MADRID (AP) — Despite his successes as coach of Real Madrid, Zinedine Zidane doesn’t see himself as a great tactician.
Instead, he prides himself on being a manager of egos.
Zidane, who will be trying to win his third straight Champions League title as Madrid coach on Saturday against Liverpool, said he does his best work in the dressing room, more a shrink than a coach.
“I spent 17 or 18 years as a player and worked with many coaches and some gifted players who had big egos,” the former France great said. “I know the dressing room and I know very well how players think. That is important to me.
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“I’m not the best coach, I’m not the best tactically,” he said. “But I have something else. I have desire and passion, and that means a lot more.”
It’s no small feat by Zidane to successfully manage a squad filled with high-profile players such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Sergio Ramos, Marcelo, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema.
Despite many strong characters, there hasn’t been any major bickering or public showing of discontentment even when Zidane had to leave stars such as Benzema or Bale out of the starting lineup.
In his first major head-coaching job, Zidane said he knows a united dressing room alone is not going to translate into victories unless there’s also a lot of other work done, but he sees it as a crucial part of a winning team.
“Some can say that it’s not a big deal if the dressing room is not working well, but it is, I’m telling you,” the 45-year-old Zidane said. “You may win here and there, but to win consistently, the dressing room has to be (united).”
After two-and-a-half years at the helm of Madrid, Zidane said his team’s dressing room is exactly how he wants it to be.
“It’s very good, it’s united. That’s crucial,” he said. “Talent alone is not enough. You can say anything you want, but if you don’t work, you are not going to win. And this dressing room has talent and work. With these two things together, you can achieve a lot.”
Ramos, Madrid’s captain, was on the same page.
“We’ve had different teams in the past, with a lot of stars, and maybe there used to be a divided dressing room,” Ramos said. “But now we have great team spirit. There are no egos, no individual protagonists. When the team wins, we all win individually.”
Zidane showed his good management when rotating starters and bringing in youngsters who usually don’t get a lot of playing time. He also succeeded in keeping Ronaldo in top form by convincing the Portugal forward to save himself for the most important matches of the season.
Francisco “Isco” Alarcon said it would be foolish not to listen to a man who has accomplished so much on the field.
“He is one of the best players in the history of football,” Isco said. “You pay attention to anything he has to say.”
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