Zinedine Zidane’s transition from player to coach reminded me of another World Cup winner's move to the sideline. Like Zidane, Franz Beckenbauer started without a coaching license. “What I am a going to learn from instructors who couldn't take the ball away from me if I had my shoes tied together?” asked Beckenbauer.
Without a license, Beckenbauer, who captained West Germany to the 1974 World Cup title, could not be called Bundestrainer (national team coach) and was known as Teamchef as he coached the Germans to the 1990 World Cup title.
The Frenchman Zidane started his coaching career at Real Madrid, where he won a UEFA Champions League title as a player, as head coach of its B team, Castilla of the third division. Real Madrid listed Zidane as an assistant coach, even though it was obvious he was in charge, because Zidane didn’t have the proper coaching license.
Still, a few months in his first season with Castilla, Zidane had to appeal to the Spanish Administrative Sporting Court to overthrow a three-month ban the Spanish soccer federation handed Zidane for his lack of license.
Last summer, Zidane put the matter to rest and got his UEFA Pro License. Last January, after Rafael Benitez fell out with key players, got Real Madrid kicked out of the Copa del Rey for fielding an ineligible player, and trailed Barcelona and Atletico Madrid in the standings, Zidane took over the first team.
And that’s when Zidane’s path recalled that of another great player turned coach: Pep Guardiola.
Also a clever midfielder like Zidane but more defense-minded, Guardiola starred on the Johan Cruyff-coached Barcelona dream team of the 1990s that won the 1992 European Cup and four La Liga crowns. (Guardiola won two more La Liga titles post-Cruyff.)
Guardiola started his coaching career with Barcelona’s B team and after a year took the helm of the first team, and in his first season because the youngest man, at age 38 in 2009, to coach a UEFA Champions League winner.
Player & Coach European Cup winners
Player: Real Madrid 2002. Coach: Real Madrid 2016
Player: Barcelona 1992. Coach: Barcelona 2009, 2011.
Player: AC Milan 1989, 1990; Ajax 1995; Coach: Barcelona 2006.
Player: AC Milan 1989, 1990. Coach: AC Milan 2003, 2007; Real Madrid 2014.
Player: Ajax: 1971, 1972, 1973. Coach: Barcelona: 1992.
Player: Real Madrid 1956, 1957. Coach: 1960, 1966.
Player: AC Milan 1963, 1969. Coach: Juventus in 1985.
Zidane, in his first season, guided Real Madrid to the Champions League title. And although coming up short to Barcelona in La Liga, turned what looked like a lost cause into a tight race. Barca finished a point ahead as the 43-year-old Zidane led Real Madrid to 16 wins in 19 games while scoring 61 goals. He was also hailed for becoming the first Real Madrid coach since Bernd Schuster in 2007 to win his first El Clasico against Barcelona, winning 2-1 at Camp Nou to end Barcelona’s 39-game unbeaten streak.
Zidane, who won the World Cup in 1998 and European Championship in 2000, plus a pair of Serie A titles with Juventus, finds coaching more difficult than playing.
“It’s a different kind of enjoyment, but it’s still good,” he said. “I find it really interesting, even if it is a lot harder. When you’re a player, you only think about yourself, but when you’re a coach you have to think about others, though I thought a lot about others when I was a player. A coach should think about nothing but getting the players in the right shape. It’s a different job, but it’s interesting all the same.
“I was creative on the field and I still try to be today, even if it’s in a different way. If things aren’t working out, you have to try solutions straightaway and change things around to see if they work. When they do, it’s because you’ve taken the right approach.”
Winning a Champions League title within a half-year on the job may have been a dream start for Zidane, but the pressure will be on him to lead Real Madrid to its first La Liga title since 2012.
And Real Madrid is notoriously impatient with its coaches. Zidane is Real Madrid’s 15th coach since 2003.
Guardiola ended up winning three La Liga titles, two Champions League crowns, two Copa del Reys, two Club World Cups and a pair of UEFA Super Cups in four seasons with Barcelona. At Bayern Munich, he won the Bundesliga titles in all three seasons before leaving this season for Manchester City.
Zidane is just getting started. His first chance for a second title comes after Real Madrid’s U.S. tour, when it faces Sevilla in Norway in the UEFA Super Cup Aug. 9.