By Demola Ojo
Against all odds, Real Madrid fought back from a mid-season meltdown to claim an historic 11th European crown. The same team that was thrashed 4-0 at home by arch nemesis Barcelona earlier this season, end it as European champions.
Real’s change in fortunes can be traced to the January appointment of club legend and one of the game’s most accomplished players as first team manager, replacing the out-of-sorts Rafa Benitez in the process.
Zinedine Zidane might not have demonstrated tactical innovations to the extent of Pep Guardiola so far in his career, but Florentino Perez’s gamble in trying to promote from within has paid off.
The three-time World Footballer of the Year has now played his part in the last three Real Madrid European Cup victories. There was that volley against Bayer Leverkusen in 2002 which proved the game winner. Two years ago, he was assistant to Carlo Ancelotti when Real claimed their 10th title and now within six months of his being a first team coach, he has again won it.
Zidane’s short road to success has been made possible by meshing the ideas of his predecessors, Ancelotti and Benitez.
Benitez was booed and ridiculed for putting Casemiro in the team at the expense of James Rodriguez and Isco as starters. Zidane’s midfield plays in a similar manner to that which Benitez intended with Casemiro giving the team much needed balance.
Zidane has only lost two matches as Madrid manager, at home to Atletico Madrid in La Liga and away to Wolfsburg in the Champions League. A late charge in La Liga saw Real cut Barcelona’s eight point lead at the top to a solitary point at the end. All within a few weeks. It all started with 10-man Real coming from behind to beat Barca 2-1 at the Nou Camp.
He has now proven he has the Midas touch as a coach to go with being one of the best players of all time. He is only the seventh person to win the European Cup/Champions League as a player and a coach, the second man (after Miguel Munoz) to win with Madrid and the first French manager to win the Champions League.