Real Madrid’s 2-1 victory over Villarreal on Thursday gave them their 34th league title and the players celebrated by getting together to hurl their manager Zinedine Zidane in the air. One of the greatest footballers to ever grace the Bernabéu during his playing days, his legacy as a manager is starting to supersede what he achieved with Los Blancos as a player.
With three Champions League, two La Liga, two Supercopa de España, two UEFA Super Cup and two FIFA Club World Cup titles, the Frenchman’s trophy cabinet as a coach is there for all to see. But his latest La Liga somehow feels different and helps solidify his pedigree as a coach.
Even during Real’s three Champions League triumphs under the Frenchman, he had always maintained that it was the league crown that he desired most. And once again, following their La Liga conquest on Thursday, Zidane reiterated that point.
"The Champions League is the Champions League, but La Liga makes me happier because La Liga is what it's all about," he said after winning his second La Liga title as manager. "This is a tremendous feeling because what these players have done is incredible. I am lost for words because I am too emotional."
When he walked away from the top job at the Bernebeu in 2018, not winning more La Liga titles was something that lingered on with him. So, it was of no surprise to anyone that the La Liga was his main target once he returned as Real’s manager at the start of the season.
How Zidane silenced the doubters
Back then many had already written off his chances of success. It was his second coming as coach of the club and the popular belief doing the rounds was that he would find life difficult with Cristiano Ronaldo sold and the team not as strong as it was in his first stint.
As it turned out, his naysayers couldn’t have been further from the truth. His second coming, in fact, has surely silenced those critics of his who claimed that his early successes with the club were all down to his star-studded squad.
While Karin Benzema has taken on the mantle of being the club’s go-to player, Zidane’s wonderful man-management has seen him develop and nurture young, hungry talent. Stars like Gareth Bale have been on the fringes, with the Welshman’s attitude failing to impress the World Cup winner.
His treatment of Bale has always been under the microscope and even more so in the last season where he was considered the be one of the team’s main threats. In theory, Bale is a world-beater, but his failure to fit into Zidane’s scheme of things has left him on the periphery and showed us that the Frenchman is so much more than just someone who got lucky with a strong squad.
Using young players from Real’s academy and playing attacking football in keeping with the club’s philosophy isn’t easy by any stretch of the imagination. However, Zidane has managed to do both and with distinction. Ferland Mendy, Federico Valverde, Vinicius Junior, Lucas Vazquez, Rodrygo and Marco Asensio are a few youngsters who have benefitted as a result.
The latest La Liga title, in fact, makes the Frenchman the second-most successful manager in the club’s history behind only Miguel Munoz. Zidane’s men are still alive in this season’s Champions League and will be looking to go deep in the tournament and overturning a 2-1 deficit away against Manchester City.
Whether they can do that remains to be seen. However, regardless of the outcome, it’s safe to assume that no one will be questioning Zidane’s management credentials any time soon after a successful return to Real’s helm. The Frenchman, after all, was recently described as a “blessing from heaven” by Real president Florentino Pérez and who better to judge Zidane’s effect on the club than the 73-year-old.
Feature image courtesy: AFP / Gabriel Bouys
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