Saturday 17 November 2018

Zidane still facing questions of credentials despite feats

If there has never been a coach who has achieved what Zidane is on the brink of doing with
Real Madrid, then it would also be right to say that no coach in history will derive so little credit from such monumental success. Photo: Reuters
If there has never been a coach who has achieved what Zidane is on the brink of doing with Real Madrid, then it would also be right to say that no coach in history will derive so little credit from such monumental success. Photo: Reuters

Sam Wallace

Jurgen Klopp was considering the question, asked often in Spain, as to whether a coach who stands on the brink of an unprecedented three straight Champions League titles actually knows what he is doing.

So goes the strange conflict at the heart of the Zinedine Zidane story, the man whom some deride as simply the right man in the right place with the right players - an entrenador de palmas, good at clapping, less good at tactics.

Smiling to himself, Klopp, the Liverpool manager, weighed up the thought for a moment. "If a lot of people think Zinedine Zidane has not a lot of tactical knowledge and then people think the same about me, that would be really funny," he said. "The two managers in the Champions League final have no clue about tactics? What would that say about the game?"

If there has never been a coach who has achieved what Zidane is on the brink of doing with Real Madrid, then it would also be right to say that no coach in history will derive so little credit from such monumental success.

The last man to win two consecutive European Cups was Brian Clough, the second of them 28 years ago, and perhaps history will judge Zidane more favourably than he is often judged now.

Even the Spanish newspaper 'Marca' was still questioning yesterday how tightly Mauricio Pochettino's newly-signed contract until 2023 really bound him to Tottenham Hotspur. They offered the rather optimistic theory that Pochettino's contract covered approaches from all clubs unless it was Paris Saint-Germain and Real, in which case Daniel Levy would feel differently.

Klopp talked about Zidane in different terms here, not as the silky-smooth midfielder who could send a whole stadium the wrong way with a drop of the shoulder, and not as the coach who faces the world with that unreadable face. Instead, Klopp said that he perceived in Zidane "the fighter from Marseille", a man of boundless determination despite his achievements, whose team was "organised when it needs to be organised and chaos when it needs to be chaos".

That was a characteristically Kloppian analysis, a coach who views the game as something to be controlled and set free in equal measure. Yet there is no question that Zidane's influence at Real is less well defined. No more so than this season when Real finished an unprecedented 17 points behind Barcelona in the league, exited the cup to Leganes and yet stand on the brink of a Champions League achievement unparalleled in the modern era.

Beat Liverpool in Kiev and Zidane's record will be unanswerable, despite the failure in domestic competitions. Lose, and the season will be perceived as a failure - the ultimate divergence of fortunes, even by the standards of the modern game's extreme judgements.

The focus in the Spanish media had moved on from Zidane's future and it took a question from a Mexican television crew to get to the heart of his situation. They asked him if he felt valued, and although he said he did, he also went on to say that he did not care one way or another. "Yes, I do - why not? A little bit valued and sometimes I don't feel that valued. But that's life. What's really important is to do a great job and do things properly. To give it my all. Then the consequences are not that important. You are satisfied when you have done your best and given everything - that's what I tell my players."

Real's financial situation has unquestionably become more precarious. There is a €406 million annual wage bill that they have had to borrow in order to pay and a badly delayed €400m stadium rebuild, and a transfer market in which they have been outgunned. Real will have to deal with the legacy of their spending and that falls to Florentino Perez, the president who bathes in the reflected glory of the club he dominates. The basketball arm of the operation, Real Madrid Baloncesto, won their Euroleague championship final, accruing around €24m in losses to do so.

Perez may well have another European trophy by tomorrow morning. Or he might find himself under pressure to sack yet another manager, this time a legend of the club. Strange times at Real, and for their manager it seems nothing but a win today will be good enough. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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