Legendary players like Ryan Giggs, Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard have all stepped into managerial roles in recent seasons, but it is unlikely they will ever match the feats of Zinedine Zidane at Real Madrid with the Frenchman’s Champions League accomplishments before stepping down this summer unprecedented.
In Kiev in May, Zinedine Zidane became the only coach in football history to win three consecutive Champions League titles. Led by the former Ballon d’Or winner, Real Madrid beat Atlético Madrid in the 2016 final, Juventus in 2017 and Liverpool in 2018 – three fearsome opponents from three different European leagues – to claim the most sought-after prize in club football.
In his two-and-half season reign, Zidane also claimed one La Liga title, one Supercopa de España, two UEFA Super Cup titles and two FIFA Club World Cups. To establish himself as one of best players in the world and then one the most successful managers is simply extraordinary.
The pathway for Zidane from retired player to worldclass manager is also highly unusual. After assisting Carlos Ancelotti for one season, he took over Real Madrid’s B team for two years before succeeding Rafa Benitez mid-way through the 2015/16 season. In other words, Zidane took over the top job at Real Madrid without any experience as head coach of any football team, let alone one of the biggest clubs in world football.
Yet he quickly guided the team to an 11th Champions League title in his first season – a high from which he never looked back.
The only coach to achieve anything similar is Pep Guardiola, who took over the Barcelona B team for one season before enjoying a period of tremendous success for the Spanish giant. However, in Barcelona, a certain mentality and methodology had been instilled many years earlier thanks to the great Johan Cruyff. In Madrid, Zidane was challenged by one of the most expensive dressing rooms on the planet with egos to match.
Player management was what ultimately ended Benitez’s reign and in the end it claimed Zidane too, but not before re-writing the record books.
As it turned out, having guided Real Madrid to a 3-1 win over Liverpool in Kiev to complete the hat-trick, Zidane again shocked the world with his immediate resignation. Long-term divergent opinions with chairman Florentino Pérez was stated as the major reason. After years of internal in-fighting, Zidane had the final say as he bowed out on a high and on his own terms.
Despite Real’s star-studded roster, matching Zidane’s feat will be no easy task. Ability and timing are equally crucial – finding that right moment to shine on the biggest stage. In most cases, aspiring coaches have to bide their time before their shot at glory.
At Liverpool, club legend Steven Gerrard spent last season guiding the youth academy but with Jürgen Klopp in charge of the first team, Gerrard is heading to Glasgow Rangers in Scotland for his first taste of senior coaching.
Likewise, Chelsea great Frank Lampard is off to Derby County to learn his trade.
Others have tried and failed. Gary Neville briefly assisted Roy Hodgson with the England national team before an ill-fated stint with Valencia that has poisoned his future hopes.
Ryan Giggs’ coaching dream was saved by the Welsh national team after being overlooked by Premier League minnows Swansea City. One wrong step is all it takes to be consigned to the “good players don’t automatically make good coaches” waste basket.
The most notable example of this is none other than Argentina’s Diego Maradona, who briefly took charge of the national team starting in 2008 before being sacked in 2010 for both the on-field performances of the side and off-field scuffles with media and administrators.
With help from the famous “Hand of God” goal, Maradona won the World Cup as a player in 1986, but as a manager it seems that Zinedine Zidane was blessed with a special “Kiss of God.”