Last Monday, when I saw Zinedine Zidane get introduced by Don Florentino in the Press Room of Estadio Santiago Bernabéu, I thought it was a dream. “Is this really happening?” I thought to myself. I pinched my cheek hard to see if I would wake up. Yes, it was real. After nine months and eight days, the legend was back to reclaim the program he started.
My euphoria during the live event was immediately met with confusion. One recurring question circled in my head, the same one that was asked of him by Martin Ainstein of ESPN: “Why put your impeccable coaching legacy on the line”?
“What have you done wrong?” Zidane replied, “Me? Many things. Last year, for example, we won the Champions (League) — very good. However the Copa (del Rey) had been difficult and La Liga, immediately we began it poorly.” Despite winning nine titles (including three straight Champions Leagues) in his first term, he still feels there is unfinished business. The one accomplishment that the Club has yet to achieve is a perfect season - the Treble!
Only seven Clubs in Europe have ever won their domestic league, domestic cup, and European cup in the same season (Ajax, PSV Eindhoven, Bayern Munich, Inter Milan, Manchester United, Celtic and Barcelona). This extraordinary feat has eluded Real Madrid on many occasions, especially during Zidane’s first full season. In 2017, Real won the Champions League and La Liga together for the first time since 1958; but a surprise Copa del Rey Round of 16 elimination by Celta Vigo prevented the treble dream.
After receiving a considerable salary bump from his previous contract (12 million euros, plus incentives per season according to El Confidencial), and more autonomy to re-build the program, Zidane has the following items to consider: no Cristiano Ronaldo, eight players who will turn 30 years or older next season, growth of other European rivals, and a relentlessly obsessive media.
With 10 Liga games left, the team needs to solidify its spot in the next Champions League, as both Getafe and Alavés are chasing close behind. Zidane will most likely go with his ‘usual suspects’ to win, but also evaluate the full roster to see who should remain for the next project. If I was Zidane’s assistant and had the opportunity to pitch a team structure in Valdebebas, I would say, “Mister, we should choose a dedicated group to win La Liga and a separate one to win Copa and Champions League.”
There are two reasons behind this recommendation. First, La Liga is a competition spread among 38 rounds on a weekly basis with standings based on points. This is important because the majority of teams in Spain do not have the talent depth as Real Madrid and aim to grab one point against us. Consistency in health and high level of play are crucial to winning La Liga. Second, Copa del Rey and Champions League share the same knockout format with rivals chosen by draws. With the decade-long success we witnessed in Europe (four titles with eight straight semifinal appearances), the same cannot be said about Copa where we only won two titles in that same period. One plausible explanation is the Club puts Copa as its lowest priority and uses it to showcase home-grown players from La Fábrica. To win the Treble, Zidane needs to prioritize the Copa the same as the Champions League and La Liga.
Aside from his commanding presence and tactical prowess, Zidane is capable of becoming better. He always assumed responsibility for prior errors and looks eager to apply what he learned to future situations. It will be very interesting to see which iconic veterans he decides to retain and move this summer. Nevertheless, his return has been a Godsend to Madridismo after a fateful season to forget. Tashko Gudzov from Peña Madridista Macedonia texted me during Zidane’s press conference saying, “This feels like winning the Champions League.” Yes it did brother. Imagine if Zidane leads the team to win the Treble in the 2022 season as the Club celebrates 120 years of history. Wouldn’t that be stratospheric? “FeliZidane” is back. ¡Hala Madrid y nada más!
- Christian Paredes (@Xian_D_Paredes) is a Founding Member and former Chairman (2012-2016) of La Peña Madridista Sur de California (@RmSurCalifornia)