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

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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.

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