Few would have the imagination to liken Zinedine Zidane, a once player of balletic elegance fused to a white hot streak of competitive edge, to that of a managerial janitor, but that’s the role he’s been forced into at his second home, the Santiago Bernabéu. The sacking of Rafa Benitez earlier this season meant many things, but perhaps none so more than spoiling the platform built for success Zidane deserved before taking control of the Real Madrid dugout.
You see, the scenario that lays before you now, a crippled rendition of Real Madrid effectively out of two domestic competitions and hardly a snowball’s chance in Europe, isn’t exactly what club president Florentino Pérez had in mind as he was grooming Zinedine Zidane to be the Pep Guardiola of Real Madrid. That was always the president’s plan. He saw how much success and profit the Barcelona team from 2008-2012 brought in, and Perez, a business man at heart, wanted to copy that model with a former player-turned coach that represented the characteristics of los blancos. Who better than Zinedine Zidane?
Nevertheless, not for the first time Florentino’s lack of patience matched his lack of prudence. After last season he sacked a likeable, capable manager in Carlo Ancelotti and replaced him with the man that toppled Ancelotti’s AC Milan team in the Champions League final in Istanbul 2005, Rafa Benitez. The match between club and coach started stale with a draw away at Sporting Gijón on the first day of the season and never warmed. So when the Bernabéu faithful began to sing for the president’s resignation as they were being put to the sword by Barcelona (0-4) earlier this season, Florentino devised a plan to appease his pursuers… Deploy a shield, a beacon of the club that the supporters would have to get behind by principle - Zidane.
In doing so he robbed Zidane of a clean slate to start on. In a sense Zidane has been made to mop up the mess his president has created, the way a custodian might. Real Madrid’s club president, out of desperation to protect his own interests, offered up a promising managerial mind for slaughter in order to temporarily relieve the heat from the seat he’s sat upon. What Zidane deserved was the opportunity to take his team, not Benitez’s team, through a preseason and through a summer transfer window all the while putting his stamp on his players’ style. Now he’s left picking up the pieces someone else knocked off the table.
Real Madrid’s derbi loss at home this weekend to Atlético de Madrid was Zidane’s first as manager of the first team. The setback makes the league trophy impossible, four points off of second and twelve off of first with both Atleti and Barca holding the head-to-head advantage against Real. Of course, Madrid are still alive in Europe. Winning the first leg of their round of 16-fixture against Roma by the score of 0-2, the precious way goals have paved the way to the quarterfinals. Yet, with Madrid’s record this season against notable opposition, one doesn’t get the feeling they can go much further. Other than a 1-0 win against Paris St. Germain at the Bernabéu this autumn, a game by all accounts Madrid should have lost, the Roma victory is their only other win of note. This season Real Madrid have drawn Valencia, lost to Villarreal, lost to Sevilla, lost to Barcelona, and have drawn and lost to Atlético de Madrid. They still have to play Sevilla and Villarreal at home and make trips to Mestalla to take on Valencia and to the Nou Camp to play Barcelona.
So Real fans, keep in mind when the inevitable disappointments continue to roll in, that the manager Zinedine Zidane is only doing the club a favor by cleaning up mess he didn’t create.