Although it would be an exaggeration to say the knives are out already for Zinedine Zidane there doesn't seem to be much doubt that they're being sharpened up. In the Spanish press, Real Madrid's away form, Zidane's points record compared with that of Rafa Benitez, and just about every other negative aspect of the past month has been scrutinised and laid bare. With the league title seemingly beyond reach at the moment, the media have had a field day with all their theories about why Madrid aren't doing so well right now. The "Zidane effect" is wearing off; some claim.
I'm not sure whether that's meant as a criticism of Real Madrid as a whole or of Zinedine Zidane himself. Any new manager / head coach coming into a football club is always going to be accompanied by a wave of optimism and there will always be those players who didn't see eye to with the old regime and will happily side with the new face. Spirits rise and everyone buys into the ideals of the new manager and for a short period at least, everything seems to be going well. Over time, though, the new coach finds that he has to face up to the same problems that beset his predecessor; and that's normally the time when the effectiveness of a new person in charge is defined.
What exactly is the "Zidane effect" though? What makes him different from your average head coach and what does he have to offer that sets him apart from the rest? First of all, though, there is the aura that Zidane creates. People are in awe of him as a result of his achievements and stature in the game, which makes gaining respect easier; at least from players, staff and other club officials. Some people have a ‘presence' and you can tell that others around Zidane are aware that he's in charge.
Outside of the club it can be a bit different and the media don't tend to dwell on past achievements. A bad run of results or if the team isn't performing well frequently undoes everything that's gone on in the past and they don't often hold back with the criticism. As Zidane has limited experience as a first team head coach at La Liga level that's going to be the first thing that's likely to be thrown up; with the differences between being a successful player and a successful coach held up for public comparison.
How Zidane deals with difficult matters involving players is also going to be part of the Zidane effect.
There are some situations at Real Madrid that previous coaches have had to address and now it appears that Zidane is having to deal with the exactly the same issues. So far it looks as though he's managing to address these without taking too confrontational an approach (we think) but it remains to be seen whether he's going to shy away from adopting such an approach if he feels that particular approach is warranted. Looking on, there could be a couple of situations bubbling underneath that he may find aren't necessarily going to respond purely to negotiation; and perhaps some of the Zidane effect is ensuring that the players are aware of this. Another aspect of the Zidane effect may well be that no one is left in any doubt that he is prepared to quickly move past the negotiating stage if that's what is required.
He's already making some visible progress in this respect. Not only has it been reported that Zidane is in agreement with the club's plans to spend some of the next pre-season period in the USA, but that he's also made his stance obvious on who is making the decisions when it comes down to decisions involving matters on the pitch. There doesn't appear to be any queries about the latter; and you can tell that he's got the majority of the team on his side from the players' reaction when Madrid score.
The Zidane effect is going to be tested once things start to go wrong, and will likely become more obvious once unpleasant and clinical decisions have to be made that affect the performance of the team.
Critics will argue that so far, such decisions have only been made at Segunda B level; and that there is a world of difference between dealing with Castilla on a daily basis and dealing with Real Madrid first team. Hey, this is Zinedine Zidane we're talking about. He was already dealing with the first team long before Castilla; and he seems to have a clear vision of what he wants for the future.
To say that it's all about results at first team level would be an insult to a man who has played hundreds of games for club and country and has rapidly made the transition from Castilla coach to that of "Primero". As a former Real player, he's fully aware of the expectations of him and that won't have changed any just because the honeymoon period appears to be drawing to a close. How well he handles those expectations in the longer term will determine the true Zidane effect; not just Madrid's results over the next few weeks.