Zinedine Zidane is the ‘coolest man on the planet,’ says former Real Madrid team-mate Steve McManaman
However the high-stakes Champions League semi-final between Real and Manchester City unfolds on Wednesday night, one man at the heart of the action will not be getting rattled according to the former Madrid man Steve McManaman – and that’s Zinedine Zidane.
McManaman won two European Cups in his Real days in 2000 and 2002 and the second was claimed alongside Zidane who scored that memorable volley against Bayer Leverkusen in Glasgow, so he is well-placed to pass judgement on the Frenchman’s temperament.
“He’s the coolest man alive,” McManaman says. “He is one of those type of players who exude calmness – you know everything is fine. Zizou won’t worry about things. Zizuou’s great. A lovely man. I just hope he’s a big success as a manager.”
Real came in for some criticism following the first leg 0-0 draw but McManaman does not think it will bother Zidane. “I thought they were OK actually,” he says. “I know people wanted them to be gung ho and attack-minded and run at City and go crazy but I saw them against Wolfsburg [when they lost 2-0] in the last round, they got battered and defended like six-year-olds. And against Roma in the round before that – and when they are gung ho, they get torn to pieces. So it didn’t surprise me in the slightest that they played like that.
“It didn’t surprise me that Zizou said to Dani Carvajal and Marcelo not to run forward as many times because when they run forward, sometimes crazily, they just run not thinking about where their team-mates are and they get ripped open like they did against Wolfsburg and he didn’t want that to happen again.
“The criticism he had after the Wolfsburg game was terrible and they didn’t want to be trying to beat Man City 3-0 – they were very assured and if anything finished the game off better.”
But shouldn’t Real always be attack-minded, gung-ho, exciting? Isn’t that what the fans demand? “This is the semi-final of the Champions League,” McManaman says. “Real wouldn’t do it in the league. But when you’re in the semis of the Champions League all that matters is getting through to the final. If Madrid lose [playing conservatively] they’ll be criticised and heavily. But if they get to the final they’ll say Zidane’s a tactical genius. They were always going to be more defensively minded – especially without Ronaldo.
“They didn’t go all-out in El Clasico [which they won 2-1 in March] and they won the game and he got the plaudits and if they win against City, it’ll be the same again.”
Zidane has served a long apprenticeship at Real, being on the club’s coaching staff for six years. It was Jose Mourinho who first asked for the Frenchman to have more say in first-team matters and he was assistant to Carlo Ancelotti before being promoted to the top job when Rafa Benitez was sacked at the start of the year. This rapid management movement must make McManaman worry that Zidane will soon be discarded like all the others. The former Liverpool winger just hopes they make an exception.
“He knows what being at Madrid entails,” McManaman says. “People have been calling for him to get the job for years so when he finally said yes, he knew that he was stepping into the lions’ den.
“I hope they are patient with him and give him time to get on with the job. Even since Rafa left there is pressure on Zizou already – when he loses a game, it’s ‘argh, he’s terrible’ and when he beats Barcelona, he’s the greatest. It’s a strange old job being manager of Madrid, it really is.”
Back in their playing days did the Frenchman seem destined to take to the top job? “I never particularly thought he was management material – sometimes you don’t. But Real have a really healthy appetite of getting former players involved. Santiago Solari – a good mate of mine – is manager of the Under 19s, which is two down from the first team and Guti is there and Fernando Morientes is there coaching so they like to get their ex players in the system. That is very healthy because sooner or later the so-called super managers are going to run out and it’ll be time to go back to people who know the value of the club, know what it’s like, know the people. I’d like to see Madrid go along that line. It’s much better for these big clubs with a huge history.”
Victory on Wednesday night and then in the final will only help his cause.