By 90Min
July 02, 2019

Zinedine Zidane is number 34 in 90min's Top 50 Great Managers of All Time series. Follow the rest of the series over the course of the next seven weeks.


Zinedine Zidane's transition from player to manager was never going to be easy, especially when his last act on a football pitch was infamously headbutting Italy's Marco Materazzi in the 2006 World Cup final before France eventually lost the match on penalties. 

A four year hiatus from the professional game followed this until Jose Mourinho reintroduced 'Zizou' to football when he took him on as a special adviser at Real Madrid in 2010. Mourinho had been hired by club president Florentino Perez to arrest the dominance of fierce rivals Barcelona, whom under the management of club legend Pep Guardiola, were dominating European and Spanish football.

ROBYN BECK/GettyImages

The former Galactico's presence at the club gradually grew, as he took on roles as assistant manager to Carlo Ancelotti and manager of Real Madrid Castilla between 2013 and 2016. But at the start of 2016, Los Blancos announced the departure of first team manager Rafael Benitez, as they languished in third spot behind Barca and Atletico Madrid. 

On the same day, Perez announced Zidane would make the step up from Castilla to manage the first team - a move which critics saw as an attempt to mirror the success achieved by Guardiola, who also moved into senior management following a spell with Barcelona B. 

No pressure then, Zizou.

GERARD JULIEN/GettyImages

There is a common misconception that the greatest players never make it as managers, simply because their talent comes naturally to them. There's no way they can effectively pass that on to a squad of less gifted players. So when the 1998 Ballon d'Or winner Zinedine Zidane stepped up to manage the first team at Real Madrid, he had already been written off by many pundits. 

Critics were temporarily silenced when he won three of his first four games in charge, scoring 17 goals in the process. People really began to take notice of Zidane's coaching ability when he led Madrid to a 2-1 away win at Barcelona in his first El Clasico, which ended their rivals' 39-game unbeaten run. 


Less than two weeks later, Zidane inspired his team to turn around a 2-0 deficit in the Champions League quarter-final against Wolfsburg, courtesy of a stunning Cristiano Ronaldo hat-trick. This winning mentality would quickly become the defining characteristic of Zidane's squad in his era of management.

The only game between then and the end of the 2015/16 season Madrid didn't win was the 0-0 away to Manchester City in the first leg of their European semi-final, which they duly followed with a professional 1-0 in the second leg to set up a Madrid derby in the final. 


The final itself was probably the most excruciating game of the lot, as Atleti largely dominated a game which would eventually finish 1-1 after 120 minutes. The tie was decided by penalties. And in this moment of incredible pressure, the winning mentality Zidane had instilled in the squad paid dividends, as Ronaldo tucked home Madrid's fifth penalty to win Real Madrid their 11th European Cup. 

Laurence Griffiths/GettyImages

If a winning mentality was the hallmark of Zidane's debut season at the Bernabeu, then it is surely his man-management skills which defined the 2016/17 campaign. After a dramatic UEFA Super Cup victory in August, Los Blancos still had four fronts on which to compete in 2016/17. 


Zidane's ability to rotate his squad was unrivalled and was ultimately the decisive factor in winning Madrid three more trophies that season.


20 of his players racked up over 1,000 league minutes, and all but one outfield player scored in the 38-game season. Zidane's style of management was reminiscent of Sir Alex Ferguson and the speed at which his trophy cabinet was filling up was evidence of that - as Zidane oversaw Real Madrid's first La Liga triumph in five years.


"Every piece of advice he gives you is like gold dust and it helps you improve on the pitch."

Luka Modric on Zidane's influence in 2016, via Marca


His management of the squad also proved vital in their Champions League campaign. Yet another victory over city rivals Atleti in the semi final gave Zidane the chance to make Madrid the first club to retain the Champions League title. 

A dominant second-half display in Cardiff against Juventus was enough to see Madrid cruise to a 4-1 win and put their name in the history books. 

At the end of his first full season in charge, the former Ballon d'Or winner had five trophies under his belt - a tally most managers would be lucky to reach in their entire careers. Fittingly, 2017 saw Zizou crowned as Best FIFA Football Coach after finishing second to Claudio Ranieri in the previous season.


Career Honours
La Liga (2016/17)
Spanish Super Cup (2016/17 & 2017/18)
UEFA Champions League (2015/16, 2016/17 & 2017/18)
UEFA Super Cup (2016/17 & 2017/18)
FIFA Club World Cup (2016/17 & 2017/18)
Best FIFA Football Coach (2017)

There were suggestions of 'third-season-syndrome' for Zidane in 2017/18, as Madrid laboured to a third place finish in the league. Nevertheless it did not stop them from winning four trophies that season. 

