Zinedine Zidane has always been a master at deciding his own destiny.
Thursday’s decision really should have come as no surprise but of course the timing of his resignation ultimately caught many off guard given how soon it came following last weekend’s Champions League triumph over Liverpool in Kiev.
Throughout his entire career, the French maestro has had the midas touch and timing – not just when the ball was at his famed feet – to make the right call.
He has indeed just made another one by ending his managerial dynasty at Real Madrid in the finest way and at the most appropriate juncture possible. Looking back, it’s a pattern which he has followed and been the formation to one of the game’s historic careers.
At the end of the 2005-06 campaign, Zidane hung up his boots as a player at the Bernabeu before his Galactico powers started to wane and injuries, which had riddled his impact in his final season, caught up with him for good. It was a wise move and his decisiveness nicely dovetailed with a farewell at the 2006 World Cup in Germany.
His early penalty goal, in the final, dinking the ball exquisitely with a Panenka over Gianluigi Buffon of all people, was something only he would have had the bottle to do on the grandest stage.
What followed – that infamous head-butt on Italy defender Marco Matterazzi deep into extra-time – is one of football’s most remembered and symbolic send-offs. So much so, that the fact France lost out on penalties following a 1-1 draw in open play is almost forgotten.
The assault on Materazzi was not totally out of character for a 1998 World Cup and Ballon d’Or-winning player who had a nasty streak in him, but was typical Zidane in the sense he virtually always made a telling impact in the biggest moments, good or bad.
In those two instances, he knew his time was up and he had to move on from his chapter as a player, leaving us all disappointed that we would not see the then 33-year-old experience a career twilight but happy in the fact that the last memory was of a man still rated among the world’s best.
It’s amazing, really. Zidane’s thought process, evidenced with the way his brain worked on the pitch, has always been ahead of the game and everyone else for that matter.
That has certainly been to his benefit in making what he described as the most difficult decision of his career in leaving Los Blancos.
But, such was his vision, he could foresee that topping three unprecedented and successive Champions League victories and nine trophies in less than three years, was going to be difficult going forward – given he had taken this set of players, as good as they are, through to the end of what is a natural cycle of a club of Madrid’s stature.
At 33, Cristiano Ronaldo is virtually as good as ever and benefitted from Zidane’s decision to employ him more centrally, but Zizou had the foresight to see the batch of key players, Luka Modric and Sergio Ramos included, would need replacing sooner rather than later and he was not the man for a new project and rebuilding job in arguably the most mentally draining job in football.
Zidane masterminded his success organically, earning the trust of all but a few of his players – regardless of whether they were starting each week or not. His playing legacy obviously helped, but he seemingly had a unique ability to connect with them in a way no other coach could.
Those who question his tactical acumen need only to look at his trophy haul, success he achieved by limited spend (€70m during his tenure) and the ability to squeeze everything out of already gifted players. Opening Florentino Perez’s chequebook and buying a new team this summer wouldn’t have been his way.
In this day and age, where the focus (in all aspects of life really) seems to be on the next thing – and in football, the next transfer, the next game, next season – only in years to come will Zidane’s sublime managerial success and feats in the Whites dugout be fully appreciated.
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