Over the past three decades Zinedine Zidane has been a key figure in some of the most historic moments of world football, first as a player and now as a coach. Not only has the Frenchman won every title available with both club and country, he has always been a crucial part of his teams' triumphs, ensuring him a place of honour in the annals of the global game.
Nevertheless, the joyful images that accompany the victories mask one that is much less glamorous, but perhaps even more significant. Only few fans are aware that Zizou's road to success was paved by hard work and dedication – and even more so now that he is on the other side of the touchline, as the current Real Madrid head coach discussed in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com.
FIFA.com: Zinedine Zidane, you have enjoyed success as Real Madrid head coach almost right from the very start. Did you expect that to happen so soon?
Zinedine Zidane: Obviously I wanted it to. At Real Madrid you're expected to do absolutely everything you can to succeed, so the demands were very high from day one. That said, I'm aware that winning the Champions League in my first year was extraordinary and it's something we're fighting to repeat now, as well as winning the league title. That's the way it is in football; it never stops. Trophies are consigned to the past very quickly and you always have to follow them up with the next one.
Did you imagine you would be as successful as a coach when you hung up your boots as a player?
No, because when I was a player I always told myself that I'd never be a coach. I did other things after retiring and although I was always involved in football and stayed close to Real Madrid, I realised that I really wanted to be out on the pitch. And that's how I started the process of becoming a coach. Now it's my favourite thing to do.
Do you ever wish you could travel back in time and be a footballer again?
[Laughs] That's just the way life is! It was a wonderful time and I loved being a player. But time marches on and it had to happen eventually - there was no avoiding it. Now I'm still living my passion and doing what I like doing, so I have no complaints.
You have won the game's most prestigious titles, both as a player and as a coach. Is the experience of success the same?
It's similar but not exactly the same, largely because the job and the circumstances are different. The emotion is the same, and I'd even say that it's more enjoyable as a coach because it's harder to achieve those triumphs. But there are a lot of strong emotions in both instances.
It is interesting to hear you say that it is harder to win as a coach. Why is that?
As a player you only look out for yourself and about what you do on the pitch, but not so much about the rest of the team. Having said that, I always gave good assists to my team-mates, so I did look out for them a little bit! [Laughs]. In contrast, as a coach you have to take care of the whole group, of 24 players. And not only that, but you also have to handle everything that goes on around a match, from start to finish. The best example of how difficult it is as a coach is that you work a lot longer each day.
What have you found hardest about being a coach?
[Pauses to think]… There isn't anything in particular. When I was appointed at Real Madrid I knew it'd be a very difficult task. I'd coached the club's reserve team [Castilla] but I was very aware that I was moving into a completely different dimension. Having said that, I felt prepared for it because I'd spent 15 years at the club, I knew what it meant to be in that changing room and to be at the club itself. Everything else was down to work and more work. I had to establish my ideas, and you can see the results of that.
It is striking that a player who stood out for his talent talks with such admiration about hard work…
I love it! That was the best piece of advice I was ever given in my career. Talent aside, you always have to be willing to work hard. You can't do anything without work.
If you were able to coach yourself as a player, what would be the best and worst things you would see in yourself?
As a player I think I was a good influence on any group. I could adapt to anything and my job was to make others play well, so nobody could complain… In fact, I loved setting up goals for my team-mates. I've no doubt my coaches liked that. What wouldn't I like? [Pauses to think] It's hard to say. I'm sure I had flaws but you'd be better off asking others about them [laughs].