Zinedine Zidane retaining the Champions League with Real Madrid will see him match up to Brian Clough and Bob Paisley
- Real Madrid take on Juventus in the Champions League final on Saturday
- The Spanish club could secure consecutive victories in the elite competition?
- That would be remarkable but their coach Zinedine Zidane remains unheralded
- Zidane's achievements came without heavy spending - in fact, Real made profit
- Champions League final betting guide - how to get Juventus at 14/1??
- Champions League final 2017: Follow the UEFA Champions League final?
What does he really do? It might seem an odd question to pose about a manager who stands on the brink of history but it's one some people will still ask.
Zinedine Zidane was a genius as a player, one of the greatest we have ever seen, but so far his career in the dugout has passed without significant acclaim. That is remarkable when you consider what he has done in such a short period of time.
This evening in Cardiff, he has the chance to become the first manager in the Champions League era to win the tournament back-to-back and join a select group that includes, among others, Bob Paisley, Arrigo Sacchi and Brian Clough as men who have retained club football's greatest prize.
Zinedine Zidane celebrates with his players after Real Madrid claimed the Spanish title
Zidane is aiming for his second Champions League crown in two seasons this weekend
Zidane put his players through their paces on the Cardiff pitch on Friday evening
His c.v. in 18 months also includes Real Madrid's first La Liga title since 2012 and the Club World Cup yet whenever we talk about the Spanish giants, the focus centres on Cristiano Ronaldo's exploits, Gareth Bale's brilliance or the impact of Luka Modric, Toni Kroos or Sergio Ramos.
Why does it get assumed that Zidane is a figurehead and everything Real achieve is down to the talent of the squad? To put that into perspective, if I asked you to write down a list of the world's top 10 managers I'd say 95 per cent wouldn't include his name.
It is a strange situation, particularly when you make a comparison with Pep Guardiola. Zidane started out with Real Madrid Castilla, as Guardiola began with Barcelona B yet, whereas we were raving about Pep after his first 18 months, Zidane is almost flying under the radar.
The Frenchman, who ended his playing career in 2006, fires off a pass during training
Zidane has enjoyed an extreme amount of success since taking over as Real manager
His situation has parallels with Vincente Del Bosque, who was manager of Real when Zidane arrived as a player for a golden era at the beginning of this century and went on to lead Spain to victory at the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012.
Del Bosque rarely became animated on the sidelines. He had the look of your favourite old uncle and Xabi Alonso once told me that one of his greatest abilities was to keep a low profile and make sure everyone was happy. He wasn't a coach who burned with intensity.
As a result, when we look back at his teams' achievements, we remember the magic in Spain's midfield of Alonso, Xavi and Andres Iniesta or the 'Galactico' play of the Brazilian Ronaldo, Luis Figo, Zidane and many more.
The importance of the manager, though, can never be understated.?
The French coach and his team prepare for their clash with Juventus in Cardiff
Cristiano Ronaldo and the Real squad get a lot of credit for the success enjoyed under Zidane
Del Bosque was axed by Madrid for failing to retain the Champions League in 2003 but his sacking triggered the start of a spell when they won nothing for four years and failed to get beyond the Champions League's last 16.
Real Madrid is such an extraordinary club in terms of size and the constant politics that, perhaps, the best results are achieved by those with an ability to remove themselves from the spotlight to concentrate on their work.?
Zidane has done the opposite to his predecessor. Rafa Benitez — man with huge experience who knew how the club operated — could not get the results Real wanted and couldn't walk away from the fights that erupted in the dressing room and the boardroom.
The former France international does not seem to have received substantial praise for his work
Madrid could have reappointed Jose Mourinho after Benitez had been sacked in December 2015 — Mourinho had just left Chelsea — but they turned to Zidane, who had served his apprenticeship with Real Madrid Castilla and he has proven the decision to be wise.
He has barely put a foot wrong since winning his first match 5-0 against Deportivo La Coruna in January 2016, improving a squad that was floundering behind Barcelona and Atletico Madrid to the polished unit you will see against Juventus. Remember: this is the same team Benitez had.
