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Real Madrid: Does Zinedine Zidane get the credit his Champions League wins deserve?

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Zinedine ZidaneZidane is the only manager in history to win three successive European Cup/Champions League titles

"You don't win three Champions Leagues, two La Liga titles and 13 out of 14 European knockout ties if you are not a good manager, this is crazy."

When French football journalist Julien Laurens frames Zinedine Zidane's managerial CV like that on the Euro Leagues podcast, it is hard to disagree.

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People do, though. And plenty of them.

Despite seven major trophies in four-and-a-half years as Real Madrid boss, the Frenchman continues to be seen by some as more of a club suit than a skilled tactician, a manager whose chief attribute is not knowledge or nous but luck.

Before this week's Champions League semi-final second leg between Zidane's Real and Chelsea – with the tie locked at 1-1 – BBC Sport examines why he is yet to win universal respect despite his achievements.

Zidane as Real Madrid boss
From To Games Win % Trophies
4 January 2016 31 May 2018 149 70.47 La Liga, Champions League (3), Club World Cup (2)
11 March 2019 Present 109 60.19 La Liga

Listen to the Football Daily podcastFlorentino Perez: Inside the mind of European Super League architectChelsea draw with Real Madrid in first leg of semi-final

'A back slapper, suit and cheerleader? Absolute rubbish'

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Zidane is one of only three managers with three European Cup/Champions League titles on their CV, but the other two – Bob Paisley nor Carlo Ancelotti – did not win three in a row.

In his first full season in charge at Real, he delivered a La Liga-Champions League double (the club's first since 1958), along with victory in the Club World Cup and over the course of his initial spell won 70% of his games in charge.

His second spell as manager saw him claim La Liga last year and Zidane could feasibly still end this campaign with another league and European double.

Going into Wednesday's game with Chelsea, his only defeat in 14 Champions League knockout ties is the 4-2 aggregate defeat by Manchester City in last season's round of 16.

His detractors, though, seek to undermine such accomplishments, pointing to the strength of the squad he was handed as a relative managerial rookie – especially a peak-era Cristiano Ronaldo, whose immense scoring feats dug Real out of more than one hole.

And then there are the on-field examples of fortune that have favoured the Frenchman and his side: the favourable draw and subsequent penalty shoot-out win against Atletico Madrid in the 2016 final; the 2017 quarter-final with Bayern Munich in which the German side had a man sent off in each leg, missed a penalty in the first and were denied a clear spot-kick in the second; the Mohamed Salah injury and Loris Karius howlers in the 2018 final.

To Zidane's credit, he does not dismiss the impact of luck on his Real career.

"I accept I may be lucky," he told reporters in January 2020. "I've been fortunate in life. I have to be grateful and work for this. If you think I'm lucky then that's fine. It isn't a problem."

Zidane cannot control luck, but he can control the way his side plays on the pitch.

As discussed on the Euro League's podcast, he is more tactically astute than he is often given credit for.

"There are a bunch of things Zidane does that affect the game," says Spanish football writer Guillem Balague. "Little details like against Liverpool [in the Champions League quarter-final second leg] and an admission of inferiority by the way they played.

"They (Liverpool) are on their last legs, not much left in the tank so let's be compact and counter attack, use the pace of Valverde.

"Klopp talked up how substitutions changed the shape and pace of the game. Zidane made the right decisions."

Laurens continues the theme, suggesting that when Zidane makes clever moves he is not lauded in the same way as other managers are.

"What is it he has been called? A back slapper, and a suit and a cheerleader? This is absolute rubbish," he adds.

"He might not be a Johan Cruyff or an Arrigo Sacchi or a Pep Guardiola in terms of revolutionising football, but when Joao Cancelo plays good from full-back to inside midfielder, people say this is genius from Guardiola.

"When Mendy does quite a similar job for Real Madrid, no-one says that Zidane was good."

"This is the most valuable season in Zidane's career as manager," added Balague. "The absence of Sergio Ramos and Dani Carvajal through injury, the loss of Ronaldo (to Juventus the previous summer) – means he has had to maximise the potential he has."

'When Zidane talks, players listen'

Ancelotti, under whom Zidane worked as a coach at Real in 2013-14, once hinted at where the Frenchman's true managerial talent lay.

"He (Zidane) has all the qualities necessary to be a fantastic manager: charisma, personality and experience. When Zidane talks, players listen," said the Italian.

It also explains why Zidane is such a perfect fit for Real, a club that have historically bought players at the peak of their powers as opposed to developing talent from within.

"Real Madrid will keep signing the best players around," says Balague. "They need a manager like Zidane that gives you a little bit but also lets them express themselves."

