidane is on the cusp of achieving: immediate retention of the UEFA Champions League.

Guardiola’s tiki-taka playing Catalan side of the late noughties spawned a tactical evolution; one that saw Barcelona dominate both domestically and in Europe for a number of years and inspired Spanish domination of the international scene for a similar period. His side were unable to capitalise on the Champions League successes of 2009 and 2011, however; vastly different circumstances eliminated the Blaugrana in 2010 and 2012.

In 2012, forces beyond footballing logic prevented Barcelona’s retaining their crown, as Chelsea’s miraculous run saw Guardiola’s side become an unlucky casualty of their success. Whilst fate may have conspired against Pep in 2012, 2010 saw Guardiola’s side run into Mourinho’s juggernaut of an Inter Milan team in the semi-finals.

Mourinho’s treble-winning Inter were a vintage side, typical of the Portuguese manager; they lined up in a 4-2-3-1 and displayed ruthless efficiency on the counter-attack and the winning cutting edge. These qualities mirrored those his Porto side displayed in their unlikely 2004 success. Unfortunately, the Special One never afforded himself the opportunity to retain the Champions League. However it is fair to assume that as a result of his teams’ tendency to peak followed by a significant decline, it seems unlikely that he would have been able to accomplish this feat.

Also victims of miraculous narrative, Ancelotti’s AC Milan team of 2003 were eliminated by an inspired Deportivo La Coruna, who overturned a 4-1 deficit from the first-leg and dispatched of them 4-0 in a memorable Champions League shock. Poetically, the Italian’s Real Madrid side were unable to retain in 2015 after they came unstuck against Zidane’s opposition on Saturday, Allegri’s Juventus.

When Real Madrid appointed Zinedine Zidane in 2016, the cynic within saw a hollow attempt to replicate what Barcelona had done years prior with Pep Guardiola. Years of high spending had not provided a long-term recipe for success, so they used the Barcelona method: taking an intelligent ex-player, giving him time within the youth set-up, before unleashing him on the first-team.

“I played five years at Juventus and I keep fond memories of that stint, but now I’m only thinking about leading Madrid to another title.”

Zinedine Zidane, MARCA

Rather than provide the short-term stopgap many thought he may, Zidane is still going strong as Madrid coach, with mutual satisfaction regarding his performance thus far. Why wouldn’t the Real Madrid board be satisfied with his performance as coach? In one and a half seasons at the club, Zidane’s list of accomplishments is already extremely impressive:

  • 2016/17 La Liga Winners
  • 2016 UEFA Super Cup Winners
  • 2017 FIFA Club World Cup Winners
  • Potentially 2x UEFA Champions League Winners

Zidane’s squad are on the verge of being immortalised as the first ever team to retain the UEFA Champions League. Nevertheless, Zidane’s success has widely gone unnoticed. It is easy to be minimalised at the expense of larger personalities at the club; disregarded because of the expectation the job is ‘easier’ than others at the top level.

Admittedly, the plethora of talent at the Frenchman’s disposal is ridiculous, they are one of the most talented squads of all time. With a squad that includes the likes of James Rodriguez, Isco, Morata and Marcos Asesnsio as substitutes, the Real Madrid fans and board expect success. However that does not mean success is a guarantee. Zizou has successfully managed the egos and maintained the morale of a squad rich with talent.

Notably, Pep Guardiola is widely praised for inheriting a team that had Lionel Messi, Xavi and Iniesta at the peak of their powers. Therefore, Zidane is equally worthy of praise for his accomplishments. He too has made the best of inheriting an incredible squad.

“Statistics don’t always show how a final is going to play out, we’ve had great preparation”.

Zinedine Zidane, MARCA

On Saturday, Zidane faces his toughest test; arguably, Allegri’s Juventus are in the conversation regarding the greatest 21st century Italian teams (along with Ancelotti’s and Mourinho’s Milan sides). Not only are Juventus themselves difficult opposition, but fate will pose a threat once again. Gianluigi Buffon will take what is likely to be his last shot at the ultimate club football accomplishment. This is a factor that is likely to sway neutral support in favour of the Old Lady.

In order to gain the recognition Zidane deserves, Los Blancos must beat Juventus in Cardiff.