The improvement Zidane has overseen has come without spending money. Last summer, Madrid made a profit in their transfer dealings, which is a remarkable achievement in itself when you consider they are synonymous with paying huge fees.
It is a point that needs to be re-emphasised, too when you think Mourinho and Guardiola — the two most successful managers over the last decade — will look to improve the teams of Manchester United and Manchester City by spending in excess of ￡150million each.
Of course, Zidane walked into a dressing room crammed with brilliant players but that is no guarantee results will follow. He has consistently maintained the harmony and the numbers Real have subsequently produced are evidence of how successful he has been.
Cristiano Ronaldo described his management of the squad as being 'intelligent' and how Zidane commands 'their respect', which is no mean compliment when you realise how much he has been rotated. Ronaldo has missed 14 games this season, the highest number since he joined them in 2009.
Zidane holds the European Cup following last season's final victory over Atletico Madrid
He has only lost four of his 58 La Liga matches and broke the club record for the team scoring in 44 consecutive games. Not even Miguel Munoz, who is regarded as Real's greatest manager and was captain for their first two European Cup triumphs in 1956 and 1957, can match those statistics.
It helps, no doubt, that Zidane played for Madrid. He endured early difficulties with supporters when he arrived from Juventus, so when he speaks to his players he does it with authority; he knows what it takes to succeed and what will not be tolerated.
True, he might still be a novice as a manager but isn't it a case that sometimes certain individuals are tailor-made for certain positions?
We might not get fixated about Zidane in the way we have done about Guardiola or Mourinho. He doesn't have the charisma of Jurgen Klopp or the raw emotion of Antonio Conte and he can't even match the experience and trophies of Max Allegri, who will be his opponent in Cardiff.
But we cannot understate what he has achieved and what potentially beckons. Madrid have not won La Liga and the European Cup in the same season since 1958 but should they beat Juventus, Zidane's claim to be regarded as the greatest figure in their history will be even stronger.
Above all, it would provide the conclusive answer to the opening question. What does he really do? He wins.?
Zidane has only lost four of 58 matches and his team scored in 44 consecutive games
MAN OF THE WEEK
What an incredible feat the German coach has managed to engineer at Huddersfield and they will be welcome additions to the Premier League after their dramatic play-off final victory.
I know there are people within the game who grumble and complain when foreign managers, who have previously been unheard of, are appointed to positions in the Premier League, with a common argument being 'Let's see how they would do in the Championship!'
Well, Wagner took a chance in the Championship 18 months ago and the job he has done almost defies logic, with Huddersfield's owner Dean Hoyle revealing their wage bill was ￡2million less than it was in 2012-13 when they had to beat Barnsley to avoid dropping into League One.
That is a huge amount of money for a club at that level but Wagner's work has enabled them to hit the jackpot. I look forward to seeing how they progress when it all starts again next season.
David Wagner has almost defied logic in getting Huddersfield promoted to the Premier League
FA Cup win just the start of a long haul for Wenger?
One of the last games of the domestic season turned out to be among the best FA Cup finals we have seen this century.
Arsenal’s victory was the product of one of their best performances in recent years. Few gave them a chance against Chelsea but they dominated from start to finish and ended a difficult campaign on a high. I was most pleased for their manager Arsene Wenger, who wore a smile of deep contentment at the final whistle.
Whether you feel he should have gone or believe he still has much to give, nobody can dispute he is a class act.
Back in February, after they had been demolished in the Champions League by Bayern Munich, I said here that with Wenger’s contract running down, a parting of the ways with Arsenal would have been for the best.
Arsene Wenger has signed a new deal with Arsenal after winning the FA Cup for the club
I felt the criticism he was taking could not continue and, with them always falling at the same hurdles, I suggested another coach could come in and change the direction.?
As it stands, though, he will carry on for another two years. Maybe things are going to change at the Emirates and the big victories over Manchester City and Chelsea were a sign of things to come. If Arsenal could play as they did at Wembley consistently, the discontent would soon disappear.
If I was an Arsenal fan, however, I would still have ended this week worried. Why? Wenger’s comments about them being very close to the title.
Things remain a long way from being perfect.?
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