Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane is happy to admit he is far from the best tactician around but if his side beat Liverpool in Saturday’s Champions League final he will become the only manager ever to win three consecutive European Cups.
The former midfielder has already equalled managerial greats such as Arrigo Sacchi, Alex Ferguson, Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho in winning the trophy twice, despite only taking charge of Real in January 2016 after an unconvincing spell leading their reserve side.
Zidane has compensated for his lack of experience and strategy with charm, a disarming smile and invaluable knowledge of what it is like to play at the highest level, leading the team to eight trophies which could become nine in Kiev.
“I was a player for 18 years, I dealt with lots of coaches, lots of very good players, lots of egos. I know dressing rooms very well and I know exactly what goes through the head of a footballer,” Zidane told reporters on Wednesday.
“That’s very important for me but it’s not the only thing. There’s a lot of work and a philosophy behind this. I’m not the best coach, I’m not the best tactically, but I have something else, passion and hope. That’s worth a lot more.”
The Frenchman is the polar opposite of predecessor Rafael Benitez, a renowned tactician who had no playing career and who struggled to connect with the highly strung Madrid squad before he was sacked.
“Zidane has understood how to manage such a complicated dressing room with sensitivity. We are delighted that he is the captain of this ship and I hope he stays for a long time,” said Real captain Sergio Ramos.
Not everyone, however, has been convinced by the Frenchman’s work.
Some sections of the Spanish media have written Zidane off as lucky, accusing him of enjoying a favourable draw in the 2016 Champions League run and benefitting from generous refereeing in the last two campaigns.
His former Juventus team mate Alessandro del Piero, meanwhile, said last year that Zidane “knows how to manage a dressing room but he’s helped by the fact he has an incredible squad, the best in the world.”
A hapless domestic campaign, in which his team finished a humiliating 17 points behind Liga champions Barcelona, has made the idea he is more of a supervisor of star players than a top coach more persuasive.
Yet Zidane also deserves credit for his in-game management. His two substitutions, Marco Asensio and Lucas Vazquez, had a huge impact in the 3-1 win over Paris St Germain in the last-16 first leg.
In the semi-final first leg against Bayern Munich he again turned to Asensio when Isco was injured and pushed Vazquez to right back, where the winger shackled Franck Ribery.
He has also proved to be his own man, benching Real’s record signing Gareth Bale in the latter stages of this year’s competition and marginalising another expensive recruit in James Rodriguez last season.
“He is a hard worker, he hates to lose, he wants perfection,” former Real Madrid midfielder Christian Karembeu told Reuters.
“He wants quality and you can see Zidane’s prints on this Madrid team. The passing has to be good, the players have to be in the right position, and you can see his influence on the team. Of course, when you look at the players you see the talent there, but talent alone does not bring you success.”