You don't need to read too far between the lines to understand that, having starred for Real Madrid as a player, Zinedine Zidane is now being groomed to perform similar heroics for the club as its manager.
The Frenchman, 42, may have limited coaching experience behind him since he retired from playing the sport nearly 10 years ago, but he still feels prepared to take on one of the biggest jobs in world football, whenever the time comes.
“If the role is offered to me I would agree to it but once again there is an amazing coach in place,” Zidane told television channel Canal+ last month, per Reuters (via the Guardian).
The Frenchman might be showing due deference to the current incumbent, Carlo Ancelotti, but, like any meaningful character in Game of Thrones, there is only so long he will bide his time before deciding to strike.
Zidane has long been targeting the top job at the Santiago Bernabeu, and for the last few years, he has seemingly been primed by the man who can make it happen—club president Florentino Perez—to secure it.
Initially brought back to the club by Perez as an adviser, Zidane briefly assumed the responsibilities of the director of football before deciding that coaching was his true calling—a decision perhaps inspired by rumoured disagreements about Jose Mourinho's management style.
After Mourinho left the club, his successor, Ancelotti (a man whose ability to foster a positive team spirit is perhaps his overriding calling card), welcomed Zidane as his first-team assistant.
After a year in that absorbing role, Zidane (following a brief problem with his coaching licences) assumed control of Real’s Castilla this season—the B team that plays in Spain’s third division.
To observers, it is a clear finishing school for the former Ballon d’Or winner, in much the same way Pep Guardiola’s work with Barcelona B prepared him to take on the top job at Camp Nou many years previous.
When Ancelotti leaves (and some speculate it could be this summer, such as the panel on Sky Sports' Revista de la Liga show), it would be surprising if someone other than Zidane inherits the iron throne—even if his Castilla results to date have yet to match Guardiola’s achievements with Barcelona B.
“I’ve got time, I’m learning,” Zidane added, via the Guardian. “I did not become the player I was in two years, it’s the same in coaching.”
But Zidane isn't the only member of his family being prepared for success at one of the world’s most coveted clubs.
All four of his sons are part of Real's academy—some just starting out in the youngest age groups, others approaching crunch time with the seniors—carrying the burden of a famous father and the hopes of a similarly illustrious career.
If Zinedine is the next manager-in-waiting for Real’s first team, could we eventually see all four of his sons play for him?
The Zidane Clan
Position: Attacking midfielder
Current team: Real Madrid Castilla/C
International: France U19 (previously Spain U15)
Info: Enzo Fernandez is a creative player in his father's image, with a strikingly similar playing style and technical quality. He has trained with Real's first team in the past, but he is yet to fully establish himself at Castilla level under his father. Unlike his siblings, he can probably remember his father's later career and was at other academies (Juventus, San Jose) before joining the Real setup.
Current team: Real Madrid Juvenil B
International: France U17s
Info: Luca Fernandez is a highly touted goalkeeper, although it's difficult to say how much of that is down to the scrutiny his parentage attracts. He skipped Juvenil C when his Infantil coach (Ruben de la Red) assumed the Juvenil B reins, which suggests he might be the real deal. Good in one-on-one situations and technically adept on the ball—very much like a modern goalkeeper—he has come through the Real system and has already trained with the first team on a couple of occasions.
Current team: Infantil B
Info: Theo Fernandez is another player who seems to play in his father's image, with his technical quality and ability to spot the incisive pass highlighted in some of the scouting reports available on him. Theo arrived at Real via affiliated feeder team Canillas, and he is said to be the son who most resembles his famous father, albeit at a very young age.
Current team: Benjamin A
Info: Left-footed and good on the ball—at least, according to the limited information about him that has made its way to the internet—Elyaz Fernandez has three brothers to ask for advice as he begins his progression through the Real youth ranks. He also joined from Canillas, but he won't turn 10 until the end of 2015.
To save time, we will assume the particulars of Zidane’s career—World Cup and Champions League victor (scoring in the final of both), Ballon d’Or winner—are familiar to most.
He was perhaps the finest technical player of his generation, an artist with such mastery of football that he inspired a documentary, set to classical music, that was literally one uninterrupted shot showing his movements for an entire 90-minute match.
Anyone who watched Zidane play (and occasionally explode, as he infamously did in the 2006 World Cup final) will understand why the possibility of his four sons following in his footsteps is so tantalising.
They may play under his wife’s surname, Fernandez (and, perhaps eventually, just by their first names—as is often the Spanish custom), but as soon as they decided to be footballers, they gave up any hope of avoiding the weight of their father’s successes bearing down on their own careers.
Three of the four sons also play in the same position as their father, attacking midfield. Some things are just in the genes, perhaps. Unless tactics change over the next few years, however, it might be difficult to shoe-horn them all into the same team, should that opportunity one day arise.