Perhaps the clearest indicator of Zidane and Real's suitability for each other is how the side performed when they were separated for the first half of the 2018-19 season.

Under Julen Lopetegui and his interim successor Santiago Solari, they finished third in La Liga, 19 points behind winners Barcelona and were embarrassed in the Champions League last 16 by Ajax.

"I don't know why people have this perception that anyone could manage Real Madrid," says Laurens. "No, not anyone could manage Real Madrid and we saw that when Zidane left last time."

How the pair proceed together from here is largely down to the kind of club Real wish to be: the Galacticos-signing behemoth of old or a future-looking factory for the production and polishing of young talent.

"You can't say Zidane is absolutely perfect because improving players is where he is not at his best," adds Balague. "It is not about improvement with Zidane and that was the complaint of the club – can he make young players better? He gives them the time and confidence – but the detail? He doesn't give that."

Right now, though, it is the perfect marriage.

"When you look at the results in the big games this season, no-one has done better than him," says Laurens. "They can win La Liga and the Champions League again – and he has already done this. Show some respect."

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Comment posted by Shafeeq , today at 06:37Shafeeq

06:37Most managers have an element of luck.
La liga is not a difficult league so maybe the judgement is still out on that one.
But to win CL 3 times in a row. There has to be an element of understanding how to win and getting that understanding through to his team to win. Not every manager has that capacity or capability2416

Reply posted by 6X, today at 08:336X

08:33to Shafeeq "Most managers have an element of luck.La liga is not a difficult league so maybe the judgement is still out on that one. But to win CL 3 times in a row. There has to be an element of understanding how to win and getting that understanding through to his team to win. Not every manager has that capacity or capability"6X replied: We’re just double checking this comment.More replies (2)downM

Comment posted by marcus j, today at 07:22marcus j

07:22You cannot praise guadiola on the one hand yet say zidane is lucky!. Pep has only ever won the cup with that worlds greatest barca team, so if you will praise him for his work then you have to say zidane is great not lucky.264A

Reply posted by aprilprincess, today at 08:01aprilprincess

08:01to marcus j"You cannot praise guadiola on the one hand yet say zidane is lucky!. Pep has only ever won the cup with that worlds greatest barca team, so if you will praise him for his work then you have to say zidane is great not lucky."aprilprincess replied: Exactly21More replies (2)downJ

Comment posted by just-for-fun, today at 06:27just-for-fun

06:27just like to see Real Madrid president Perez go, that’s all!!!!!!!!181E

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Comment posted by ET, today at 06:58ET

06:58Name a successful manager who is unlucky.141L

Reply posted by Lirrix, today at 07:04Lirrix

07:04to ET"Name a successful manager who is unlucky."Lirrix replied: Paul Lambert won back to back promotions with Norwich.

He ended up at Ipswich….

Seriously though.
Zidane is quality.
One of the best no.10’s.
World Cup winner.

I’d listen to him and do what he says in the belief that “he knows best”

Only fools wouldn’t.54F

Comment posted by Finkelstein, today at 07:20Finkelstein

07:20A world class player, manager and an out and out winner…….Not bad with the “head” also! One could argue his only fault was a blind spot for Gareth Bale.122G

Reply posted by gary s, today at 07:28gary s

07:28to Finkelstein"A world class player, manager and an out and out winner…….Not bad with the “head” also! One could argue his only fault was a blind spot for Gareth Bale."gary s replied: You must have missed bales contribution in various finals and scored the greatest goal in the final. Do you mean that bale38More replies (4)downB

Comment posted by Bootooyou, today at 08:11Bootooyou

08:11Gee, I do pray for Chelsea to stuff Real Madrid just to shut the bbc reporters up.91G

Comment posted by glan1976 , today at 07:00glan1976

07:00More lazy journalism..

4 CL in 5 seasons,

Hardly luck is it??102B

Comment posted by beatles63, today at 06:51beatles63

06:51He is a miserable so and so but you cannot argue with his record.70G

Comment posted by GC, today at 07:33GC

07:33No budget constraints and never managed in the Prem. So, no better than Big Sam!116Q

Reply posted by queeny, today at 08:13queeny

08:13to GC"No budget constraints and never managed in the Prem. So, no better than Big Sam!"queeny replied: I’d like to see a sitcom where him and Big Sam end up living together….with HILARIOUS results! I think they’d have all sorts of cultural differences as they went along and they’d be at one anothers’ throats, but as time went by they’d learn that they really have more in common than they first realised.11More replies (1)downY

