Zinedine Zidane is used to making history.
He is a three-time world player of the year. He is the man for whom Real Madrid smashed the world transfer record.
He is the man who led France to World Cup glory on home soil, then the Euro 2000 crown two years later, and then – seemingly just for good measure in the twilight of a glittering career – the World Cup final in 2006.
He is, to put it simply, footballing royalty.
On Saturday, Zidane can make more history.
Only six men have ever won the European Cup as both a player and a manager. Should Real Madrid beat neighbours Atletico in the Champions League final in Milan, Zidane will become number seven.
The 43-year-old has only been a senior head coach for a touch under five months, and he has the opportunity to add his name to a list that includes luminaries such as Johan Cruyff, Carlo Ancelotti and Pep Guardiola.
That Guardiola features on that particular roll of honour feels fitting.
If some reports are to be believed, Zidane will become the latest in a long, long line of coaches to be fired by Madrid president Florentino Perez – ironically the same man who paid around €75million to sign him from Juventus in 2001 – should Atletico win at San Siro.
But that would be a grave error.
To say Zidane could be Madrid’s very own Guardiola is perhaps stretching the realms of possibility, while also placing an undue burden on the shoulders of a man who remains a managerial novice, regardless of his totemic feats as a player.
Guardiola is, after all, a living legend in the field of coaching. A visionary perfectionist who racked up a jaw-dropping 14 (yes, fourteen) major trophies in a four-season stint in charge of Barcelona, before heading off to Bayern Munich and changing the face of German football ahead of his upcoming Premier League sojourn with Manchester City.
The chances are that Zidane would not emulate Guardiola’s achievements at Barcelona, because the chances are that nobody will ever emulate Guardiola’s achievements at Barcelona.
But Perez has a chance, here. A chance to place his faith in a youthful legend of the club whose stellar playing career means he commands the respect of the dressing room and – for now, at least – the unwavering adoration of the fanbase, despite his managerial inexperience.
The last time the president of one of Spain’s two footballing superpowers took that chance, Joan Laporta was rewarded richly with the most glorious period of Barcelona’s history.
Perez has the opportunity to learn from the mistake of sacking Ancelotti just 12 months ago, despite the fact the Italian was loved by his players and Madrid’s famously-fickle supporters.
To his credit, Perez rectified his mistake of replacing Ancelotti with Rafael Benitez rapidly.
He turned to Zidane in Madrid’s hour of need, and Zidane responded by reuniting a divided dressing room, leading the club to the Champions League final and going within a whisker of miraculously overhauling Barcelona to win the title by finishing the Liga season with 12 consecutive wins.
“I think he’s come in and he’s kind of just given us that freedom to enjoy ourselves on the pitch,” said Gareth Bale this week.
“I think, as a player, you like to play that way and I think he’s instilled that confidence in the team that we can go out and express ourselves and I think that’s brought the best out of us.”
The players want him to stay. The fans want him to stay.
It is time for Perez to choose stability. Win or lose in Milan, it is time to back Zidane.
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