By Toyin Akiode
After the rather short spell and unceremonious exit of Rafael Benitez which was nailed with the humiliating defeat by Barcelona at the Bernabue, the mantle of leadership fell on one of my favourite footballers of all time, Zinedine Zidane.
Zidane took over the management of a mega team brimming with superstar athletes like Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, Kareem Benzema, Luca Modric, Sergio Ramos, Toni Kroos, James Rodriguez, Keylor Navas, Alvaro Morata, Isco, etc. It is not so much as about the quality of the team than the history behind the second most valuable sport brand in the world.
When Real Madrid plays, it is expected that a galaxy of stars must be on display and this has been the reality for years when current President Florentino Perez in his first term initiated the project tagged ‘Galacticos’.
The drive behind that was to ensure that the club assemble the best footballers in all positions all over the world. It was both an audacious vision as well as almost impossible one!
The massive signing of Figo
However, when Perez orchestrated the transfer of Luis Figo (who was the best player in the world at the time) from Madrid’s bitterest Spanish rivals Barcelona, the football worldwas forced to notice that the man actually meant business. In swift succession and on a yearly basis, superstars arrived Madrid in forming what football fans came to call El Galacticos.
The vision, while not expressively successful, culminated in making Madrid the richest football club in the world. The adverse side of the scheme also led to the exit of Perez as the footballing side suffered with Barcelona rising rapidly by winning European cups in quick succession as well as La Liga titles.
Real Madrid, for more than two decades, were set up to be an attacking side. Hardly would you find a defensive Madrid team against any opposition. They play with gusto and character; always going forward no matter what. This pattern was exploited to their disadvantage by compact, aggressive and more defensive sides. They also shipped goals unnecessarily!
Having won the UEFA Champions League in his first season as manager, Zidane caught the attention of football fans from the gaffer side of the pitch with his own style which combined both the defensive side of the game with attacking impetus. This, for a man that was not known to be an advocate of defensive play indicated a masterstroke.
In his first full season as manager; Real Madrid have yet to lose a game after 16 matches in La Liga Satander. They have scored 45 goals and conceded only a measly 14.
That is the touch that a legendary attacking midfielder has brought to bear on Los Blancos. What makes this even more exciting is that only five of those 14 goals were conceded away from the intimidating Santiago Bernabue. The reverse used to be the case where ‘soft’ matches became hardened bones for Madrid to navigate.
If they continue to play the way they have fashioned themselves this season, Madrid may win their first Liga title since 2012. And it will be both fitting and exhilarating that it was orchestrated by an attacking midfield genius known as Zizou!