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Zinedine Zidane's Real Madrid success not just down to luck

The fact that he inherited the Real Madrid job without having coached a top-level team in his life; had an arguably easier than average path to last season's Champions League final; won that title in a penalty shootout; and has achieved a few late comeback victories in the second half of last season and the beginning of this one.

A section of the Spanish media constantly uses a combination of the aforementioned elements to accuse Zinedine Zidane of being lucky.

Not that there's anything wrong with luck, but for that handful of newspapers and radio stations, the French manager desperately needs that luck because he isn't really qualified to occupy one of the biggest jobs in world football. And, following that rationale, only because of an amazing sequence of lucky strikes, he's been winning matches at an unprecedented rate -- he just broke Real Madrid's record of consecutive La Liga matches won and tied Josep Guardiola's record when he coached Barcelona.

You may think this line of thinking is nonsensical and shouldn't even be taken seriously, but during last Friday's news conference, Zidane was in fact asked whether or not he considered himself a lucky guy. His well-humoured answer made most of the present journalists laugh: "Yes, I'm lucky, but not only in football, I'm lucky in general. I've been lucky all my life."

Qualified coaches have questioned Zidane's tactical approach to specific matches. Indeed, the French manager is far from a tactical innovator and it's hard to imagine him instilling a very personal, consistent style of football in every team he could potentially coach in the future. Even though it's still early in his career, he does not look like a potential Guardiola.

But Zidane's merit so far is not based on complex tactical schemes. In fact, most players embraced his way of doing things in part because they could not bear Rafa Benitez's constant corrections and obsession with control and tactics. Zidane knew the dressing room well and brought back the fun to training sessions, making them more ball centric and less video-intense.

Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane
The critics are claiming that Zinedine Zidane's success at the club is down to plain luck.

Since he took over in January, Zidane has established very clear guidelines, and that is probably his biggest asset.

As soon as he started, he felt the team's physical preparation was not right, and acted on it. By doing this, not only he recovered a few of his men in terms of shape, but also sent a clear message: from that point onwards every player knew that being in top form was mandatory.

In a team famous for the President's influence on line-up decision, it has only taken Zidane a few months for the squad to understand that meritocracy is a fundamental element for him to decide who will start. Not only physical shape, but work rate, intensity and will to be involved in the match even as a sub are now more important than the price tag of one specific player.

Finally, in a way that reminds of Carlo Ancelotti, the level of freedom Zidane gives his players on the pitch has become a reason for most members of the squad to speak so highly of him. Rather than spending the whole match correcting positions, the French manager prefers to watch in silence and call one of his midfielders every once in a while to exchange a few words.

Even though he's studied the methods of other top-level coaches, his training sessions won't change the history of football, his in-game decisions won't surprise because of his boldness and it's too early to know whether or not he can lead a smaller team to play great football.

However, he found a broke team and recovered the whole squad in an extremely short period of time. He's been able to maintain an amazing level of competitiveness inside the squad without generating negative dynamics. And helps his players to find ways to win in the most unexpected situations.

It does not look like luck has anything to do with this. And if it did, it feels like well-earned, hard-work luck.

Eduardo Alvarez covers Real Madrid and the Spanish national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @alvarez.


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