Quietly effective Zidane′s Real the best of Champions League era | Champions League | DW | 04.06.2017
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Opinion

Quietly effective Zidane's Real the best of Champions League era

They may not have a 'philosophy' that makes them fashionable but Real Madrid's success means they are the best team of the Champions League era. Their quietly effective coach deserves more credit, says DW's Matt Pearson.

When Real Madrid's French boss was a player, the Spanish side were a team of "Zidanes and Pavons", as president Florentino Perez memorably labeled them - big money signings with a supporting cast of homegrown players who were loyal and - crucially, given the cost of the big names - cheap.

Real aren't known as the Galacticos any more. In fact there's no easy way to identify this group, not the tiki taka of Pep Guardiola's Barcelona sides, the freewheeling, youthful verve of Ajax in 1995 under Louis van Gaal or the catenaccio of Arrigo Sacchi's Milan sides of the late 80s and early 90s.

Zidane's team are measured not by playing style, nor by the amount of people waxing lyrical about how the game should be played but by trophies. Zidane has managed 20 games in the Champions League and picked up the big cup twice. This season he won Real's first La Liga and Champions League double for 59 years. The club have been the best in Europe for three of the last four years (though he was assistant for the first of those triumphs).

Kommentarbild Matt Pearson

DW's Matt Pearson

Their lack of a clear tactical style should not be taken to mean this is side that fails to meet the highest aesthetic values. Luka Modric and Toni Kroos are both exceptional conductors who would walk in to any side, Marcelo has become the best fullback in the game and Ronaldo's eye for a moment is undimmed by age. If anything, the tactical flexibility instilled by Zidane is a potent weapon, especially when so many of the world's top coaches have such a singular view of how their teams should play.

Of course, Zidane has the resources to buy the best but so did his three immediate predecessors, Rafael Benitez, Carlo Ancelotti and Jose Mourinho. Each was - and arguably still is - a much more feted boss. None of them had the success of the Frenchman at the world's biggest club.

UEFA Champions League Final - Juventus v Real Madrid - 1:2 - Tor (Reuters/C. Recine)

Casemiro, who scored Real's second, has been a key man for Zidane

"Now he (Zidane) is the best coach in the world," Perez told Spanish radio station Cadena Ser after Saturday's win. "He has been our coach for 17 months but he has done everything possible."

 Zidane's style has never been flashy and he undoubtedly inherited a strong squad but his subtle tweaks have made Madrid into the powerhouse the world saw on Saturday.

Casemiro, the scorer of the second goal, is a case in point. The Brazilian is not flamboyant, not especially skillful and, in short, not that Brazilian. For those reasons, Perez and a noteworthy section of Real's fans were dubious of his merit to the team earlier this season. But Zidane didn't waver, he knew his attacking talents needed a solid base, as a player Zidane had Makelele, as a coach, he has Casemiro.

Europapokal Finale Real Madrid Bayer 04 Leverkusen 2002 Zidane (picture-alliance/dpa)

Zidane scored a spectacular goal for Real in the final as a player

It's often the case that players with the ability and aura of Zidane don't make great managers, the theory running that they get frustrated with players who can't do things they once considered routine. Perhaps Zidane wouldn't have succeeded with lesser players. Perhaps his quiet style, where players aren't overloaded with instructions, would only work with the very best.

Or perhaps he should be given credit for recognizing the cards he's been dealt and playing them in the best way possible. History will remember trophies, not tactics. Zidane's Real are serial winners who have already achieved something no other side of the modern era has. And it's impossible to believe there's not more to come.

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