The 3 biggest challenges Zinedine Zidane faces at Real Madridby Colin Millar / 12 March 2019, 14:47Tweet
Zinedine Zidane confessed he ‘could not say no’ to the opportunity of re-joining Real Madrid, less than ten months after walking away from the club.
The Frenchman resigned from the post just five days after guiding Los Blancos to an unprecedented third successive Champions League title, despite being in the role for less than two-and-a-half years.
However, Zidane returns to a club in chaos. Madrid have 11 matches remaining in their campaign but none carry great significance.
They trail La Liga leaders Barcelona by 12 points and are licking their wounds after being dumped out of both the Champions League and the Copa del Rey.
The former star midfielder now admits he faces a ‘massive challenge’ in reforming the club’s fortunes. But what are three biggest issues on his agenda?
1) Diffuse arguments
Madrid are not only in disorder on the pitch but they have faced anarchy off it. Widespread reports in the Spanish media have highlighted a series of high-profile arguments between key figures.
President Florentino Perez stormed into the dressing room after the 4-1 loss to Ajax, lambasting the attitude and application of the players. Captain Sergio Ramos is said to have stood up to the supremo, before having a full-blown dispute.
Ramos is also said to have had a training ground fall-out with Marcelo, who himself is said to be deeply unhappy after losing his spot in the first team.
The same is true for playmaker Isco, who did not start in La Liga or the Champions League under Santiago Solari – Zidane’s predecessor.
Then there is the issue of Gareth Bale, whose teammates have hung out to dry in comments to the media, suggesting he does not help himself by failing to integrate with the rest of the squad.
Few players seem happy and many other quarrels feel like they are close to bubbling over in the coming weeks. Zidane must first be a firefighter.
2) Safeguard his legacy
Nobody expects Zidane to have quite the same level as success as he did in his first stint in charge of the club. In fact, the rest of the season offers no genuine possibility for a trophy with Champions League elimination already confirmed.
The 46-year-old ended his first coaching stint at the club at his own discretion, just as he had done with his playing career. He did it his way, he did not let things go stale and went out on the ultimate high.
So how can he possibly follow that up this time round?
The real judgement is unlikely to come for another nine months at least. The remaining weeks of this campaign and the summer will not see any significant results or otherwise, while his good-will at the club ensure the first months of the next season will be a free hit too.
Zidane must surely land a trophy next season if he is to keep the detractors at bay. The Champions League has been his holy grail but he did not land a Copa del Rey trophy during his three seasons at the helm while his final league campaign saw a 17-point deficit to champions Barcelona. Domestic success and ending the Catalan club’s dominance must surely now be a priority.
3) Agree a sporting direction with Florentino Perez
It is obvious that Madrid have not replaced Cristiano Ronaldo in their squad and must sign a high-profile attacking player this summer. Eden Hazard, Kylian Mbappe and Neymar have all been linked, with Chelsea’s Hazard perhaps the most attainable. Inter striker Mauro Icardi could be a possibility too.
But there are cracks across Madrid’s squad. The defence has been shaky with Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane both struggling for form, with Marcelo no longer a guaranteed starter.
The midfield trio of Casemiro, Luka Modric and Toni Kroos – who have served the club so well – now appear to lack energy, leading to an imbalance in the side.
Madrid no longer have the financial capability of completely transforming their squad with superstars. Their wage budget is notably less than Barcelona’s, while they cannot compete with Paris Saint-Germain or Manchester City, UEFA’s Financial Fair Play punishments notwithstanding.
What is for sure is that something big needs to happen this summer, and cohesion off the field in which players to target will be vital.