The one exception is second son Luca, who has carved out a reputation for himself as a goalkeeper of some repute. That position might be a surprise to some, considering the skills his father possessed, but others have noted the 16-year-old is perhaps the one member of the Zidane clan best placed to avoid comparisons with his father—and the potentially oppressive burden that entails.
Some also believe he might just be the most talented prospect of the bunch. How did Luca end up being a goalkeeper? It appears to have been a classic story, one played out in many back gardens around the world.
“When he got home to play with Enzo, Luca would go in goal,” Zidane Sr. noted recently in an interview with Algerian publication Le Buteur (via Football Espana). “The eldest always chooses, so Luca went in goal. And one day, he said to me that he liked it and that he wanted to be a 'keeper.”
At this early stage, Luca’s talent seems tantalising. He has already trained with the first-team squad on at least a couple of occasions (perhaps a case of Ancelotti, ever the diplomat, keeping Zidane on side), while he skipped one of the academy rungs when he was promoted to Infantil B at the start of the current season.
His performances, particularly against English clubs in the UEFA Youth League, have attracted positive press in the media, where his comfort with the ball at his feet—a typical Zidane trait—is matched by his reflexes and responses in one-on-one situations.
Considering how such a blend is extremely coveted among modern goalkeepers, Luca would seem to have the raw qualities to be an intriguing shot-stopper at the highest level. However, no one will be able to make any educated prognostications until his body fills out—or he is exposed to some senior action.
“He’s a hard worker and he’s got everything to be a success in football,” Zidane Sr. added. “When someone has quality they can be successful, but we’ll have to wait because he’s only 16.”
Enzo, three years older (he turned 20 in March), is much nearer to crunch time, as well as the public scrutiny and attention that comes with being the son of one of the greatest footballers ever to play the game.
Currently attached to Real’s C team, Enzo has made a couple of appearances for the Castilla side this season (under his father’s coaching). With every Zidane-esque piece of skill he produces in front of just a handful of fans, he sends ripples through social media.
The most significant problem for Enzo—named after the great Marseille player Enzo Francescoli (Marseille was Zidane’s favourite team, although he never played for them)—is one all his brothers will face eventually: They aren't just trying to make the grade at any old club, but one of the biggest clubs in the world.
Not only that, they are also trying to do so with one of the most famous names in the game attached to them.
"Enzo knows perfectly what it means to bear the Zidane last name," Zidane said back in 2008, per Canal+ show Des Specialistes (h/t Goal)—even if he now goes by Fernandez. "It is something that he cannot escape, but he is well aware of that.
“One thing is clear: I know that he does not have square feet."
As poetic as that assessment might be, it is unlikely to be enough. It is illuminating to look at some of the most recent, successful graduates of Real’s Fabrica ("the factory") academy—Juan Mata, Roberto Soldado, Jose Callejon. So many of them left the club to find the success, never actually blossoming for the club that nurtured their development.
Many others—Alvaro Arbeloa, Dani Carvajal, Diego Lopez—made their name elsewhere before persuading the club to re-sign them.
Even recent academy graduates have struggled to make the jump into the first team. Alvaro Morata, for example, was allowed to join Juventus (albeit with a buy-back clause) despite breaking into the first team last season, while speculation remains that Jese Rodriguez will not remain beyond the end of the season, as noted by Fox Sports.
This might be disappointing for some fans, but it should not be too unexpected. When a club can break the world transfer record almost every summer if it chooses, it raises the bar astronomically for any homegrown talent. The Zidanes might be on Real’s books now, but they are essentially competing with every other player in the world for an eventual spot in Real’s first team.
Perhaps that is why, despite being less than four months younger than Liverpool's Raheem Sterling, Enzo is yet to establish himself at Castilla level, let alone with the first team.
This season, his progression has been further blocked by the arrival of Martin Odegaard, the 16-year-old Norwegian wunderkind who sparked a bidding war for his services (and has already run into some roadblocks of his own).
While there is certainly time for things to change, at the moment, it seems likely that only Zidane’s elevation to Real’s manager job, and a subsequent nepotistic call-up, will enable Enzo to establish himself at the Bernabeu.
Enzo will more likely depart the club, either on loan or via a permanent deal with a buy-back clause, to finally establish himself at another team on the continent.
That is not necessarily a criticism. If he has inherited his father’s talent, then perhaps he has inherited his development traits as well. Zidane Sr. was something of a late bloomer. Although he was only 16 when he made his senior debut with French side Cannes, he was 24 before he arrived at Juventus (the first “big” club of his career) and arguably did not gain complete mastery of his talents until he was much nearer 30.
