Zidane on his Madrid mission
Exclusive: we catch up with Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane ahead of El Clasico
B y the time Zinedine Zidane decided to hang up his boots in 2006 it was clear that a true great was departing the beautiful game.
A special talent born to Algerian parents and raised in the French city of Marseille, Zidane had mesmerised and delighted in equal measure.
“Zidane is one of the greatest players in history,” exclaimed German great Franz Beckenbauer. “He is unique. The ball flows with him. He is more like a dancer than a football player.”
In the eyes of some of the greatest to play the game he was a genius. Thierry Henry summed up the feelings of the French public when he declared him a God.
For Zidane, it was a time to reflect on everything he had achieved in a memorable 17-year career.
“While you are still playing you are so focused so the first time you have a chance to reflect on your success is when you retire,” Zidane told 7DAYS. “It was nice to sit down and reflect and there were two moments that really stood out for me.
“Of course one was winning the World Cup, but the other was the goal I scored to win the Champions League at Hampden Park in 2002.
“The goal was completely instinctive, but I knew as soon as it left my foot that it was going in. It’s a goal I have watched on tape many times over since.”
But there was only so long that Zidane could reminisce. There was an itch to return to the game and it could not be ignored.
Initially it was in an advisory role with his beloved Real Madrid. Then there was the chance to work as an assistant with Carlo Ancelotti before finally landing his first solo coaching role with Real Madrid Castilla.
It became clear that Zidane was being groomed for one of the toughest jobs in world football - head coach of Real Madrid.
In January, the powers that be at the Spanish giants decided the time was right. Out went Rafa Benitez; in came Zidane.
“If you play or coach for Real Madrid, you know with that comes expectation,” explains Zidane. “I do not mind the expectation. I know what this club expects - I have known that for many years.
“You cannot play or coach for the biggest club in the world and not expect that there will be big demands on you. But the whole group here knows the importance of success and we are working very hard.”
It’s been a baptism of fire for Zidane. Bitter rivals Barcelona are the reigning champions of Europe and possess perhaps the best frontthree ever assembled. Across Madrid, Atletico are a force to be reckoned with under Argentinian boss Diego Simeone.
PRESSURE TO DELIVER SUCCESS
Then there is the track record of Real president Florentino Perez, a fiery character who does not accept failure. In fact even a league title or a Champions League crown might not be enough to save you from the axe.
Not even Jose Mourinho or Carlo Ancelotti - two of modern football’s most decorated managers - could satisfy the demands of Perez.
But will Zidane be the exception to the rule and be given time in the hottest of seats? A trophy this season would help, and Zizou is confident of delivering success.
“We know that it will be difficult to stop Barcelona, but there are many points left to fight for and we will keep on fighting,” he said.
“The morale is very high in the group and we will do everything we can in all competitions.
“We are confident about our chances in the Champions League and we have belief.
“At this stage of the competition you know that every game is going to be a big challenge, but we have big players and are confident.”
Thus far Zidane’s record has been impressive. In 14 games Madrid have won 11, drawn twice and lost just once. However, that sole defeat came at the Bernebeu against Atletico. And this Saturday comes the biggest test of his fledgling coaching career when Madrid travel to the Nou Camp to face a Barcelona side unbeaten in their last 39 games. They appear simply unstoppable. “I have played in many Clasicos and the players need no motivation for these games,” said Zidane.
“The players know what it means, the fans know what it means, and the atmosphere is always special.” In truth even a Madrid victory is unlikely to derail Barca’s inevitable journey to the title. And it seems Zidane is already planning ahead to next season. Then he will be able to mould and shape the team. But it seems a
Zidane side will not just possess flair and a thirst for goals, it will have a steely backbone.
“It’s important to be freescoring and tight in defence,” he said. “Of course we want to play exciting football for the fans, but also if you want to be successful it is important to not concede goals.
“In the summer we will try and improve the team but there are only a limited number of players that can improve Real Madrid. That is why since I have been involved with the club they have only ever brought the best in.”
If Zidane can build a team in his own image this summer then he may just be given the rare commodity of time at Real Madrid. If anyone can convince Perez, perhaps it is one of the greatest footballers to ever grace the game.
“The players need no motivation for these games.”
– ZINEDINE ZIDANE