Real Madrid’s main man, Zinedine Zidane
French soccer legend Zinedine Zidane has gone from on-field sensation to star coach of Spanish mega club Real Madrid
HE WAS brilliant with a ball and known for his near-perfect precision on the pitch. But could he replicate his star power while standing on the sidelines? When it was first announced he was taking over the reins of one of world’s biggest superclubs, it was anyone’s guess whether he’d be good at it.
But of course time has shown Zinedine Zidane is as much a gift to the beautiful game off the pitch as he was on it.
The Real Madrid rookie coach’s cool composure in the face of great opposition led to him recently beating experienced managers Antonio Conte (Chelsea) and Massimiliano Allegri ( Juventus) to clinch Fifa’s men’s coach award.
When Zizou, as he’s fondly known, took to the stage to collect his trophy he accepted it with his trademark humility. “I’d like to thank all the players for making this possible,” he said.
Modesty aside, it’s something the shy but focused 45-year-old worked hard to achieve. After retiring as a player in 2006 he climbed the management ranks. He went from being an adviser to Real Madrid president Florentino Pérez to an assistant coach for the Spanish club’s first team – all while studying sports management.
Still, he had to prove his coaching chops when he took over as manager of the top-flight club in January last year.
There was no shortage of critics who thought the club was scoring an own goal with this call.
“It’s an insane, crazy decision,” former Bayern Munich manager Ottmar Hitzfeld said in an interview. “He’s a manager without experience. He only lives on his famous name as a player. He hasn’t proved anything as a coach and now he has to deal with the best players in the world.”
Turns out it was one of the best decisions the club could’ve made.
THEY’RE one of the most powerful and profitable clubs in the world – and one of the least forgiving in soccer when it comes to managers.
Before Zidane’s appointment, Real Madrid went through eight coaches in as many years.
Zizou’s detractors were doubtful he could redeem the club in the eyes of its fans. He also had to restore harmony within the team, as well as between players and management, both of which suffered under the short term of his predecessor, Rafael Benítez.
But he quietly got to work and quickly won the respect of fans and players. “I admired Zidane as a player and now also as a manager because of the way he is and the way he coaches,” Cristiano Ronaldo told Spanish sport newspaper
Marca. “We’re more appreciated under Zidane,” continued the star player, whose rocky relationship with Benítez reportedly led to the Spaniard losing his job.
Under Zidane’s mentorship Los Blancos raised seven trophies, including back-to-back Champions League cups, already making him the fourth most successful manager in his highly decorated club’s history.
Yet he’s not done gunning for gold. “We never get tired of winning,” Zidane said after watching his team beat Manchester United in the European Super Cup in Skopje, Macedonia.
With his recent win, his years of on-field experience and 18 months experience off the field, he joins Manchester City’s Pep Guardiola in an elite rank: he’s one of only seven men to win the European Cup as both player and coach.
So what’s the secret to his success? “Zidane is familiar with footballers. He wants them to be themselves. Zidane had believed in himself too, quietly. Now everyone does,” Sid Lowe wrote in The Guardian.
THE celebrated player with the glittering career was born the youngest of five siblings to Algerian immigrant parents who moved to France in the ’50s and Zidane’s journey from the backstreets of Marseille to dominating international soccer is a lesson in overcoming adversity.
His skill as an attacking midfielder saw him play for the French national team and for Cannes, Bordeaux, Juventus and Real Madrid at club level.
In 2004 his prowess earned him the title of best European footballer of the past 50 years in the Uefa Golden Jubilee Poll. Yet he said he was more excited about his appointment as Real coach than when he first signed on as a player in 2001.
At the time he was the most expensive signing in soccer history, joining the team for a record fee of 150 billion Italian lira (then about R750 million). It turned out to be a lucrative deal – in his first season he scored a famous match-winning goal that saw Madrid beat rivals Bayer Leverkusen 2-1 in the 2002 Uefa Champions League final.
Fellow players have long admired his consistency and strength. Former Real Madrid teammate Luís Figo described his control and pace as “extraordinary”, while David Beckham called Zizou “the greatest player in the world”.
It’s an opinion shared by other icons. After Zidane’s almost single-handed World Cup win over Brazil in 1998, Diego Maradona called him a “magician”. At just 26 the French star carried the hopes of a nation on his sturdy shoulders and led his team to victory.
After missing out on the 2002 World Cup due to injury, Zizou returned a year later to win the 2003 La Liga with Real Madrid. In 2006 he announced his retirement from international soccer, making his exit amid huge controversy. In the World Cup final against Italy, Zidane head-butted Italian Marco Materazzi for allegedly hurling racial abuse at him.
It earned him a red card, and ended his international career. Yet the incident did little to dim his star power.
THERE’S no doubt Real boss Pérez picked a solid person for the job. Zidane’s two passions in life are soccer and family. Zizou, who keeps his private life private, has been married to Véronique since 1994. The lovebirds met in 1989, when Véronique was an aspiring dancer at an academy in Paris and Zizou was a promising young footballer.
They have four sons – Elyaz, Theo, Luca and Enzo – who are following in their dad’s footsteps by playing soccer at various levels of Real’s youth academy.
Even his ventures into business are a family affair: his three older brothers head Zidane Diffusione, the company that markets his image worldwide, while his sister is involved in its daily operations.
Zidane is a legend by many accounts yet the media-shy sportsman is unfazed by all the hype.
“I don’t think I’m the best coach in the world, far from it,” he modestly said of Fifa’s accolade.
At this rate, as The Guardian put it, Zidane the manager is already outperforming Zidane the player. And he’s only just begun.
'Zidane had believed in himself too, quietly. Now everyone does'
ABOVE: Zinedine Zidane and Real Madrid celebrate their second consecutive Champions League win this year. RIGHT: With his Fifa men's coach award.
LEFT: Celebrating back-to-back Champions League wins. RIGHT: Zizou with the 1998 Fifa World Cup trophy, which France won. BELOW: He scored Real Madrid’s winning goal in the 2002 Uefa Champions League final.
Zizou with his wife, Véronique, and two of their three sons, who are also involved in soccer through Real Madrid's youth academy.
LEFT: He’s known for his fiery temperament on the field. Zizou’s infamous head-butt on Italian Marco Materazzi marked the end of his international playing career in 2006.