When you hear the name Zinedine Zidane, the word ‘genius’ is usually following closely behind.
The Frenchman is widely regarded as one of the greatest players to ever play the game. A stunning playmaker, Zizou won the World Cup and Euro 2000 with France. He also won Serie A twice with Juventus plus a league title in Spain with Real Madrid, as well as the Champions League.
He’s most famously remembered for two things during his career: A mesmerising volley in the 2002 Champions League final against Leverkusen and an unforgettable headbutt in his final ever game – the 2006 World Cup Final.
But at what point do we start recognising Zidane as one of the greatest manager of his generation?
As manager of Real Madrid in this his second spell in charge of the club, Zizou has led his side to the top of La Liga despite an ageing squad and they currently sit 4 points clear of rivals Barcelona, with a better head-to-head record too. They have conceded just 21 goals this season and have scored 61 times. They won the newly formatted Spanish Super Cup in Saudi Arabia, are currently in the Champions League Last 16 (although 2-1 down to Man City after the home leg) and they also reached the quarter-finals of the Copa Del Rey, losing a high scoring game against Real Sociedad 4-3.
This comes in a season where the level of midfielders Luka Modric and Toni Kroos has dropped off considerably, while Marcelo is no longer the first choice left-back after a solid decade-long run at the Bernabeu. Sergio Ramos is now 35 years old and €100 million summer signing Eden Hazard has been injured for large parts of the campaign.
Add these achievements on to the fact Zidane previously three-peated the UEFA Champions League, becoming the first team to win it twice in a row, a previous La Liga title, two Spanish Super Cups, two European Super Cups and two World Club Cups he is one of the most decorated managers in recent times.
Many credited his previous achievements to having a superstar squad, spearheaded by Cristiano Ronaldo. The Portuguese forwards ridiculous goal output was surely a big part of Zidane and Real Madrid’s success during those years – but to take away from Zidane isn’t entirely fair.
Zizou blooded in youngsters like Achraf Hakimi during the Champions League run, while also getting some of the best performances of their Bernabeu career from Isco, Luka Modric and Raphael Varane. Marco Asensio broke through as a serious contender for a starting role while despite obvious behind the scenes problems with Gareth Bale, both have remained professional and helped each other on the pitch.
This year, Zidane hasn’t been afraid to use Fede Valverde, Vinicius Jr and Rodrygo from the start on several occasions, while he’s managed to rekindle the Karim Benzema of old who is the talisman of this side in place of the now departed Ronaldo.
Another league title for Zidane will make it two in his three-and-a-half seasons at the club and just the third for the club since 2012. It’s undeniable that Zidane has once again turned Real Madrid into a domestic and European powerhouse on the pitch, something that had seemingly dipped in the years before him.
He’s not afraid to make big decisions and he has tended to get the recruitment largely right for his side, with only Luka Jovic really struggling to get into the team of his recruits last summer. He’s building a squad for the future with the likes of Eder Militao, Rodrygo, Vinicius Jr, Martin Odegaard and Marco Asensio so it’s unlikely that Madrid will be falling off a cliff any time soon.
We saw how much Los Blancos missed Zidane when he left the club in May 2018. They went through three managers that season before eventually convincing him to come back just 10 months later and already reaping the rewards for doing so.
He already gets his plaudits as one of the greatest players ever but we now need to start putting some respect on the name of Zinedine Zidane, the manager.