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Why is nobody talking about Zinedine Zidane after Real Madrid’s Champions League heroics?

The Frenchman has just become the first manager to successfully retain the Champions League.

It’s about time we accepted Real Madrid are the best club side on the planet right now.

Three European Cups in four seasons underlines their dominance in Europe after an almost unfathomable 12 years without one.

The boss

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The boss

But why is the mastermind behind two of those success, Zinedine Zidane, not getting as much credit as perhaps he deserves?

Much of the talk has been of the players instead, particularly Cristiano Ronaldo after his stunning 12 months for club and country.

Meanwhile other managers like Antonio Conte have been lauded much more than Zidane for his exploits with Chelsea this season when his achievements pale in comparison.

Zidane won the double – Real’s first since 1958 – and at the same time became the first manager in history to retain the Champions League.

This is becoming a familiar sight

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This is becoming a familiar sight

The evidence lends to the popular belief in professional football that when things are going well the players are praised, but when they aren’t the manager becomes the fall guy.

So why is Zidane not getting the recognition?

We’ve outlined a number of reasons why the French icon’s tenure deserves far greater acknowledgement…

Bucking the Galactico trend

Real Madrid’s brand since club president Florentino Perez’s first reign began back in 2000 has always been about affluent decadence; signing the best players on the planet and shoehorning them all into a team reminiscent of the Harlem Globetrotters.

But Zidane hasn’t been afraid to change tactic a bit.

Real’s squad is littered with exceptional talents in every single position so some players are inevitably going to be left disappointed.

James didn’t even make the Champions League final squad

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James didn’t even make the Champions League final squad

James Rodriguez, one of the most popular players on the planet in terms of social media following and shirt sales, didn’t even make the bench for the victory over Juventus on Saturday night.

The Colombian superstar might be a sumptuous player but Zidane has sacrificed him for the sturdier and more effective Casemiro, who has developed into their finest defensive midfielder since Claude Makelele.

N’Golo who?

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N’Golo who?

Casemiro isn’t the type of player that enamours Perez but Zidane recognises his importance to the team, particularly in allowing both Toni Kroos and Luka Modric to venture further forwards.

He also made the bold decision to continue with the understated Isco, who has been sensational in recent months, instead of a fully fit Gareth Bale raring to go for the final in his home city.

Bale missed out on a final start in his home city

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Bale missed out on a final start in his home city

Getting the best out of Ronaldo

Ronaldo remains Real’s most lethal weapon but Zidane risked the wrath of the reigning Ballon d’Or winner a number of times by not playing him in away La Liga games towards the end of the season.

It was a huge gamble, but given the fact Real pipped Barcelona to the title his ploy was more than vindicated as the ‘B’ players deputised brilliantly.

“Yeah, but my final goal was better”

PA:Press Association
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“Yeah, but my final goal was better”

Ronaldo is clinically obsessed with his personal scoring records and while his trophy cabinet over the last 12 months is busier than ever, the former Manchester United man produced his worst goal return in eight seasons.

But resting him domestically more than paid off as Ronaldo went on a sensational scoring spree in Europe that ultimately clinched a second successive Champions League crown.

Cristiano Ronaldo scored a hat-trick against Atletico in semi-final first leg victory

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Ronaldo basks in glory after his hat-trick against Atletico in the semi-finals

Back-to-back hat-tricks in the quarter-finals and semi-finals and a double in the showpiece in Cardiff saw him finish with ten goals in the knockout rounds alone.

Physical conditioning

A lot was made of the fact Real scored in every single one of their 60 games in all competitions this season, so the players’ fitness has to come into consideration.

In the second half of the final the difference between the conditioning of the Spanish giants and Juventus became painfully obvious, with the Old Lady withering badly while Real motored on.

Run, Luka, Run

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Run, Luka, Run

Zidane has to take vast amounts of credit for this, transforming more stylish players like Modric, Kroos and Isco into workhorses too.

Contrast with Benitez

Sid Lowe at the Guardian details an interesting anecdote about the stark differences between how Rafa Benitez and Zidane are regarded by the players.

During Benitez’s tumultuous six-month tenure at the start of last season, he was known within the squad ironically as ‘La Decia’ or the number 10 – a tongue-in-cheek nickname suggesting he thought he had the footballing knowledge to be a number ten but didn’t because of his failed playing career.

Hello darkness my old friend

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Hello darkness my old friend

Zidane, on the other hand, achieved everything there was to achieve as a player and was met with instant authority by his players compared with his predecessor.

The Madrid boss’ role as coach of the club’s Castilla team saw him develop a personal understanding with the younger players which Benitez and Jose Mourinho were perhaps too aloof to comprehend.

Zidane’s stint as boss of Real Madrid Castilla clearly paid off

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Zidane’s stint as boss of Real Madrid Castilla clearly paid off

As a result, he’s regarded not only as their manager but as their friend.

Conclusion

Real undoubtedly boast one of the finest squads ever assembled but the number of prima donnas within the roster means they’re also incredibly difficult to manage and appease.

Zidane has handled the task better than anyone could have anticipated after his graduation from the junior sides, combining a team ethos with the individual brilliance of the likes of Ronaldo and Sergio Ramos.

At least the players know who the mastermind is

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At least the players know who the mastermind is

His reward? A second Champions League trophy in just 20 European games in charge – as many as Mourinho and Pep Guardiola have managed in their glittering careers already.

All hail King Zizou.

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