If ever a player was born to play for Real Madrid it was Zinedine Zidane.
But, despite playing for Los Blancos for five years, Zizou only ever managed to win La Liga once.
However the team Zidane did win his single league title with was about as close to footballing perfection as you can get.
Here’s the story of that magical 2002/03 campaign under Vincente del Bosque.
Brazilian full-backs and defending have a special relationship.
Take Roberto Carlos for example. Defending was probably the last thing on his mind when he took the the field every game.
But his desire to get up and down the left flank, coupled with the fear he struck into the opposition whenever he lined up a shot, meant he was as much fun to watch as Madrid’s more heralded attacking talents.
On the opposite side to Carlos was the ever dependable Michel Salgado, who would have played every league game were it not for the ten yellow cards and two reds he accumulated over the course of the season.
With Del Bosque’s side naturally more inclined to attack than defend, the all-Spanish core of Iker Casillas, Ivan Helguera and Fernando Hierro had their work cut out at the back.
At 34 Hierro was the oldest of the trio, but his reading of the game was exemplary, bringing calm to a 21-year-old Casillas’ game.
Helguera’s role in the title win was slightly underrated, especially as he scored six league goals, but together they ensured only Celta Vigo and Valencia conceded fewer goals.
The forgotten man
Most Madrid fans would be able to reel off Madrid’s title winning XI, up to Del Bosque’s midfield.
Casillas, Salgado, Carlos, Helguera, Hierro, Makelele… pause. Silence. Who was Makelele’s midfield partner?
The often overlooked man in question is Brazilian Flavio Conceicao, who started more games alongside Makelele than Guti and Esteban Cambiasso.
Conceicao, who signed for Madrid in a €26million deal after starring in Deportivo La Coruna’s shock title win, racked up 44 caps for Brazil throughout his career.
His career finished at the relatively early age of 32, having played for Borussia Dortmund, Galatasaray and Panathinaikos after leaving Madrid.
The biggest mistake in football?
“We will not miss Makelele. His technique is average, he lacks the speed and skill to take the ball past the opponents, and 90% of his distribution either goes backwards or sideways.”
Madrid’s title winning season was Claude Makelele’s last in Spain before he was sold to Chelsea with Florentino Perez’s brutal words ringing in his ears.
Aside from redefining the way defensive midfielders were looked at in the modern game Makelele didn’t do much.
Fair play Florentino. You called that one spot on.
Why have one magical playmaker when you can have two?
Zidane and Luis Figo dovetailed in the midfield throughout the 2002/03 campaign, scoring 19 league goals between them.
With the protection of Makelele and Conceicao in the anchor role behind, Zizou and Figo had free rein to wander where they pleased.
Figo outscored Zidane ten to nine, although both ended up with 12 goals in all competitions.
The perfect strikeforce?
What happens if you manage to keep Zidane and Figo quiet? You then have to deal with Ronaldo and Raul.
The two Rs had everything. Ronaldo brought the pace and flair, Raul the guile and touch. You’d be hard pushed to design a more perfect strike partnership.
Ronaldo scored 23 goals, while Raul scored 16 times in the league, but both were beaten to the Pichichi by Roy Makaay, who scored 29 times for Depor.
Madrid blitzed the competition, scoring 86 goals, fifteen more than their closest competitors Deportivo. Defenders of a certain age are still waking up in cold sweats at the though of Raul and Ronaldo running at them.