During Rafa Benitez's time at the club, much was made about his lack of rapport and understanding with his players. Historically, this was not anything new. Players from previous clubs have come forward on several occasions pointing out Rafa's lack of interpersonal skills. Though talented from a tactical standpoint, arguably, a manager's ability to successfully create relationships is the most important trait. This is why allowed Carlo Ancelotti's team were able to obtain success as players were just enamored and content with the Italian.
Shunning Cristiano Ronaldo, demoting James Rodriguez, overlooking Isco, promoting Gareth Bale, frustrating Karim Benzema, showcasing Lucas Vasquez, Mateo Kovacic, and Casemiro; there were hits and misses under Rafa. Zidane, however, has come in to write-off those wrongs and stabilize the club.
One clear difference between Rafa and Zizou was their stance on the world's best. Rafa was always reluctant to label Cristiano Ronaldo the best player in the world. Marca and other publications ran wild with this, and surely enough Ronaldo must have heard. Zidane on the other hand has openly said that CR7 is the best in the biz. If you want to keep your stars players happy, it is probably wise you keep your head honcho on your side.
Though Bale was reportedly 'disappointed' following the news that Benitez was sacked, Zizou has also done very well to keep the Welshman in lethal form. Bale likely thought his role would diminish once Zizou took over, but Zidane has made it clear that he wants the BBC to work together. Unity is an idea Zidane is preaching and his team are responding. There are no more accusations of Bale hogging or being selfish, as there was last season.
In addition, Benzema is in the form of his life. Statistically leading on the charts for the strikers in Europe, Zizou is showing that rapport-building goes a long way. Since Benzema and Zizou have crossed paths, the head coach has been critical in developing Benzema's talent. It is even reported that Benzema took Zizou's advice and attended a high-performance training clinic in order to improve on his fitness.
Modric has also been in fine form. Admitting that the managerial change has been 'positive,' it is evident that the Frenchman is striking all the right correct chords with his team. "Every piece of advice he gives you is like gold dust, and it helps you improve on the pitch" the Croatian said. After Madrid's dismantling of Espanyol, the press asked about how Zizou relays information to players like Luka. "I don't want to weigh him down with a load of instructions. He knows what he has to do. I only ask him for a bit of work in defense." Zizou comes across as a person who lets his team embrace their flair and creativity.
Navas too has respectfully admitted that the team is much better under the watchful eye of the Frenchman. According to ESPN FC, training sessions are more relaxed and fun. Rafa would go on about training and tactical methodologies. Undoubtedly, the Spaniard knew the science. But the Costa Rican suggests he may not have had the psychology down. He has said, "Now we are doing things better. Now we feel that we all win together, or all lose together." He has hailed the impact Zidane has had in the dressing room, being friendly and personable, but also stern. He also added, "Zidane is a respectful person, he knows what he wants and we are there to obey and to the best we can. He has his sense of humor, but when he needs to be serious, he is serious."
Ramos also has similar thoughts on the French and club legend. "Under Zizou everyone is much happier... When he gives you advice, he does it differently to any other coach. " As a viewer, Madrid look like they are enjoying their football. Though they have defensive lapses, Madrid have successfully out-scored opponents and have a formidable keeper in Navas if the back line is compromised. The pragmatic approach associated with Benitez's side is long gone.
Despite much of the season having a Isco versus James feel in the background, Zidane has so far been able to get the best out of both of them. Isco appears rejuvenated and confident as he was largely overlooked, and James look as hungry and motivated as ever as he wants to prove his worth to the manager and fans. It will be interesting to see how this develops. James said, "Yes I am much better. The coaching change has been good for everyone. Not just for me. He talks a lot with everybody and I think it's good for our play...[Zidane] gives you more encouragement to play well and know what you are worth."
Mostly everyone in the squad is happy with the change. Raphael Varane has added, "he is close to the players, likes to talk to us..." Regardless of a manager's credentials, specialities, know-how, respect and rapport is a must. To sum, "a coach must be close to his players--that is the most important, a good relationship with them all." Well said Zizou.