Former Real Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane is ripping apart all hitherto accepted truisms about club football management at the very top. A comparative rookie with just five years coaching experience, the ex-Los Merengues boss made mashed potatoes of the Uefa Champions League.
Analyse this. In just 30 months in the Madrid hot-seat, the three-time former world footballer of the year rewrote history books, not just becoming the first manager to lift the coveted trophy three times in a row; he is already the competitions’ joint most successful manager.
Somewhere in between, he also picked up a Spanish Primera Liga crown. So exactly how did Zidane go about debunking the myth that the Champions League is notoriously difficult to defend?
Student surpasses master:
Having served as assistant to Carlo Ancelotti when Real won the 2014 edition, we have to admit Zidane was lucky to inherit a very good team. Six of the players that featured in the 2014 extra time victory over Atletico Madrid, also started last Saturday’s final against Liverpool.
A key pillar of Ancelotti’s success - he too has thrice hoisted Big Ears - is the belief to challenge in Europe, a team must pace itself to peak after January.
Zidane did this by intermittently resting senior players Luca Modric, Sergio Ramos, Karim Benzema and especially Cristiano Ronaldo throughout the season.
Matter of fact, between August and December, Real Madrid was absent without leave in La Liga as Barcelona run away with the title. Ronaldo only played well in Europe, waiting until the new year to get into his element.
Sergio Ramos’ game changing tackle on Liverpool talisman Mo Salah typifies why Real are dominating Europe. They are a no-holds-barred side which is unafraid of using its superior physical and athletic advantages to gain headway on opponents. If you take time to calculate the average body weight and height of the two teams that lined up in Kiev, you will discover that Liverpool were conceding at least five kilos of muscle and two inches per player. Put differently, Madrid has been Europe’s preeminent force because they combine technical ability with physical and athletic prowess.
As sworn rivals Barcelona splashed the cash over the last two summer transfer windows on Ousmane Dembele, Paulinho and Phillipe Coutinho, Zidane resisted the temptation to follow suit, instead convincing club president Florentino Perez that he can compensate lack of transfer activity by promoting from Real Castilla.
Marco Asencio and Lucas Vasquez have been the key benefiaries of this policy. The result has been the most consistent line up in Europe. On Saturday, Real Madrid became the first team in Champions League history to field the same starting line up in two finals.
Players like Cristiano Ronaldo come once in a generation. The Portuguese goal machine is close to his 34th birthday, yet he emerged tournament top scorer with 15 goals. CR7 was simply born to score goals.
Already a Champions League record scorer, he keeps doing it again and again. It’s safe to say the five time Ballon D’Or winner has been a key figure in Zidane’s emergence as a football management life-force.
Under Zidane’s tutelage Real Madrid has equalled the Johan Cruyff led Ajax Amsterdam side (1971-73) and Gerd Muller inspired Bayern Munich team (1974-76) that won three consecutive European Cups.
With their insatiable hunger for success and Zidane’s born to win DNA, it is possible they could have equalled their Alfredo di Stefano-led predecessors who won five in a row between 1956-60. But after resigning from world football’s biggest job, that in all probability will not happen.
Torch into top six player needs before new season kicks off
Thanks to the World Cup, this year’s summer transfer window opened unusually early.
May 17 saw clubs transacting in players. Perhaps stung by the manner of their Champions League final defeat, Liverpool have set the pace for the English Premier League Top Six with acquisition of Naby Keita and Fabinho for a combined £100m.
If you factor in the £75m acquisition of Virgil van Dirk, the £140m war chest from the sale of Phillipe Coutinho to Barcelona is exhausted.
All the same, Liverpool owner John Henry is poised to sanction a further splurge given that Liverpool’s net spending in the Jurgen Klopp era is nil.
Against the background of Loris Karius’ May 26 diabolical display, and Simon Migbolet’s butterflies in the stomach custodianship, a new keeper is on the radar.
Roma’s Allison Becker and Atletico Madrid stopper Jan Oblak, either of whom would cost upwards of £50m would immediately propel Liverpool into title contenders.
Liverpool also need backup for the fabled front three Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane and Mo Salah, as they will all be jaded by their World Cup exertions.
Borussia Dortmund teenage wing wizard Christian Pulisic and RB Leipzig front man Timo Werner is possible candidates.
IN: Naby Keita, Fabinho.
NEEDED: Allison Becker, Christian Pulisic, Timo Werner.
Last summer 2016-17 champions Chelsea had a transfer window to forget. They lost talismanic pair Diego Costa and Nemanja Matic amid acrimony between manager Antonio Conte and the club board.The fallout from manager Antonio Conte’s ill-advised text message to Costa effectively terminating his services lingered on all season eventually affecting some players.
Sorting the managers’ future is therefore an absolute must before Chelsea can make any forays into the transfer market.
Any arriving manager -speculation is rife it will be Maurizio Sarri - ought to immediately sort out the futures of Eden Hazard, Thibaut Courtois, Alvaro Morata and David Luiz, all of whom were adversely affected by the Londoners’ season of underachievement.
If Ruben Loftus Cheek can learn to push himself, there wouldn’t be any need to buy any other midfielders. Danny Drinkwater and Ross Barkley, both of whom were injury plagued last season, are bound to improve their output.
Of key concern are wide areas and the centre forward position in which Olivier Giroud and Alvaro Morata flattered to deceive.
Bayer Leverkusen wide man Leon Bailey and Christian Pulisic have pace to burn whereas in the ideal world Morata would be allowed to grow into the lead striker role.
IN: None. NEEDED: Leon Bailey, Christian Pulisic.