Victories over Manchester United and Barcelona in the UEFA and Spanish Super Cups gave them the perfect start to the campaign. And they picked up their third trophy in December when they beat Gremio in the final of the World Club Cup, but the real drama once again came from their European exploits.

Madrid gave away a first-leg 3-0 lead to Juventus and their season looked to be on the brink of collapse. That was until they were awarded a penalty in the dying seconds, which Ronaldo duly rifled home to send them into the final four of the competition for the eighth consecutive season. 

A narrow aggregate victory over Bayern Munich was enough to set up a final with an in-form, free-scoring Liverpool side in Kiev. 

With the scores level at 1-1, Zidane changed the game by bringing on Gareth Bale who went on to score the two decisive goals - the first of which may have been the greatest goal ever scored in a European final.

[youtube:https://youtu.be/4ivFBzSe1pI]

This victory gave Madrid an unprecedented third consecutive Champions League title. A feat that won't be matched for a very long time, if ever again. 

At the peak of his managerial powers, and just five days later, Zidane handed in his resignation, stating the club's need for a change. 

However, his departure from Madrid wasn't a long one. 

The summer of 2018 proved a pivotal one in Zidane's eventual return to the Bernabeu. The Frenchman had been heavily linked with the France national job, but after their triumph in the World Cup, Didier Deschamps' position as manager became untouchable. 

Just one day prior to the tournament Madrid announced Spain head coach Julien Lopetegui would be Zidane's replacement following the national team's World Cup campaign. However, this news incensed the Spanish FA to such a degree that they sacked Lopetegui immediately and as such the Spaniard's tenure at Madrid started in chaos.

OSCAR DEL POZO/GettyImages

It was this drama, along with the sale of - and failure to replace - Cristiano Ronaldo which proved fatal to Lopetegui's Madrid tenure. Just 14 games in, following a 5-1 El Clasico defeat, he was relieved of his duties and replaced by Castilla manager Santiago Solari. 

Unfortunately for Madrid, he did not achieve the same level of success as the last coach to be promoted from the same position. A continuation of Los Blancos' poor form saw Santiago Solari sacked after less than five months in charge.

On the same day, Zidane returned to his position as head coach in a three-and-a-half year deal. Madrid had already been eliminated from the Champions League by the time of his appointment, meaning he was unable to perform any more heroics in that competition. With the league title well out of reach, he was only able to win five of the remaining 11 games in the season.

Despite his three Champions League triumphs during his last tenure at Real Madrid, Zidane's current spell at the club will be a make or break one. 


Big spending from Zidane in the 2019 off-season has seen Madrid capture the likes of Eden Hazard, Luka Jovic and Eder Militao, exemplifying the Frenchman's intent to get Los Blancos back to their usual winning ways.

GABRIEL BOUYS/GettyImages

With the financial backing given to him so far and his previous track record at the Bernabeu, it won't be long before Zizou transforms Real Madrid into a dominant force in European football once again.


Number 50: Marcelo Bielsa - El Loco's Journey From Argentina to Footballing Immortality in Europe


Number 49: Vic Buckingham - How an Englishman Discovered Johan Cruyff & Pioneered Total Football


Number 48: Claudio Ranieri: A Ridiculed Tinkerman Who Masterminded One of Football's Greatest Ever Achievements


Number 47: Bill Nicholson: Mr Tottenham Hotspur, the First Double Winning Manager of the 20th Century


Number 46: Sven-Goran Eriksson: The Scudetto Winning Shagger Who Never Solved the Lampard-Gerrard Conundrum


Number 45: Sir Alf Ramsey: The Man Behind the 'Wingless Wonders' & England's Sole World Cup Triumph


Number 44: Antonio Conte: An Astute Tactician Whose Perfectionist Philosophy Reinvented the 3-5-2 Wheel


Number 43: Kenny Dalglish: The Beacon of Light in Liverpool's Darkest Hour


Number 42: Massimiliano Allegri: The Masterful Tactician Who Won Serie A Five Times in a Row


Number 41: Sir Bobby Robson: A Footballing Colossus Whose Fighting Spirit Ensured an Immortal Legacy


Number 40: Luis Aragones: Spain's Most Important Manager, the Atleti Rock and the Modern Father of Tiki-Taka


Number 39: Herbert Chapman: One of Football's Great Innovators & Mastermind Behind the 'W-M' Formation


Number 38: Carlos Alberto Parreira: The International Specialist Who Never Shied Away From a Challenge


Number 37: Franz Beckenbauer: The German Giant Whose Playing Career Overshadowed His Managerial Genius


Number 36: Viktor Maslov: Soviet Pioneer of the 4-4-2 & the Innovator of Pressing


Number 35: Rafa Benitez: The Conquerer of La Liga Who Masterminded That Comeback in Istanbul

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