What makes Zinedine Zidane a manager for big occasions
- Even when times seem tough, Zinedine Zidane finds ways to inspire his team to wins with game-changing decisions on the touchline.
In Zinedine Zidane's first reign as Real Madrid manager he enjoyed unprecedented success. A rookie manager thrown in at the deep end at the top level of the game, Zidane was appointed as a replacement for Rafa Benitez.
During his two and a half years in charge of the club he had also represented with such distinction as a player, Zidane led Madrid to three Champions League crowns, one Spanish title, two UEFA Super Cups, two FIFA Club World Cups and one Spanish Super Cup. His resignation would send shockwaves around world football, coming as it did after the third of those Champions League wins against Liverpool.
He wouldn't be away for long though as Madrid struggled in his absence, and he was reappointed 10 months later with a remit of rebuilding the squad and challenging for major honours once more.
Although Zidane hasn't had things all his own way, being knocked out of the Copa del Rey and 2-1 down to Manchester City after the first leg of their last 16 tie in Europe, he has undoubtedly retained his ability to inspire his side to victory in the biggest of matches, evidenced by a hugely important 2-0 victory against Barcelona which took Real back to the top of the table.
It is this knack of winning the important games that makes him one of the greatest trophy winning managers in history and barring any slip ups should see Madrid claim the La Liga crown this season.
But what is it about Zidane that so inspires the Madrid players to these successes?
Part of it is his undoubted aura achieved following his incredible career. Zidane was arguably the greatest footballer of his generation, winning the biggest trophies in the club and international game and picking up a host of individual accolades along the way. These achievements garner huge amounts of respect from his players.
This has helped him deal with a dressing room filled with some of the biggest egos in the world game, such as Cristiano Ronaldo and Sergio Ramos.
However, the key to his success has been his ability to make a key substitute or pick a player that might otherwise not have been expected to play. He's not a tactical genius in the same way that Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp or Jose Mourinho might be considered but he has an innate instinct for knowing when to change something.
His decision to start Vinicius Junior in the crucial El Clasico game at the weekend was a great example of that. It was only the Brazilian's seventh start in the league this season and only the second time he has completed a full game. He had done little to justify Zidane's faith in him yet he scored the crucial opening goal and was a constant thorn in the side of Barcelona all game.
Another great example of Zidane's nous was in the Champion's League final of 2018, when he chose to bring on Gareth Bale.
The game was delicately poised at 1-1 with Liverpool having just drawn level through Sadio Mane. Zidane introduced the Welshman with half an hour to go and was richly rewarded with Bale scoring one of the goals of the season with a spectacular overhead kick, before adding another from distance with the help of a mistake from Loris Karius.
Zidane's teams aren't pretty and they don't play the most attractive football but they have a manager who knows how to win the biggest games and that is a very rare talent.
It is why Madrid should wrestle back the league trophy from arch rivals Barcelona and why Manchester City shouldn't be complacent going in to the second leg of their Champions League last 16 tie.
Zidane is an unstoppable force and Pep Guardiola will have to be at his very best to overcome him.Published 03 Mar 2020, 23:41 IST