[dropcap]F[/dropcap]ew Real Madrid fans will have cast a tear when Rafa Benítez’s ill-fated spell as head coach of the Spanish giants came to an end this week.
The capital city side have been far from their best this season, with star names misfiring and disappointing collective performances from a team filled to the brim with talent.
Although challenging Barcelona in their current guise is an unenviable task, the 4-0 home defeat suffered by Madrid at the hands of their eternal rivals earlier this season marked the end of any small amount of affinity between the fans and Benítez.
The Estadio Santiago Bernabéu outfit wasted little time in naming the ousted coach’s replacement, with a familiar and much-loved face taking charge.
There has been a feeling over recent years that Zinedine Zidane was destined to become Madrid coach, but it may well have happened quicker than most expected.
A darling amongst the club’s supporters given his exploits on the pitch over five memorable years, the Frenchman retired at Real Madrid – a feat few have the honour of achieving.
Zidane won a La Liga crown during his time as a Los Blancos player in a team of Galácticos, with his defining moment scoring ‘that’ wonder-goal in the Champions League final against Bayer Leverkusen in Glasgow in 2002.
The 43-year-old has been in the Madrid back-room staff since 2010, initially coming aboard as a special adviser to the first team on the request of José Mourinho.
From there Zidane started to assume more responsibility and increased standing at the Bernabéu, becoming sporting director before acting as Carlo Ancelotti’s assistant.
The acquisition of coaching badges for someone who never needed tutelage as a player such was his gift held an air of irony, while control of the Real Madrid Castilla followed.
He has been selected ahead of more experienced and distinguished coaches to be Benítez’s replacement and the majority of the club’s fans will surely back the decision.
Just why Zidane has been appointed remains to be seen, with president Florentino Pérez clearly losing support after the abandonment of Iker Casillas and other perceived incorrect decisions.
The appointment of a former favourite player may well be a ploy to regain some favour himself, but regardless of the reasoning the Frenchman is in the position and has a mammoth job to undertake.
Despite the dislike towards Benítez, the fact that he was dismissed after a mere seven months shows the unforgiving nature of managing the ten-time European champions.
Although Zidane is clearly inexperienced and needs time to learn from his mistakes, a period of grace is not usually afforded in the Spanish capital.
The Frenchman undoubtedly has the players’ respect following his stint as Ancelotti’s assistant, but turning that admiration into consistent results on the pitch is far from straightforward.
It will be very interesting to see just what will happen come the end of the season if the club’s burgeoning trophy cabinet does not have any new additions in it.
With Madrid there is always one eye on Barcelona and in this instance a similar coaching decision taken by the Blaugrana in the not-so-distant past.
With the Camp Nou club needing restoration and new ideas in 2009, the Catalan powerhouses opted to give Pep Guardiola the head coach’s role despite a lack of practical experience.
A former favourite player, inspirational character and football purist, the now Bayern Munich manager’s success constituted 14 trophies over four years in one of the most silverware-laden periods of Barcelona’s illustrious history.
Zidane has similar attributes to those afore-mentioned and takes on the Clásico challenge with a similar level of inexperience.
As much as the Bernabéu faithful would love the mercurial retired France international to replicate the success experienced at Barcelona under Guardiola, a quarter of the achievements in a similar period would be a major return.
The cynic would say just staying in the job for four years would be an achievement in itself.
There is a feeling that giving this iconic former football player a poisoned chalice such as the Madrid job is somewhat unfair, while there is even an air of desperation about Zidane’s appointment.
However, being a world-class player does not easily carry over to being a world-class manager. The new coach will be judged on his merits and the team’s performance over the next six months, with little room for error for a man stepping onto the biggest stage.
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