Few expected Zinedine Zidane to leave Real Madrid and even fewer expected him to come back as coach.
And yet almost 500 days later, he has won the La Liga title, without fuss, without even the improvements he was promised.
On Thursday, in an empty Alfredo di Stefano Stadium at Real Madrid’s training ground, he hoisted another trophy, his second in La Liga and 11th overall as coach.
Zidane currently wins a trophy every 19 games on average and while three Champions League titles out of three was historic, this might be his most impressive yet.
When he was reappointed in March last year, Madrid president Florentino Perez said Zidane had come again to launch “a glorious new era”.
But standing next to him was Madrid’s third coach of the season, taking over a team 12 points behind Barcelona, having just been knocked out and outplayed by Ajax in the Champions League.
Most thought it was a mistake, the coach that had gone out on the highest of highs returning to a team in tatters.
Cristiano Ronaldo was gone and it seemed those that remained had lost the hunger. “We will change things, for sure, and for the years to come,” Zidane said.
Change, though, would have to wait and then it never really came at all. Zidane saw out a miserable 11 games of last season where performances grew worse not better.
Zidane had a bigger squad than Barcelona’s but his willingness to rotate became key.
Tournaments have also been his strength and perhaps he rekindled that mentality. With no time for training, the message was simple: Win.
In that sense, Zidane has silenced the doubters, even if it remains to be seen whether he can rebuild a team or replicate his success elsewhere.
But just as this Madrid were a mess without him, with him they are celebrating again.
Few expected him there but Zidane was right in his first press conference. “Change is for the future,” he said. “The important thing is I’m back.”*AFP