[OP-ED]: A Quiet Man
In my own humble opinion Zinedine Zidane is amongst the top five soccer players of all time. Yes, I would put Zizou right next to Pelé, Maradona, Johan Cruyff and Alfredo Di Stéfano. I know many would not agree with me, but as the saying reads: “In matters of taste there is no dispute”.
Anyway, no one can disagree (and I can support my statement with statistics) that Zidane is the best French player who has ever stand on a soccer field. Only Zizou, scoring two goals in the championship game against Brazil, has led France to a World Championship. Two years later, Zidane commanded the French National Team that won the European title and six years later, in the 2006 World Cup, the star midfielder guided his country to a World Cup second place: a milestone that former French greats like Raymond Kopa or Michel Platini never achieved.
If we talk soccer at club level, Zidane’s task was also unbeatable. His sensational volley goal in the Champions League 2002 final held in Glasgow that gave Real Madrid the win over Bayer Leverkusen (2-1), still shines in the retinas of Madrid fans. His tenure in Spain’s capital left his footprints in many youngsters who now, at their twenties, still request to wear number 5 (Zidane’s number with Real) in their respective amateur or recreation teams.
When his playing days were over, the French star and his family stayed in Spain’s capital and Real Madrid president Florentino Pérez was smart enough to keep Zidane involved with the White Club. When 11 months ago, Pérez decided to fire manager Rafa Benítez, he chose Zizou to replace him. People criticized the decision: “The Frenchman lacks coaching experience, he has never managed a big team”, analysts said.
Anyway, results quickly proved Pérez was right. Zizou registered the best start ever for a new manager in Real Madrid history. Real started a huge league comeback and threatened FC Barcelona’s title. In the Champions League, Zidane overcame every opponent and won the club’s 11th European Championship.
What was the Frenchman recipe for success? Very simple: he managed with ease a complicated roster full of ego-driven stars. For that, Zizou has a playing history that not even Cristiano Ronaldo can match. With the hard Spanish journalists, Zidane acted wisely. His press conferences became a balsam full of good humor and smiles (it would not hurt José Mourinho to follow his French counterpart example).
This season the tone has been the same. Madrid has not shined at every match, but is still getting excellent results. In La Liga, a tournament the White Club has not won since 2012 Real is a solid leader. In the Champions League, Madrid’s main club has already qualified for the following round. In the King’s Cup, Zidane even gave his 21 year-old son, Enzo, the chance to play. He thanked daddy scoring a goal against Cultural Leonesa.
We are less than 50 hours away from El Clásico. In the biggest European match of every year, FC Barcelona will host Real Madrid on Saturday. Real is six points ahead in the standings.
“For them is just another match, while for us is like a championship game”, said this week FC Barcelona star defender Gerard Piqué. “If we do not win on Saturday, their lead will be almost unreachable”.
Zidane agrees with Shakira’s husband. The Frenchman looks at the match against Barça reflexively, knowing he has a lot to win and nothing to lose. Zizou flourishes his best weapon, quietness: a virtue that has given him excellent results managing a soccer powerhouse like Real Madrid.