One of the students was late for the Sports Management class at Limoges' Centre for Law and Economics last November. The course is broken down into 14 three-days sessions focusing on four modules -- human resources, legal, financial and management -- spread over ten months. A crowd had gathered on the way, and was asking this particular student to sign autographs. He signed for everyone, and made his apologies when he got to class. He has since graduated, and is already making his presence felt in his new job.
That student was Zinedine Zidane.
On June 26, Zidane sat next to Real Madrid's new coach Carlo Ancelotti, ready to start the latest chapter of his life. He is one of two assistant coaches to the Italian, the other being Paul Clement, who also worked with Ancelotti at Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain. "He was a fantastic player and now he's decided to become a coach; the only problem for me is that he can't still play," said Ancelotti.
This is Zidane's third job at the club since he spent five years there as a player from 2001 to 2006. At first, he was 'advisor to the president' Florentino Perez, and in 2011, he was appointed 'first team director' working with Jose Mourinho. The coach wanted Zidane to back him up in his belligerent strategy to derail Barcelona with media grenades and attacks on referees, but Zidane did not approve. Once he realized that Mourinho was not taking any notice of his comments about the team, he stepped back and spent time working with the youth teams: this is where the seeds of his plan to become a coach were planted.
The roles of Clement and Zidane are clearly defined, as the Frenchman told France Football last week: "Paul will focus on the physical and tactical side of things and I will be more responsible for the technical and human aspect," he said. Essentially, Zidane is wearing two hats: one as a sporting director, the other as an assistant who has the ear of Ancelotti.
His work with the first hat is already paying off: boosted by the success of his recommendation of Raphael Varane, who had a break-out season last year and (only) cost €10 millon ($13.3m) from Lens, Zidane is a crucial part of the team's recruitment strategy. He has already persuaded Perez to keep 20-year-old striker Jesé at the club -- he signed a four-year contract last week -- and, with one phone call, convinced Spanish winger Isco to reject Manchester City and instead move to the Bernabeu.
Zidane's work is now focused on two other players this summer. His next mission is to persuade Cristiano Ronaldo to extend his contract in Madrid. Currently it expires in 2015 and the club would hope he signs a new deal in the next six months. "He is the best player in the world and the cornerstone of our project," Perez told L'Equipe last week. "I can say now that he will end his career at Real Madrid."
Then it will be to try and convince Gareth Bale to join the club this summer, and not in 12 months, as the Welshman was initially thought to prefer. Before the Champions League final last May, Zidane started the typical Madrid tactic of publicly flattering a player it wants: "Aside from Ronaldo and Messi, he is the footballer who impresses me most. He doesn't just raise his level for one or two matches, he is consistently good, consistently scoring important goals. He is more than good enough [for Real Madrid]."
Spanish paper Marca cranked up the pressure, claiming that an agreement had been reached with Bale's representatives on a five-year deal worth €80 million ($106m) to Tottenham and €50 million (66.4m) to Bale himself. Again, it is a tried-and-tested tactic of the club to destabilize its target. The paper even quoted Bale himself, alleging he had accused chairman Daniel Levy of breaking his promise to him that he would listen to good offers if the club missed out on the Champions League.
Perhaps the best tactic Madrid has up its sleeve is Zidane himself: the Frenchman is the iconic player for this generation of European stars, who ten years ago were aged between 10 and 15, and dreaming of volleying the winning goal in a Champions League final, as Zidane did in 2002. Varane dared not turn down Zidane, nor did Isco.
Latest reports coming out of Spain and England suggest that Bale does not want to reject Zidane either. He is now reported to be at loggerheads with Tottenham, and feels that Levy should not reject an offer if it is a fair amount. That's where the confusion comes, though: the figure of €95 million ($126.2m) has been mentioned, but that's a deal which includes Angel di Maria and Fabio Coentrao going in the other direction. Does Spurs want these players? Is their valuation, around €45 million ($59.8m), a fair one? Would their salaries fit in with Levy's wage structure at Spurs?
David Pleat, former Spurs manager and still well-connected at the club, told BCC 5Live on Monday night: "There has been no official offer from Real Madrid for Bale and if there was, it is the job of Levy as CEO to protect his club, and that's all he's doing."
Zidane, now in his fourth different role as a Real Madrid employee, is also trying to do the best for his club. If Bale does move to Madrid, his role in this saga could be his most significant individual act for Real Madrid since that volley won the 2002 Champions League at Hampden Park. Madrid has one month left to seal the deal.