The Challenges Facing Zinedine Zidane at Real Madrid

Zinedine Zidane
Zinedine Zidane during the press conference of the official presentation of Zinedine Zidane as new Manager of Real Madrid at Santiago Bernabeu Stadium in Madrid, Spain. March 11, 2019. (Photo by A. Ware/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

When Real Madrid lifted the Champions League trophy last May, all appeared well with the club. One man who felt otherwise, however, was manager Zinedine Zidane. Shortly after the game, Zidane announced his departure, citing a need for change. The news came as a shock to both fans and club president Florentino Perez. Zidane’s decision to leave was believed to be due to his belief that a large overhaul of the squad was needed, something which Perez was unwilling to permit. Hindsight has shown Zidane to be correct, with the club floundering this season.  Zidane has been brought back to ring the changes he wanted to make last summer but faces a number of complex challenges.

Zinedine Zidane Faces Big Challenge at Real Madrid

Power Struggle

Zidane would not have returned to the club without assurances that he would have the final say regarding transfers. However, Perez is notoriously power hungry and will struggle to hand Zidane this control regardless of agreements made. Perez has already said that he hopes Zidane will be able to persuade fellow Frenchman Kylian Mbappe to join Real. Zidane, meanwhile, prefers Chelsea’s Eden Hazard. Whether Perez agrees to target Zidane’s preferred option over his own will be an early indicator of the new power arrangement.

Lack of Galactico’s

Real Madrid have not signed a true ‘galactico’ since James Rodriguez in 2014. The players Perez has signed have largely underperformed; indeed, the likes of Mateo Kovacic and Alvaro Morata have already left. This lack of investment in quality talent has left Real with a significantly weaker squad than rivals within Spain and across Europe. Zidane has reportedly been promised three big money signings this summer. However, questions have been raised over whether Madrid can rival Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain financially. Whether Real are able to bring in the calibre of players needed will be key to Zidane’s ability to turn the club around.

What to Do With Gareth Bale

One player who will be dismayed to see Zidane return is Gareth Bale. The two clashed during Zidane’s first spell in charge, leading to Bale openly questioning his own future with the club. Bale has been a victim of the Real fans’ anger this season, booed off the pitch on multiple occasions. Given the poor relationship between Bale and both Zidane and the fans, a summer move could make sense.

However, Bale is on a huge contract and is reportedly not willing to cut his wages. This significantly reduces the number of clubs who would be interested in him. This number will then be lowered even further by the expectation that Madrid would want to regain most of the £85 million they paid. Given Bale’s injury history and age, this may well put off any potential suitors.

This leaves Zidane with a headache. Zidane is not Bale’s biggest fan, but he could be stuck with the winger. How Zidane handles this situation will be one of the more fascinating subplots for the remainder of this season. Some managers would opt to send Bale to the reserve squad, whilst others would see this as a second chance to develop an effective relationship with one of the league’s most talented players.

The Goalkeeping Questions

Thibaut Courtois arrived at Madrid as the undisputed number one. His performances since arriving, though, have been poor. Previous manager Santiago Solari backed Courtois and continued to play him. However, Keylor Navas has remained in the wings. Navas was the regular keeper under Zidane, who rates him highly. Whether he remains with the underperforming Courtois or reverts to the trusted Navas is a decision which will be monitored closely.

Underperforming Stars

One of the main reasons for Madrid’s woeful form is the poor form of the few stars they have. Most notably underperforming are Toni Kroos, Raphael Varane, Nacho and Marco Asensio. All four were vital players under Zidane but have failed to deliver this season. A change in management may inspire an upturn in form.

Zidane was tactically flexible during his final season with Madrid but often opted for a four-man midfield. Both Solari and previous manager Julen Lopetegui preferred a three-man midfield. Reverting to a four-man midfield may bring out the best in Toni Kroos, whilst also providing more protection for a leaky defence.

The other star who faces a question over his Madrid future is Isco. One of the most vital players under Zidane, Isco has played minimally this season. Earlier this week, Solari explained that Isco was not playing due to disciplinary matters. This relates to Isco’s poor physical fitness. Isco will likely find himself back in the squad, but may not be fit enough for first-team action.

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