MILAN: In leading Real Madrid to their 11th European Cup less than five months after inheriting an unhappy team from Rafael Benitez, Zinedine Zidane has cemented his heroic status at the Bernabeu and appears to have assured his immediate future.
Although neither Zidane nor Real’s notoriously trigger happy president Florentino Perez have confirmed whether the French coach would be remain charge, there could be no political capital gained from axing the coach now.
The Frenchman has enjoyed special status since his wondrous volley against Bayer Leverkusen won the 2002 Champions League, although he must know Saturday’s shootout victory over Atletico Madrid does not guarantee him a long future at the club.
He only needs to look at the fate of the last two coaches to lead Real to European glory, Vicente del Bosque and Carlo Ancelotti, both sacked 12 months later, as a reminder of that.
The only Real coach to create any sort of dynasty was Miguel Munoz, like Zidane a European Cup winner as a Real midfielder, who spent 14 years in charge, winning Europe’s top prize in 1960 and 1966 and nine La Liga titles.
Having conquered Europe with Real as a player, coach and assistant, Zidane’s next task is to wrest the La Liga title back from Barcelona, who finished a solitary point above his side.
Zidane picked up more points than Barca and Atletico since succeeding Benitez on Jan. 4, including victories in the last 12 games, although the football his team played lacked the sparkle of Luis Enrique’s championship-winning side.
The most graceful of players, Zidane has proved to be a great pragmatist as a coach, stressing on the eve of the final that his team’s plan was to “run, run and run”.
With Cristiano Ronaldo clearly not match fit, Real’s win owed more to the gutsy determination of defensive midfielder Casemiro and man of the match Sergio Ramos than the flair players Perez loves to recruit.
Zidane never tires of stressing the value of hard work and his team selections reflect that, sidelining the likes of James Rodriguez and Isco, players overflowing with talent but reluctant to dig in and help the team out defensively.
Another key to Zidane’s early success with Real has been to create a happy atmosphere among a squad that never bonded with predecessor Benitez.
“There is a very good feeling between us and Zidane, he has brought happiness, hope, humility and hard work,” Ramos said.
Zidane added: “What I’ve brought to Real is my positive attitude. I believe in hard work, we already have a lot of quality in the team. But work is more important than quality.”
Hard work may have delivered Zidane Europe’s biggest prize in his infancy as a coach, but he will need to oversee a higher standard of football if he is to remain in charge long term.