Zinedine Zidane has been responsible for some of the game’s most memorable moments of the last two decades. They include an imperious volley in the 2002 UEFA Champions League final against Bayer Leverkusen in Glasgow, two headers that brought a whole nation to its feet in the Final of the 1998 FIFA World Cup France™, and a host of other roulettes, feints and thunderous drives.
The iconic midfielder now has the task of recreating that selfsame magic from the dugout at Real Madrid, the club where he cemented his legendary reputation and which has just made him its first-team coach. His eagerly awaited debut comes this Saturday at home to Deportivo La Coruna.
The question is, can Zidane live up to the mighty reputation he forged as a player? Seeking an answer, FIFA.com spoke to Diego Llorente, who last season played under the Frenchman at Castilla, Real Madrid’s reserve team. Now on loan with Rayo Vallecano, the centre-half revealed just what Zidane’s new charges can expect: “There will be intensity right from the off.”
The real deal “I had the chance to leave Castilla last year,” continued the 22-year-old defender. “But when I heard that Zidane was going to be the coach, it was just one of the reasons why I decided to stay put. To learn from a legend was an amazing opportunity and it galvanised the squad right from the start.”
As one of the privileged few to have been coached by the French idol, Llorente is well qualified to explain what Merengue fans can expect on Saturday. “We always tried to play an attacking game, press the opposing team when we didn’t have the ball and spend as much time as possible in their half. Our tactics varied according to the opposition, though. They weren’t always the same.”
Llorente, who was Castilla’s vice-captain and made 31 appearances under Zizou, sees him as a coach with a comprehensive range of skills. “He’s good on the individual side of things and on tactics," he said. "He’ll tell you as a player if you need to improve and he’ll give the team the same message too. And he always demanded intensity, regardless of how things went on the pitch. He used to tell us: ‘That’s not negotiable at a club like Madrid’.”
As the centre-back went on to explain, the new man in charge at the Bernabeu does not like to leave things to chance. “He doesn’t stick his nose into players’ private lives," he continued. "But he and his coaching staff pay close attention to everything related to performance on the pitch, like diet, physical preparation and health. He keeps a close eye on what’s happening with his players. There’s no question about that.”
Respect and admiration The fact that Zidane was a uniquely gifted player also weighs in his favour, as Llorente explained: “People say that he has no experience, but this is Zidane we’re talking about. He might not have much experience in coaching but it’s very important for a player to have a coach who has been through as much as he has and who understands us well. I think you’re going to see that now with Real Madrid.”
Expanding on that point, he added: “Sometimes after training things were a bit more relaxed, and there was one time when we asked him about the Panenka-style penalty he took in the Final at Germany 2006. Wasn’t he scared of missing? His answer was amazing. He told us that he wasn’t nervous, that there was still a lot of time left and that they could still come back. That cool head and that mindset: those are the things you learn from him.”
So how will the great Zinedine Zidane fare in the dugout? How will his tenure at Real Madrid turn out? Venturing an answer, Llorente said: “He’s got the knowledge. He knows what Real Madrid is all about and he commands respect. That’s something the players value and I’m sure they’ll be right behind him. He’ll do well.”