Zinedine Zidane’s transformation of Real Madrid from crisis club to champions has been rooted not in the glamour of relying purely on “Galactico” talent, but fostering a team spirit and never say die attitude.
Madrid sealed a first La Liga title in five years on Sunday and 33rd in total – with a 2-0 victory at Malaga to bring a halt to Barcelona’s domination of domestic matters having won six of the previous eight titles.
Zidane has now won four trophies since taking charge in January last year and could add a fifth by retaining the Champions League against Juventus on June 3.
However, the fact the winning margin was a mere three points shows Madrid needed to fall back on every member of a seemingly endless pool of talent and every one of a series of late fightbacks to hold off the Catalans.
“Watching what they do on the pitch, this squad is spectacular,” said Zidane on Saturday.
“Those that have played less have been at the same level as those that have played the most and, in a 60-game season that is very difficult physically, that has been important.”
Madrid garnered a massive 17 points from game-changing goals scored in the last 10 minutes of nine different games.
“There is no such thing as luck in football,” said Zidane after one of those late fightbacks at Sporting Gijon last month.
“It is in our DNA to fight until the end at Real Madrid.”
The most important late goal of all might have been one that didn’t even earn a victory, but saw a three-point swing in the title race as Sergio Ramos powered home a stoppage time header to earn a point in a 1-1 draw at Barcelona in December.
Barcelona got their revenge when for once Real’s belief got the better of them as they chased a winner despite being a man down after Ramos’s red card in a thrilling 3-2 El Clasico defeat last month.
Lionel Messi capped a virtuoso display by scoring with the last kick of the game to keep Barca in the title race.
However, if the Argentine showed that night that Barca may still have the best player, over a nine-month marathon Madrid had the best team and without doubt the best squad.
‘Not just 11’
Most importantly of all, Zidane trusted in that squad.
For league games away at Eibar, Gijon, Deportivo la Coruna, Leganes and Granada in the final months of the season, he left a host of first-team regulars including Cristiano Ronaldo out of his squad entirely.
The so-called Madrid B-team rewarded the Frenchman by scoring 21 goals and winning all five of those games.
“We have always had the best players, but the key is this time all the players are motivated, have minutes and match rhythm, not just 11,” said Ramos.
Zidane’s ability to keep those that under previous coaches have felt sidelined motivated and involved has also borne fruit in keeping the likes of Ronaldo, Luka Modric and Toni Kroos fit, fresh and in their best form of the season at the business end of the campaign.
Ronaldo’s minutes on the field have dropped dramatically.
But, in contrast to previous seasons, the Portuguese has accepted the need to rest and even be substituted when he does start to ensure he is at his physical peak to make the difference in the final weeks of the season.
His opener after just two minutes in Malaga was his 14th goal in his last nine games.
“I have made radical changes to my training schedule to get to the end of the season in top shape,” said the World Player of the Year after vanquishing Bayern Munich’s hopes in the Champions League quarter-finals.
A La Liga and Champions League double would be Madrid’s first for 59 years.
For those who believe anything is possible with the players at Zidane’s disposal, it is worth noting that was a feat beyond coaching greats such as Fabio Capello, Vicente del Bosque, Carlo Ancelotti and Jose Mourinho during their stints at the Bernabeu.
It’s not bad going for man still only 17 months into his first role in senior management. – Agence France-Presse