Yet another trophy and gala moment was earned on Saturday night as the Portugal superstar’s impudent free-kick found a gap in the Gremio wall and sent the partisan Zayed Sports City crowd into rapture.
With it, European football’s defining side swept to successive Club World Cup triumphs and earned a fifth piece of silverware in 2017 – the most in its storied history.
Reaching new landmarks for Madrid is no simple task. Often forgotten in this equation is Zinedine Zidane, whose made incredible achievements look effortless there as a player and now head coach.
For a man of such majestic gifts on the ball, it is remarkable how his greatest talent in the dugout – although he is rarely there, his focus on the touchline being as sharp as his suit – is simplifying the game. Whether in a 4-4-2 or 4-3-3 formation, he has unpicked the latent gifts of emerging Spain superstar Isco and kept the evergreen Ronaldo in condition to claim a fifth Ballon d’Or.
Yet this stoic approach also counts against him as the vultures hover in the midst of a stuttering title defence in La Liga. Talk throughout Madrid’s hyped stint in the Emirates has gravitated towards this Saturday’s latest edition of El Clasico when Barcelona visit the Spanish capital, and the long-term repercussions of a negative result.
The CWC can seem like an afterthought for sides on the old continent. But victory in it adds to the gargantuan weight of success and must hand Zidane that rarest of gifts under erratic president Florentino Perez – time.
Time for relative failure. Time to rebuild and time to secure even more silverware in the seasons ahead.
Criticism for predictable tactics, a lack of nuance and continued loyalty to misfiring French striker Karim Benzema – booed off in successive scoreless appearances in Abu Dhabi – have been present. Yet it is churlish to believe Zidane has held a titular position during this glorious spell in Madrid’s history.
His placid demeanour can raise ire, especially in contrast to the frenetic Pep Guardiola or dramatic Jose Mourinho.
It remained in the Emirates as the CWC enjoyed a successful return to the UAE for the first time in seven years.
— Real Madrid C.F. (@realmadrid) December 16, 2017
Los Blancos held off a spirited Al Jazira in the semi-finals and then kept charged Copa Libertadores holders Gremio on a tight leash at a sold-out and electric Zayed Sports City.
No panic, no fuss. Zidane calmly urged his celebrated players on, the only visible frustration coming from poor control by Spain right-back Dani Carvajal in the final throes against the Brazilians.
The warmth afforded to him by each one on the pitch in the aftermath of the final whistle spoke volumes. Icons such as Ronaldo, Luka Modric, Gareth Bale and Sergio Ramos are not easily impressed – the eight trophies won in two years under their current supremo are obviously cherished by them.
Madrid now head home to face the impending possibility of a 12-point deficit to hated domestic rivals. Even if this is their fate, Zidane’s destiny should tie him to Santiago Bernabeu for many years to come.
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