One of the biggest strengths in life is to have bravery. In football, if a coach has this trait, than he will be a force to be reckoned with. One such coach is Zinedine Zidane. He was brave enough to bench some of the biggest names in world football, possibly damaging their egos, and was rewarded with two Champions Leagues, a La Liga triumph, and a sure path to dominating Spanish football for years to come.
The biggest strength in Real Madrid‘s squad is not Cristiano Ronaldo. While he is definitely a game-winner for Los Merengues, the team as a whole and the options that Zidane has at his disposal are what makes them as successful as they are.
Last season, Zidane gave a lesson in rotation. Out of the 24 players that featured last season, 20 played over 1000 minutes of football. Even the back-up goalkeeper, Kiko Casilla, only needed 10 more minutes to bring the number up to 21 players. Prior to last season, he was not seen as one of the world’s best coaches, but the Frenchman has proved that he should be up there.
His biggest achievement was probably what he did with Cristiano Ronaldo. Seen as an untouchable entity in the starting XI, no coach had managed to convince the Portuguese to commit to a prioritising the team over anything else. Zidane, however, approached the situation differently.
Being a former player who was a star on Ronaldo’s level, the Frenchman convinced his talisman to sit out few games so that he could be in a better position for the end of the season. If he did not fully trust his manager’s judgement then, the 32-year-old surely trusted him after the season, as he scored 10 goals in the last three rounds of the Champions League. Had he played more games against lesser opposition in the league, he might not have been as up to it physically.
In the past, three key things always seemed to get in Real’s way: injuries, lack of rest and out-of-form reserves. All of these things are, in a sense, connected. Lack of rest means more injuries, and with injuries players who would naturally not feature as much are sprung to an undue level of importance. Zidane switched things up to stop this cycle from happening.
Players like Nacho Rodriguez, Lucas Vasquez, Mateo Kovacic, Casemiro, Danilo and Marco Asensio, who would struggled for minutes under other coaches, are now important members of the squad. They could be completely trusted these in the title race, whilst some of the star players were able to stay fresh for the Champions League.
Rotations is a new concept for Real Madrid. Before, the highest-paid and most marketable players would always play. Now, ability and team contribution are the most important things. That is why, for example, Vasquez featured more than the Colombian star James Rodriguez, and Isco featured more than Gareth Bale.
This rotation-based system is the first of its kind at this level. While rotation is common in football, Zidane is the first coach to form two different teams who are able to beat opponents on both domestic and continental fronts. Just compare the side which beat Atlético Madrid 3-0 in the Champions League semi-final to that which faced Granada in La Liga a few days alter. Zidane made nine changes to the team, yet they won 4-0.
For now, no one knows how to stop this team. Even without Ronaldo, Real keep winning and scoring goals. Zidane has already won seven trophies at the club; the same number of losses he has suffered. Along with that, many of the players are playing the best football of their careers under his leadership.
Zidane has the full support of every player, the surrounding staff, the fans and the board. Real Madrid’s president, Florentino Perez, has had the tendency to ignore the coaches and in bring high-priced players who, on occasion, did not even fit the style of the current coach and still demand that they are featured in the side week in week out. Now, under Zidane, the last couple of windows showed that that tendency is changing.
In the summer of 2017, only a couple of players were signed. Jesús Vallejo was brought back from a loan spell in Germany to replace the aging Pepe; Theo Hernandez was bought to replace the injury-prone Fabio Coentrao; Dani Ceballos and Marcos Llorente were brought in as future world-class midfielders. All of this from a team famous for splashing the cash on big names who, all too often, did not live up to the hype.
The biggest strength of this whole rotation system is that the young players in the squad who are currently thriving would have often had reservations about joining Madrid in the past, knowing they would not get much playing time. Zidane has completely erased that stigma and he has shown over and over again that he is ready to play each and every player who deserves to be played.
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