What does the future hold for Zizou?

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Zidane the footballing legend

Champions League Final Volley

As one of the legends of the world game, there is not much that Zinedine Zidane didn’t experience as a player. Indeed, how many others can lay claim to a spectacular volley in a Champions League final, two goals in a winning World Cup showpiece, a European Championship winners medal, and a red card in their final game – another World Cup final? In a glittering career with Cannes, Bordeaux, Juventus and Real Madrid, the silky-smooth midfielder wowed spectators with his blend of balance, technique and vision, but as many fine players have discovered – even the best – forging a career as a successful coach is a completely different experience, and one that can often result in failure. Even being a legend doesn’t save you if the results go against you.

La Liga Turmoil

And so, even in his fledgling managerial career as the boss of Real Madrid, Zidane has already experienced the highs and lows of coaching one of the biggest clubs in the world. February 27th was a dark day in the season for Madridistas – Real suffering a 1-0 defeat at the hands of city rivals Atletico which seemed to spell the end of their quest for only a second La Liga title in 8 years. That defeat may have been the first of Zidane’s reign, but it was a significant one nonetheless. Antoine Griezmann’s strike meant Atletico became the first side to win three consecutive matches at the Bernabeu in La Liga history, Real had gone six straight games in all competitions without a victory against their neighbours and, perhaps most tellingly, the defeat left Los Blancos four points behind the Rojiblancos and nine behind Barcelona, who extended that deficit to 12 points when defeating Sevilla the next day.

In the subsequent press conference, Zidane went immediately on the offensive by declaring to the assembled reporters ‘Before you ask, the league is over.’ The post-match fall-out even seemed to suggest a breakdown in the team dynamic, with star forward Cristiano Ronaldo claiming ‘If everyone was at my level maybe we would be first.’ To make matters worse, supporters were calling for the head of club president Florentino Perez. Less than two months into the job, Zidane was facing a crisis both on and off the pitch.

zinedine zidane

La Liga Redemption

As of now, Zidane’s Real stand just one point behind both Atletico and Barcelona with the same number of games played. Barca may have the easier of the run ins, and their +3 head-to-head goal difference ensures that should Real finish level on points with their El Clasico rivals (indeed, Atletico aslo boast a superior head-to-head record), the team from Catalonia will take the title, but this is still some turnaround in fortunes from where the two teams stood less than two months ago. Key to that turnaround was Real’s victory in the Nou Camp on 2nd April – a result which may have kept Zidane in a job. Barcelona have subsequently lost two further La Liga games and faced the deflation of being knocked out of the Champions League by Atleti. After his side’s 5-1 demolition of Getafe, Zidane spoke of the importance of closing the gap.

Champions League progress

Zidane and Real were also on the brink of catastrophe in Europe’s premier club competition, the Champions League –  a limp 2-0 defeat in Germany at the hands of Wolfsburg on 6th April (just four days after their Nou Camp win) meaning the giants from Spain’s capital faced the prospect of yet another season without a trophy – their second in succession. Yet once again, with his back to the wall, Zidane (with a little help from hat trick hero Ronaldo)inspired Real to a comeback which ensured they would reach the Champions League semi-finals for a sixth consecutive season. Where Zidane had proven to be a player without peers, this may well be the start of a managerial career which equals the highs of that magnificent playing career.

What next in La Liga and the Champions League?

Real can do nothing more than win their five remaining fixtures in La Liga and hope that their two great rivals slip up – their inferior head-to-head goal difference ensuring Los Blancos must finish ahead on points to claim the title. Not only that, Real must also overcome what appears to be the trickiest of the three teams’ run ins, with games against Villarreal, Rayo, Real Sociedad, Valencia and Deportivo to contend with. Winning them all is an absolute must, and all of Madrid will be hoping that Barcelona’s implosion continues, with the Catalans having lost three La Liga games in a row for the first time in 13 years.

As far as the Champions League is concerned, Zidane must have been privately relieved that his team avoided both Atletico and Pep Guardiola’s Bayern Munich in the draw for the semi-finals, although the Frenchman was irked when it was put to him by a journalist that his team had received the easiest draw. Now, a campaign which threatened to be petering out back in February could still promise a La Liga and Champions League double, just five months into Zidane’s maiden managerial appointment. Would it be fair to suggest Zidane’s job depends on his side securing at least one of those trophies? Perhaps. But after resurrecting Real’s campaign from the wreckage of the ill-fated Rafa Benitez tenure, another season at the helm might be the least Zizou deserves, especially as he appears to have galvanised a squad which was at loggerheads around the time of his appointment. The respect the players have for a former player of his standing is palpable, plus there is no obvious candidate to replace him. Names such as Mauricio Pochettino, the highly-rated Tottenham Hotspur coach, and Paris Saint-Germain’s Laurent Blanc have been mentioned, as has an unlikely return for Jose Mourinho, but rightly or wrongly there is no outstanding candidate, a fact which may well secure Zizou’s position for another season. A La Liga or Champions League title, or both, certainly wouldn’t harm his chances!

To win La Liga

Barcelona – 1.50

Atletico Madrid – 4.33

Real Madrid – 6.00

To win the Champions League

Bayern Munich – 2.50

Real Madrid – 2.87

Atletico Madrid – 4.50

Manchester City – 8.50

All odds courtesy of Bet365 and correct as of 23.00 GMT on 19/04/16

By: Steven Paget