Great players don’t always become great managers, but Zinedine Zidane has managed better than most to replicate his achievements on the pitch in the dugout. Not that many are willing to give the Frenchman the credit he deserves for this. In the minds of many, Zidane still has something to prove as a manager.
This is despite having led Real Madrid to Champions League glory on three occasions and the Spanish title twice, including once last season. Los Blancos have endured an inconsistent campaign this term, but Zidane has a knack of getting his team to fight for him when it matters most - see last week’s back-to-back wins over Liverpool and Barcelona.
Both victories saw the former midfielder outmanoeuvre his opposite number in the opposition dugout. Zidane was shrewd enough to recognise how Liverpool would leave space in behind to be exploited, deploying Toni Kroos as a footballing quarter-back to release Karim Benzema and Vinicius Junior as runners.
Against Barcelona, he made the bold call to drop Marco Asensio, in the midst of a four-game scoring streak, to the bench in favour of Fede Valverde. The ploy was designed to cut off the supply line to Jordi Alba, also doubling up on the Barca left back on the counter attack - this is where Valverde, Lucas Vazquez and Benzema combined for the first goal.
Real Madrid only had 31% of possession against in Saturday’s Clasico and scored with their only two shots on target, but rather than being a sign of their good fortune this was proof of the effectiveness of Zidane’s game plan. He wanted his team to play on the break and show a ruthlessness in front of goal, and that's what they did.
Even when Zidane is recognised for the incredible success he has enjoyed as a manager, his abilities as a coach tend to be minimised. They say his status as a true Real Madrid legend gives him an aura in the dressing room, painting the 48-year-old as little more than an old-fashioned motivator.
While it’s certainly true that Zidane’s aura helps him command respect, it’s not what defines him as a manager. Time and time again, he has shown an understanding for what is required to win the biggest games. Zidane might be somewhat reactive in a coach in that he often sets up Real Madrid to respond to the strengths of an opponent rather than impose their own game, but the results of this approach speaks for themselves.
They say Zidane has piggybacked on a squad of world-class players, but if being Real Madrid manager is so easy, why have so many before him failed? Why wasn’t Julen Lopetegui able to chart the same results after inheriting Zidane’s team in the summer of 2018? Why did Rafael Benitez only last a few months at the Santiago Bernabeu?
Just a few months ago, Zidane looked to be fighting for his future at Real Madrid, but a recent upturn in form has the 48-year-old and his players targeting silverware again. No manager in Real Madrid’s history has been so well equipped to handle the pressure of leading arguably the biggest club in world football.
Zidane doesn’t just deserve credit, he deserves his place alongside the greatest managers of all time, certainly of his generation. The Frenchman not have the philosophical outlook of someone like Pep Guardiola or even Jurgen Klopp, but there are few in the sport right now as proven as he is at the elite level of football management.
Best managers in the world right now
The 10 best managers in the world right now are...
1. Pep Guardiola
2. Jurgen Klopp
3. Zinedine Zidane
4. Mauricio Pochettino
5. Diego Simeone
6. Antonio Conte
7. Hansi Flick
8. Julian Nagelsmann
9. Brendan Rodgers
10. Thomas Tuchel