Zidane might have what it takes to become ringmaster in Madrid's Galactico circus
Published 06/01/2016 | 02:30
Between the Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi/Cristiano Ronaldo eras, Zinedine Zidane stands in a space of his own for inspiring France's 1998 World Cup victory and controlling games from the heart of the pitch with a degree of orchestration neither of the two current megastars could match.
Which is not to say Zidane was a superior footballer to Messi or Ronaldo, who are both more decorative, more lethal in attack.
Real Madrid's new manager radiated something different - a calmness, vision and authority that may yet force an apology from those now saying his is a superficial appointment made by a president who was sufficiently daft to sack Carlo Ancelotti and then appoint Rafa Benitez, whose remote patriarchal style was never going to work in the world HQ of player power, aka the Bernabeu home dressing room.
We all have players who cause judgment to go out of the window a little bit, and Zidane was always one of my mine, even after the butt on Italy's Marco Materazzi in the 2006 World Cup final in Berlin.
That ruinous loss of self-control said something about the toughness that was intertwined with Zidane's talent. His restless need to impose his will on games will also now be felt by those Real Madrid players who might think a mate has taken over as manager.
If Zidane starts showing off in training, as Glenn Hoddle was inclined to, even Ronaldo will feel himself challenged by the old bald guy clipping free-kicks.
But 'Zizou' will not be there to horse around. There is nothing of the dilettante in his CV. His problem is not the old one of genius players turning to management but the shocking lack of power that comes with coaching Real Madrid.
There you go boss: Cristiano Ronaldo hands his new manager his bib during his first training session.
Already some credible witnesses (and others with an agenda) are saying Zidane was appointed because a number of players vetoed Jose Mourinho's return.
Any Real Madrid coach sails between the Scylla and Charybdis of player/agent politicking and presidential whim.
In that sense hiring a galactico to manage galacticos completes a perfect circle. To Real's critics it will appear that the club has attained the pure narcissistic state it has been hurtling towards over two decades of acute simplification.
The big idea? Get the world's biggest names and lock them into one room.
This top-down theory has been the life's work of Florentino Perez, El Presidente, who devised the tactic in his first Bernabeu reign of throwing a net over the world's most famous players and letting talent do the rest.
And it worked for a while, with Zidane at the artistic and spiritual core of a side who - however sniffy people were - touched rhapsodic levels.
The consensus now is to dismiss Zidane's elevation as a shallow punt on glamour and inexperience.
After all, Benitez lost his job with a record of played 25, won 17, drew five, lost three, with 69 goals scored and 22 conceded.
Against that, he lost 4-0 at home to Barcelona and continued with his philosophical error of believing modern players exist to be told what to do by the likes of Benitez.
They don't - as Zidane will know - and now we move into a new era in which managers are like pilots having to fly planes without being allowed inside the cockpit.
Ancelotti has been sacked by Chelsea and Real Madrid. Mourinho has run aground at the same two clubs.
So, if Zidane is "inexperienced", you might be tempted to point out that the experienced ones are not lasting very long either.
There is an obvious parallel between Zidane and Ryan Giggs, who would be a contender to succeed Louis van Gaal at Manchester United, but with half the world telling him he is nowhere near ready.
We know from countless examples that illustrious playing careers are no guarantee of success when the legend steps from the selfish world of personal stardom into dealing with 50 external issues a day.
But nor, in this age when older managers can quickly appear out of touch with modern dressing room culture, is a great playing career an automatic handicap to a young coach.
Zidane played it cleverly by promising to throw "heart and soul" into the job.
He understands the craving for authenticity; for clubs to be staffed by people with an emotional allegiance to the work going on at such expense.
What Real Madrid need is not more 'experience' in the dugout so much as less Perez with his grand designs.
Nobody can connect the different levels of Real Madrid like Zidane, who will need to be given the power to be ruthless with players who believe they run the show.
"He doesn't accept failure on any level," said David Beckham, who played in the same Real team.
Every player you speak to from that generation approaches the subject of Zidane's talent and character with similar awe.
An eerie footnote is that he was the symbol of French football's multi-culturalism back in 1998, when a national team of many ethnic backgrounds was said to have taken a new World Cup-winning nation to a new state of harmony.
That dream expired, but it showed Zidane to have taken the hard route to the top. This is a special individual, and the Real Madrid circus has a chance to rise to his level.
Yes, it's that way round. (© Daily Telegraph, London)