Those of us of a certain generation are very aware that success in sports – especially football – is cyclical. I started following European football when the English clubs dominated the continental competitions, I can remember when Milan were the SI Unit for measuring European football clubs. Great teams like Empires come and go. For the Now Generation, it seems very hard for them to compute that these things can and do happen.
By the time Barcelona destroyed Manchester United at Wembley in the 2011 Champions League final 3-1 – a scoreline that greatly flattered the Premier League Champions – the plaudits for the Catalans were such that they could not be described as over the top. They were truly sensational and had been for 3 straight seasons, at least.
Three years prior to that Wembley win Barcelona had been at a crossroad as they looked for a new manager to replace Frank Rijkaard. The Board was torn between the almost guaranteed success of Jose Mourinho or the fledgling B team manager Pep Guardiola. The rest is history.
Between 2009 and 2017 seasons Barcelona won six La Liga titles and 3 Champions League trophies. They have looked unstoppable no matter who the manager is. On the 21st of November 2015, Barcelona rucked up to the Santiago Bernabeu stadium and properly trashed the home living room before walking away with a 4 nil victory. It was such a comprehensive defeat that it was only natural that Rafa Benitez was relieved of his duties soon after.
Enter Zinedine Zidane. The former World Footballer of the Year, former Word Cup winner, former Champions league winner, former everything great in football winner has arrived at the Real Madrid managerial seat to destroy many myths. He has put away that bit about great players not making great managers for good.
His trophies are there for all to see but what has Zidane actually done in carrying out this bloodless coup in Spanish football? I have not been privy to their training sessions or pre match meetings but some things are very obvious. When Zidane is your manager, a man who has won it all in football previously, tells you what to do you can’t argue. Especially if this is a man who headbutted an opponent in a World Cup final – you know he is not one to mess with.
Zidane has used Ronaldo sparingly and in a no 9 role more often. This was a role the Portuguese was not prepared to play for Benitez. Zidane has also brought through young players – Marco Asensio and Lucas Vazquez – the pick of the bunch. In Isco, Toni Kroos and Luca Modric he has at his disposal a trio of astonishingly good footballers and has given them the license to just play football; with the Brazilian, Casemiro minding the shop for them.
It is the simplicity of their play; the confidence and possibly, swagger of this style that makes even the neutrals to love them. Under Zidane, the left back, Marcelo has recovered from the disaster of the 2014 World Cup to be one of the best players in the world. Zidane has done this with no controversies. He has quietly got on with the job of installing Real Madrid as the number one football club in Spain and Europe once again.
The 5-1 aggregate win over Barcelona in the SuperCopa has thrown down the gauntlet for all those who want to take the La Liga crown from Real. They have basically told the rest of the league: Bring it on – or however it is said in Spanish. Barcelona will be up to the challenge I am sure and this will make the season very interesting.