Zinedine Zidane - Just how good was he?
Amidst rumours that Zinedine Zidane has been approached to take over the reins from Jose Mourinho, and no matter how far-fetched the idea is or no matter how impossible it seems at the moment, one can never be too certain.
The transfers of Neymar to PSG and Ronaldo to Juventus have indicated that nothing is impossible when it comes to footballing transfers. The more ridiculous things sound, the more plausible it is likely to be.
But it is not the idea of Mourinho being replaced, but the idea of Zinedine Zidane replacing him that is really questionable. Are Manchester United really that desperate right now? To go into that, one needs to ask an even more basic question: Just how good was Zidane?
From a statistical point of view, Zidane is as successful as they come. Only the CDR remained elusive to him during his life at Real Madrid, and his feat of 3 consecutive UCL titles is staggering of its own right.
From just that, it would be possible to convince a new follower of the sport that Zidane was indeed the best footballing manager in recent history. But how true is that hypothesis?
The biggest concern is that Zidane's career beyond Real Madrid is virtually non existent. The only other team he has managed is Real Madrid Castilla, where he has a 45% win percentage, winning only 26 out of 57 games in charge. Real Madrid under him won 104 out of 149, winning 69% of their matches.
For comparison, Pep Guardiola has a 72.5 % win percentage as of now - 75 at both Barcelona and Bayern, while with City he has a 69% win rate. Arsene Wenger has a 57% win rate with Arsenal, while SAF has close to 60% success with Man Utd.
Jurgen Klopp has only 56.3 and 52.9 % with Dortmund and Liverpool respectively. Jose Mourinho, the man Zidane is tipped to take over from, has a 65.4% overall win percentage - almost 72% with Real Madrid back then, and now 65% with Manchester United.
From the numbers in front of us, Zidane is not too far off. But we also have to consider the sheer number of games the others have managed. Guardiola has 562 under his belt, Mou has 887, SAF and Wenger have more than 3800 games between them, while Klopp has close to 750 games.
When you take that into perspective, it is obvious how much Zidane has yet to prove. But more than the stats, more than the trophies, the thing that bothers a few people (myself included) when it comes to the Frenchman, is his style of play. Or rather, a lack of it.
145 games later, does anyone actually remember what Real Madrid's game plan tended to be?
The issue with Zidane's time with Madrid was always that there was no discernible style of approach. Guardiola has his tiki-taka that dizzied his opponents, Wenger had his beautiful football, SAF had his Fergie time that brought with it its own brand of controversies, Klopp's teams killed opposition with their reluctant pressing, Mou's Madrid was lethal for its counter-attacking.
Zidane, on the other hand, was just... there. He was there, along with a god-like Cristiano Ronaldo, Toni Kroos and Luka Modric at the peak of their passing performance, and when everything failed, there was Sergio Ramos and his headers rescuing their team every time it was needed.
It does not mean that Zidane was not a great manager, but he was more of a man manager than he was a tactical employer. His tactics largely consisted of whipping the ball into the box and waiting for things to happen of their own accord, rather than forcing them to.
Real Madrid under Zidane was known for their lethality - it was common knowledge that teams could not afford to make any mistake against them, and every small one would get punished, but outside of that, there wasn't much of note.
Under such circumstances, considering Zidane to be the successor at Man Utd is naive, and frankly, baffling. Not because Zidane isn't a good manager, but because he is yet to show the qualities the fans seem to want out of Mourinho.
Of course, if the move does happen, it could turn out to be a surprise, much like Zizou's stint at Madrid. It was considered to be just a token appointment, an empty gesture to soothe the fans until a more experienced manager could take over, but we all know where that road led.
Zidane' Madrid was characterized more by their fortune than their perseverance. It revolved more around the right man at the right place, rather than the right moves pointed out by the man at the helm. At least, not explicitly.
Whether the move really materializes is up to the footballing gods, but replacing Mourinho with Zidane is a lot like replacing a Rolls Royce with a Tesla. Of course, you could, but why would you?