Comment posted by You, today at 06:47You

06:47Lucky.Wales.Golf.Real Madrid.Skill

In that order.94A

Reply posted by admiralbee, today at 06:56admiralbee

06:56to You"Lucky.Wales.Golf.Real Madrid.SkillIn that order."admiralbee replied: Materazzi Materazzi Materazzi No particular order10More replies (1)downT

Comment posted by TheGreatSimondo, today at 08:05TheGreatSimondo

08:05As a player Zidane was an absolute legend. As a manager he has ridden his luck about as far as he can take it. I haven’t seen anything from Real that City would be afraid of. They dispatched that bunch of ill disciplined, ego maniacs last night and they will do the same to Madrid. I’m not a City fan…. far from it but they deserve it this year.62S

Comment posted by Smithmustscore, today at 07:53Smithmustscore

07:53How can people say he is lucky because Liverpool had a rubbish keeper or a ref made mistakes, he’s won things through good management however it is Real Madrid and indeed it would be interesting to see some of these guys at less dominant clubs. Ancelloti is not setting world on fire at Everton and Mourinho struggled at Tottenham.52M

Comment posted by Mish, today at 07:03Mish

07:03One of the world’s greatest footballers and a very successful manager… however it is at Real Madrid an already successful and talent filled team. He has done what Guardiola has done; manage very expensive and highly skilled teams.

He needs to do what Klopp has done at BD and Liverpool or what Alex Fergusion did at Utd and turn underachievers into winners.

Then you become a great.74N

Reply posted by Neil McK, today at 07:18Neil McK

07:18to Mish"One of the world’s greatest footballers and a very successful manager… however it is at Real Madrid an already successful and talent filled team. He has done what Guardiola has done; manage very expensive and highly skilled teams. He needs to do what Klopp has done at BD and Liverpool or what Alex Fergusion did at Utd and turn underachievers into winners. Then you become a great."Neil McK replied: How can you compare Klopp with Fergie? Different level.13More replies (1)downT

Comment posted by transpol3008, today at 06:52transpol3008

06:52Old team that got ripped first half against Chelsea!
Sat back for all second half.
They need a goal so should be interesting!41R

Comment posted by rancordung, today at 06:48rancordung

06:48I don’t rate him63O

Reply posted by Omar1990, today at 06:51Omar1990

06:51to rancordung"I don’t rate him"Omar1990 replied: I’m sure Zidane will be losing sleep now94N

Comment posted by Nadster, today at 06:48Nadster

06:48However congrats ManCity. Hoping the should not be termed lucky because Mbappe was missing :)41R

Comment posted by red right hand, today at 06:46red right hand

06:46If Sam Allardyce had been born Sam Allardici then he would be Real Madrid manager (so the big man thinks). If Zidane had been an average player he would be lucky to be West Brom manager74S

Reply posted by ScubaPuffin, today at 07:56ScubaPuffin

07:56to red right hand"If Sam Allardyce had been born Sam Allardici then he would be Real Madrid manager (so the big man thinks). If Zidane had been an average player he would be lucky to be West Brom manager"ScubaPuffin replied: Yes, but you don’t get to be a great player without having a great deal of football intelligence, like Zidane clearly has.
What makes the difference between good players who make good managers and those who make bad ones? Communication and leadership, generally. Not all great players possess those traits too.40More replies (1)downT

Comment posted by talalg, today at 06:45talalg

06:45He won them with Ronaldo. Let’s see how many champions league can he get without Ronaldo118K

Comment posted by kinsang, today at 08:29kinsang

08:29It’s too early to say. I’m not a big fan of Pep, but after Barca, he had success in Germany and England. Whilst I think Jose is on the decline, he’s done it at various clubs over the years. I guess Zidane has to show success over a period of time whether he stays at Real or moves on. And there is perception that Real is as close to fantasy football manager as you can get, so less credit given.20B

Comment posted by bigronsarmy , today at 08:26bigronsarmy

08:26Zidane won through cheque book managing – football is dead- eating itself through greed. Man U fans actaully stood against greed for once this weekend. The clubs response to appease fans? – lets spend £90 million on Harry Kane! If that actaully does appease the United fans then they deserve everything they get. This spending by clubs is out of control and has to stop.20T

Reply posted by Torys Nicked Dads Pension, today at 08:42Torys Nicked Dads Pension

08:42to bigronsarmy "Zidane won through cheque book managing – football is dead- eating itself through greed. Man U fans actaully stood against greed for once this weekend. The clubs response to appease fans? – lets spend £90 million on Harry Kane! If that actaully does appease the United fans then they deserve everything they get. This spending by clubs is out of control and has to stop."Torys Nicked Dads Pension replied: well said00More commentsBack to topunknown
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