Enzo has already been part of a tug-of-war between France and Spain (he could also represent Algeria, as could all his siblings). First called up by Spain’s under-15 side, he seems to have since decided to wear the colours of France, the country his father represented so successfully.
France coach Didier Deschamps has already been asked about Enzo’s future with the senior team, despite him being hardly established at under-19 level just yet. That only happens when you are related to one of the greatest ever to play the game.
"Leave him alone, this is all he needs," Deschamps, who played alongside Zidane for France and Juventus, told reporters last year, per Reuters. "His name is hard to carry. He's just a player, with a well-known name. It's never easy, and it's even less easy with his name.”
Even though he is yet to be given the time or opportunity to truly express himself for club or country, Enzo nevertheless remains one of the most talked about young talents in the world. “The first guy through the wall always gets bloody,” Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane is told in the film Moneyball, and Enzo might end up playing that role for his siblings.
He is already facing the “next Zidane” speculation head-on, but, for his brothers, that should mean there will be a certain amount of fatigue around the whole storyline by the time they are ready to play at senior level.
If Enzo does not make it at Real, instead forging a career for himself at a slightly lower level, then perhaps less will be expected of his siblings.
That could make it easier for them, especially considering they will be able to learn from the mistakes (and successes) of their older brothers. If Luca became a goalkeeper because Enzo needed someone to save his shots, then it perhaps follows that both Theo and Elyaz might have had their skills enhanced by trying to keep up with their older, stronger, better brothers when playing in the garden.
Theo has already caused his own stir with a couple of his youth team goals, something Elyaz might be only a couple of years away from doing himself.
Of course, if you assume being the son of Zidane will imbue you with a special footballing ability, then you have to analyse what exactly it was that made the Frenchman so special.
For all his undoubted technical ability—a natural aptitude that, you'd think, would be possible to pass on—it is noteworthy how often his work ethic was cited as a key reason behind his brilliance.
“Zidane has an internal vision,” Aime Jacquet, Zidane’s World Cup-winning France coach, told the Guardian in 2004. “His control is precise and discreet. He can make the ball do whatever he wants. But it is his drive which takes him forward. He is 100 per cent football.”
Do Zidane’s kids have that same drive? They did not grow up in poverty and did not grow up as the son of Algerian immigrants in a country that was distrustful of their presence—leaving Zinedine with an unease, a sense of not fitting into either world, which provoked both his drive to succeed and the more fiery side of his on-pitch personality.
As with David Beckham’s children, the success and wealth of their father has now removed the need for Zidane's offspring to ever work hard for a living, should they choose not to. As a result, can they possibly retain the determination to succeed in such a competitive field?
Or do modern training methods—the meticulous preparation from the youngest of ages, the focus on the smallest of details in building toward a complete sporting education—mean an individual’s upbringing and desire become far less significant now than when their father was striving to make the grade?
The truth is no one can know for sure how the Zidanes will fare. They appear to have a certain genetic advantage behind them, but they have not grown up in the testing, deprived environment that helped inspire their father to the highest echelons of the game. They have grown up at the opposite end of the spectrum—with every opportunity afforded to them—and we will have to wait to see if that is more or less beneficial.
Even so, making the jump from the academy to the Real Madrid first team is perhaps the hardest task in the game right now—a step up that, should Jese (and perhaps also Nacho) leave this summer, arguably no player since Iker Casillas, more than 15 years ago, has successfully achieved without first transferring to another club.
Zinedine Zidane was special, but even he would have struggled to overcome those odds. There is every chance that the sons will make it eventually—Luca, simply by virtue of the position he has chosen, might have the best odds—but they will likely have to go elsewhere first and earn their way back to the Bernabeu.
In the end, perhaps Zidane’s children are actually competing against their own father for their careers—or, at least, against the next Zinedine Zidane to emerge somewhere in the world.
Real spent £56 million on Zidane, ushering in an era where they now buy a star player for every position (and sometimes two). His arrival set the ball rolling for the current situation at the club, where star power and the amount you cost matters almost as much as your ability on the pitch.
If Isco cannot get in the starting lineup because James Rodriguez (and others) cost more and were signed more recently, what academy graduate has a chance of being granted a regular run of games in the senior side?
The Zidane name and prestige will only carry a player so far. Enzo already knows that, having seen Odegaard (a similar player in many ways) drafted in at significant cost and leapfrogging him in the pecking order.
That will always be the additional challenge for Enzo—and eventually his brothers, too.
“He won't live his father's history and I think Zizou will agree with me,” as Deschamps said last year. “Zizou lived his life, had his career. Enzo will have his own."
As will the other three. But if Zidane’s career ended at Real Madrid, perhaps for his sons, the club will simply be the place where it starts.