Zi­dane on his Madrid mis­sion

Exclusive: we catch up with Real Madrid coach Zine­dine Zi­dane ahead of El Cla­sico

7 Days in Dubai - - FRONT PAGE - By Adrian Back @aidy­back

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.

TOUGH JOB

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

adrian@7days.ae

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