Baptism of fire for Zinedine Zidane as he replaces Rafael Benitez at misfiring Real Madrid
Los Blancos look for inspiration rather than experience as club legend is handed his first senior managerial role
In a time of crisis, Real Madrid have looked for inspiration rather than experience as club legend Zinedine Zidane was handed his first senior managerial role as the club’s coach.
Zidane replaces Rafael Benitez, who was sacked on Monday after just seven months and 25 games in charge.
The Frenchman is loved at the Santiago Bernabeu thanks to his five stellar years to end his playing career in the Spanish capital, most memorably scoring a stunning winning goal in the 2002 Champions League final.
Yet, his coaching experience is limited to a season-and-a-half in charge of Madrid’s feeder team Castilla where he failed to secure promotion from Spanish football’s third tier last season.
However, Madrid hope to recreate the magic formula enjoyed by Pep Guardiola and Barcelona during his glorious 14-trophy haul with the Catalans between 2008 and 2012.
Like Zidane, Guardiola was a club legend as a player who graduated from a season in charge of Barca’s B team to become the most successful coach in the club’s history.
Moreover, unlike Benitez, Zidane is at least sure to have the respect of Madrid’s star-studded dressing room, who constantly clashed with the former Liverpool and Chelsea manager.
Zidane doesn’t just have the kudos of being a former Ballon d’Or winner, but he was Carlo Ancelotti’s assistant as Madrid won their long-awaited 10th Champions League crown in 2014.
“We have the best club in the world, the best fans and what we have to do now, and what I will try my best to do, is ensure the team wins at the end of the season,” said the normally ice-cool Zidane, who admitted to feeling more emotional than the day he joined Madrid for a then world-record fee from Juventus in 2001.
“It is an important day for me and like all coaches I am a bit emotional, more emotion that when I signed as a player, but that is normal and from tomorrow I will put my heart into doing all I can for this club.”
It will take more than heart for Zidane to arrest a year-long slump that has seen Madrid burn through two Champions League winning coaches, see eternal rivals Barcelona win the treble and become embarrassed in numerous off-field scandals.
“The best man for the job,” said Zidane’s ex-Madrid teammate David Beckham on Instagram.
“A man that has been the best at a game we all love, taking over a club that myself and many more people love. Someone with drive, passion and also doesn't accept failure on any level.”
Despite being thrown out of the Copa del Rey for fielding an ineligible player last month, there is still plenty of time for Madrid to turn their season around.
They trail La Liga leaders Atletico Madrid by just four points with over half the season to play and are strong favourites to see off Roma in the last 16 of the Champions League.
Blind faith that Zidane can recreate his playing success as a coach is all club president Florentino Perez has left with his credit running low as Barca have dominated in Spain over the past decade despite Perez’s lavish spending on transfer fees.
“As president it is an honour to have you at my side because I know for you the word impossible doesn't exist,” he said after naming his 11th new coach in 12 years at the club.
Should Zidane’s managerial stock slump as quickly as it has risen, then it may finally be Perez and not the coach who takes the fall.