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Will Zidane manage again?

Tuesday 7th August 2018

In Twelfth Night, Shakespeare observes that “some are born great, some achieve greatness, and others have greatness thrust upon ‘em.”

Modern society has done everything it can to hamstring those born into greatness, replacing the notion with born into money. Weddings and childbirths are now how we measure royalty.

History has always treated those forced into greatness with extreme cruelty, as do those born into money. Is there much difference between Joan of Arc and anyone who opposes Donald Trump? The torch is more metaphorical today, I suppose, even though the bonfire remains consuming.

Yet the rich and powerful still have a use for people who can achieve legendary status within an acceptable framework. Diverse as it is, that framework can be summed up as the entertainment industry.

Football is a popular entertainment and, as a way of allowing the wealthy and powerful to compete and increase their riches, it is less perilous than war. Therefore, lest I allow greatness and its harsh consequences to be thrust upon me, I am happy to participate in the elite’s expansive charade.

Zinedine Zidane has done more than participate. He has achieved a level of greatness within the beautiful game few before him can match. In fact, he is among the top six players in history, the other five being Pele, Maradona, Cruyff, Messi and Ronaldo.

The group dynamic is interesting. The two Argentines currently dominate the argument. Both are diminutive and skilled beyond belief, as well as sharing their nationality. Neither is inclined to pay taxes. Messi doesn’t cheat to win when the stakes are high, however. Nor is he a cokehead who makes friends with dictators. The latter would be Mesut Ozil but that’s a whole other deal. In personality, Messi appears to be much more like Pele, happy to facilitate others.

The Brazilian was unstoppable on the pitch but a pushover in the boardroom. He never had the stones to force a move away from Santos until his career was all but done. Messi at least holds Barcelona to ransom to pad his bank account, although no one but a Cule board member believes he will ever leave the club.

Cristiano Ronaldo shares a language with Pele, but nothing else. He is finesse personified on the pitch and a bull off it. He goes where he pleases and has built a business empire away from football.

Zidane and Johan Cruyff are the least talented in the sextet but the most similar. It’s more than the turn that Zidane re-patented in his name thirty years after the Dutchman immortalised it. Zizou had dalliances early in his career with Cannes and Girondins Bordeaux and Cruyff at the end with the now-defunct North American Soccer League, Levante and Feyenoord, but each played primarily for two clubs. Zidane literally butted heads with Marco Materazzi in a World Cup final when the Italian spoke crudely about his mother. Cruyff figuratively butted heads with rivals throughout his time as a manager and football executive.

Zidane has emulated Cruyff’s post-playing career as well as that famous turn. After playing primarily for Ajax and Barcelona, the Dutchman went on to manage both. For the Frenchman, Real Madrid and Juventus were the predominant clubs. He has since made his mark as a manager with the Spanish giants, winning three consecutive Champions Leagues in two-and-a-half seasons on the job. If I had to guess, I don’t think he will follow the Cruyff blueprint by managing the Bianconeri.

As a player, Zidane made his mark then moved on from the four clubs he represented. Similarly, he rose through the ranks in the Merengues’ hierarchy, as a personal advisor, bench, reserve and finally first-team coach. There is no challenge for him at Juventus. Nothing to learn or build.

Paris Saint-Germain is more a match for him. It is on the cusp, seeking direction like FC Barcelona was when Cruyff returned as boss in 1988. If Thomas Tuchel fails to deliver in the Champions League, Zidane may step in despite his natural antipathy for the French capital as a son of Marseille.

A World Cup cycle with Les Bleus could be in the cards, solely to join the small club of footballers who have lifted the trophy as player and manager.

Ultimately, however, the challenge of running a club or federation, as Cruyff later did with Ajax and l’Oranje may hold the most appeal. Those who achieve greatness are not driven by the desire to be great but the need to achieve, to go beyond. Sir Alex Ferguson did it by winning more consistently than any other manager. Zidane is like Cruyff and Franz Beckenbauer. He belongs to the been-there-done-that class. He requires new tasks, more difficult than the ones already achieved. Don’t be shocked if the next position he accepts has the title of President attached. And wouldn't that be great?

Martin Palazzotto

The former editor of World Football Columns, Martin contributes frequently to Stretty News and is the author of the short story collection strange bOUnce. He has appeared in several other blogs which, sadly, have ceased to exist. He is old and likes to bring out defunct. Although football is his primary passion, the geezer enjoys many sports and pop culture forms. Expect them to intrude upon his meanderings for It's Round and It's White.

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