Well, Zinedine Zidane went and did it again. Despite everyone constantly doubting his managerial credentials and tactical know-how, Zidane won his third straight UEFA Champions League title on Saturday, becoming the first manager to win the European Cup three times in a row.
Zidane now officially stands alone as the greatest “rookie” manager ever — meaning the Frenchman’s success in his first-ever major coaching role has been unrivaled throughout history.
Even those who anointed former Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola as the greatest “rookie” manager ever must now acknowledge that Zidane has surpassed the mythical Spaniard.
If Zidane’s three Champions Leagues aren’t enough to prove this (Pep only has two), maybe the mind-boggling stat that Zidane averages a trophy every 16.5 matches will be enough to sway the naysayers. In his time at Madrid, he’s also won one La Liga title, one Spanish Super Cup, two UEFA Super Cups and two FIFA Club World Cups. He’s only been manager for two and a half years.
While this piece is not written to detract from Guardiola’s growing legacy — a manager who has also won an incredible 23 major trophies in nine seasons as a coach and basically revolutionized soccer with his integration of tiki-taka at Barcelona and beyond — the fact is, Zidane isn’t as romanticized and respected as Guardiola. While the two manager’s styles are vastly different, Zidane deserves as much, if not more respect.
Zidane is constantly criticized for not being as tactically astute as his managerial peers, and while this may be true (he didn’t revolutionize his own style of soccer), he has some managerial intangibles that tactics and strategy can’t teach. For one, his players really love and respect him.
Zidane had an incredible career as a player and has gone down as one of the best of his generation, if not all time. In his time as a player he won a Champions League and La Liga title with Real Madrid, not to mention a European Championship and FIFA World Cup with his country, France.
And he did it while playing some of the most beautiful soccer the world had ever seen. The man truly won and did it all, so of course his players, even the at times pompous and vain CR7, revel in the presence of the French maestro.
Zidane knows how to man-manage and keep the egos on his team happy. Maybe that comes from being used to big egos during his playing days, but the guy keeps Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and the wild Sergio Ramos at peace, despite all those players having big egos.
Zidane knows how to manage them because he is one of them. And although Zidane may not be a master tactician, he has another intangible in football you can’t buy or learn: he has guts. Zidane is willing to swashbuckle and go for broke with his players, just like he did on Saturday by bringing on Gareth Bale. We all know what happened next.
Again, that bravery and brashness comes from his playing days. He also showed the world how to properly use a midfield destroyer like Casemiro — the man can truly do it all.