They say never go back to an old love, no matter how strong the feelings are. Thankfully though, for Real Madrid, Zinedine Zidane didn’t take any notice of this philosophy.
A Champions League winner as a player during his time at the Santiago Bernabeu, the French World Cup winner returned to the Spanish capital to manage Real Madrid Castilla in 2014 and then stepped up to replace Rafa Benitez in the Madrid dugout in January 2016. Zidane proved to be as good a coach as he was a player – as he masterminded the club’s 11th triumph in Europe’s premier club competition during his first season in charge.
Zidane was unveiled as the newest member of the Galácticos when he signed for Madrid from Juventus for a world record fee of €75 million, when he signed a four-year contract in 2001. Just as he would go on to do as a manager, Zidane lifted the Champions League trophy in his first season at the club and even scored the match winning goal in the 2-1 win over Bayer Leverkusen – as he volleyed the ball in with his weaker foot, to score what has been named as one of the greatest goals in Champions League history.
More success would follow the season after – as Los Blancos claimed the 2002/03 La Liga title. Zidane starred in midfield alongside Luis Figo in that campaign and his fine form saw him rewarded by being named the FIFA World Player of the Year for the third time.
His list of personal accolades increased further still 12 months later, when football fans voted him as the best European footballer of the previous 50 years in UEFA’s 50th anniversary Golden Jubilee Poll.
Although Zidane’s final season ended without a trophy, the French legend enjoyed personal success by scoring his first hat-trick in January 2006 – as his goals inspired a 4-2 win over Sevilla. Those goals would help him to finish as second highest goalscorer behind Ronaldo and, coincidentally, he also finished second behind David Beckham on the assists list.
After announcing his decision to retire after the 2006 World Cup, Zidane scored in his final game for Madrid on May 7, 2006 – a 3-3 draw with Villarreal. His teammates wore commemorative shirts with ZIDANE 2001-2006 below the club logo, while the 80,000 fans inside the Santiago Bernabeu held up a banner reading “Thanks for the magic.”
If the supporters thought that they had see the last of the Zidane magic on that day, they were wrong.
He was appointed as then-manager Carlo Ancelotti’s assistant coach in 2013, before being named as coach of Real Madrid Castilla in June 2014. Following Benitez’s departure on January 4, 2016, Zidane signed a two-and-a-half-year deal to become the new manager of Madrid on the same day.
He took to management like a duck to water – as Madrid demolished Deportivo La Coruna 5-0 in a La Liga clash played just five days after his arrival. Zidane’s magic touch continued into his first El Clasico match as manager on April 2, with Madrid winning 2-1 at the Nou Camp to end Barca’s 39-match unbeaten run. Not only that, but the Frenchman became the first Real manager to win his first El Clasico match since Bernd Schuster in December 2007.
Barcelona edged La Liga by one point come the end of the season, but Madrid could take comfort from the fact they would face city rivals Atletico Madrid in the Champions League final on May 28. Zidane’s men won on penalties thanks to Cristiano Ronaldo scoring the winner in the shootout, to see of their neighbours in the final for the second time in three seasons.
With that victory, Zidane became only the seventh man to lift the European Cup as both a player and a manager and was only the second to do so for Real behind Miguel Munoz.
As a player, Pele described Zidane as “The master”, while Franz Beckenbauer stated: “Zidane is one of the greatest players in history, a truly magnificent player.” With plenty of others voicing similar views about his skills and importance, Zidane truly has proven himself during his time on the pitch and – given the way he started his managerial career at Madrid – it’s surely only a matter of time before he proves himself in the dugout as well.