After conquering Europe for the second time in three years, it's easy to overlook just how poor Real Madrid were under ex-manager Rafa Benitez. Hiding behind statistics and numbers, on the surface, his Madrid side weren't faring too bad. However, as those who followed the team noted, the digits he was referring to did not provide the true narrative.
Benitez struggled with his man-management skills as many predicted, unable to build almighty bonds with players that elite coaches are able to cultivate. Rumors claimed that Madrid players poked fun at the Spanish tactician with his style, referring to him as the "No.10." Club talisman Cristiano Ronaldo also laughed in a segment during a recent interview when the topic of Rafa Benitez and his methods come up. After the dismissal of the former Liverpool coach, players in droves came out to voice that a managerial change was needed. Though Benitez had a decent CV for a coach of Madrid's caliber, what Zidane provided for the player is something unquantifiable.
What Zizou unquiely brought to the table was his ability to relate to the players, which still lives within the team spirit. The football under Benitez appeared lack-luster, pragmatic, even forced. There are over-exaggerations about Rafa's 'invisible' mid-field, but what is quite clear is the lack of commitment and work-ethic from the team's senior players. The opposite is true the moment we see Zidane take over.
The "No.10" joke stems from the fact that Benitez never made a serious impression as a player, thus advice for Ronaldo on free-kicks or positioning should be taken with a grain of salt given Ronaldo is one of the best, if not the best finisher the game has ever seen. Jose Mourinho fell into a similar situation with captain Sergio Ramos when debating on how to defend a corner-kick which proved to be costly.
Even if we look back at Carlo Ancelotti's time with the club, it is evident the players immensely respect someone who has made an impact both from a playing and coaching aspect. This is the advantage that Zizou had going into this position, and still has going forward with his newly acquired team; his ability to thoroughly understand what is to be expected as a Madrid player and how to deal with what that brings on a day-to-day basis.
I wrote an article back in February commenting on Zidane's influence on the sidelines. Regardless of the Frenchman's lack of managerial experience or tactical deficiencies, winning the UEFA Champions League in your first (half) season as well as pushing Barcelona to the final match day is something that should be applauded by pundits and journalists. Many are quick to point that Barcelona imploded and that Real Madrid had an easy run to their European final, but wasn't Zidane the one who kept them motivated, focused, and full of belief?
Zizou's reign at the Sanitago Bernabeu thus far has been outstanding and has exceeded expectations. With reports from Spain suggesting that he will have full autonomy with transfers, one cannot help but feel a wave/era of white on the rise. Because of Zidane's special past which brings playing experience and success, in many ways he was always the perfect man to manage a group of Real Madrid's stars.