Will Zinedine Zidane Be Given the Time to Change Real Madrid?

Graham Ruthven@@grahamruthvenFeatured ColumnistApril 6, 2016

LAS PALMAS, SPAIN - MARCH 13: Head coach Zinedine Zidane of Real Madrid CF encourages his team during the La Liga match between UD Las Palmas and Real Madrid CF at Estadio de Gran Canaria on March 13, 2016 in Las Palmas, Spain.  (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)
Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

As if Real Madrid hadn’t caused enough of a nuisance, Zinedine Zidane pulled a move more befitting of a classroom than a post-match press conference in the aftermath of his club's Clasico win.

With the assembled media waiting, the former midfielder took the chewing gum from his mouth and stuck it underneath the table. Not so much salt to the wound, but Hubba Bubba to the furniture. 

Emilio Morenatti/Associated Press

That was the most noteworthy thing to happen in the press conference, with Zidane coy as evereven after the biggest win of his fledgling managerial career. He’d said enough with his strategy and game plan during the match itself. He could have thumped his chest and screeched the Real Madrid hymn in front of the press and still not made a bigger statement.

Against their biggest rivals, and European football’s most formidable outfit, Real Madrid got their tactics spot on, sitting deep, absorbing opposition pressure, winning the midfield battle and hitting hard and fast on the counter-attack.

At times fortune was on their sidelike when Luis Suarez fluffed his finish with an open goal gaping from a Neymar square pass. It’s also true that Luis Enrique’s side were some way below their best, with fatigue perhaps something that the Barca boss will have to counter between now and the end of the season.

Rather bizarrely for a team closing in on a sixth title in eight years, this Clasico clash meant little for Barcelona in the grand scheme of things. The dynamic of this fixture was flipped on its head, as the team with nothing to lose came into the match with everything to lose. Saturday’s game meant much more to Real Madrid than it did to their Catalan hosts. 

Real Madrid's players attend a training session at Volkswagen Arena on the eve of the UEFA Champions League quarter-final, first-leg football match between VfL Wolfsburg and Real Madrid on April 5, 2016 in Wolfsburg, central Germany. / AFP / Ronny Hartman

Los Blancos’ win in Saturday’s Clasico changed everything for Zidane, even if it didn’t change the ultimate destination of this season’s Liga title. The result and performance of his team will set the tone for the rest of his tenure as Real Madrid boss, meaning that he might actually get the chance to start afresh next season. 

Until Saturday questions had been asked of Zidane’s tactical nous, with fans and media pondering whether he possessed the match intelligence to take charge of a club like Real Madrid on the big occasion. Those questions were asked rather emphatically with victory in El Clasico.

Per Marca, Marcelo said after the win at the Camp Nou:

We owed this to the fans. Our fans should always have a reason to celebrate.

A team like us should always be on top and we did everything we could to put a smile on their faces.

Of course we can be champions. As long as it's mathematically possible, we'll keep on fighting, giving it all we've got.

But Saturday’s result meant more than the average Clasico win or loss. Real Madrid find themselves at something of an existential juncture right now, with club president Florentino Perez facing a fight to keep hold of his grip. Public opinion has decidedly turned against the Galactico in-chief. 

Results prior to Saturday’s win at the Camp Nou had been mixed for Zidane, with the derby defeat to Atletico Madrid a black mark against the former Ballon d’Or winner’s coaching copybook. Nonetheless, he had been afforded a degree of tolerance never received by his predecessor Rafael Benitez. 

But Zidane has got off lightly for more complex reasons than is initially gauged. Sure, his standing as a true legend of the club has helped in ensuring the club’s support remain on his side in times of trouble. The real reason is of a political root, though.

Francisco Seco/Associated Press

For the Real Madrid support who are now demanding the exit of Perez as club president, Zidane is viewed as a powerful boardroom tool. He is perhaps the only man powerful enough to force Perez out of the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium.

Unlike Benitez, the former France international could feasibly take on the Real Madrid president and win. 

It is therefore surprising that Perez turned to Zidane in the first place, but the fact that he did underlines just how weak his position is at present. He need a crowd-pleasing appointment and had no choice but to hire the most popular figure at the Bernabeu in Benitez’s place.

Yet for Perez, on-field success remains the best solution to the political problems he faces at the club. With Zidane in charge of a successful Real Madrid he might hold on to his position as president, although it would be too simplistic to judge the current unrest at the club as merely football-related. There is much more to it than that, with Real’s entire identity as an institution under scrutiny.

In the immediate term, however, Saturday’s result could help shape what happens after the close of this season. Real Madrid’s win over Barcelona demonstrated that after everything that has been said and written about the capital club, major reconstruction of Zidane’s squad might not be necessary this summer. 

TOPSHOT - Real Madrid's French coach Zinedine Zidane looks on  during the Spanish league football match Real Madrid CF vs Sevilla FC at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid on March 20, 2016. / AFP / PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU        (Photo credit should r

Saturday’s display highlighted the quality Los Blancos still have to work with. Reports of as many as 12 summer arrivals at the Bernabeu are most likely wide of the mark, per Joe Short of the Daily Express, with only a handful of additions truly needed to refresh the club’s squad.

It is perhaps harsh that Real Madrid are perpetually judged in the context of how Barcelona are doing, and victory at the Camp Nou highlighted that they might not be as far behind as was once thought.

Ironically, Saturday’s Liga win made a statement about Real Madrid’s chances in the UEFA Champions League this season. Zidane’s side face Wolfsburg in the quarter-finals on Wednesday, with continental success now their primaryand onlyobjective. Defeat at the Volkswagen Arena could undo all that was achieved at the Camp Nou.

There are so many moving parts at Real Madrid right now it’s difficult to determine what is sticking under Zidane. Success in the Champions League, on top of Saturday’s Clasico win, would ensure he sticks around for a while longer, at least.


The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.