Zidane ready for top boss role with Castilla
Emilio Butragueño, Juan Mata, Alvaro Negredo, Santiago Cañizares, Iker Casillas, Raul, Michel, Manolo Sanchís and Guti. Real Madrid Castilla, the Spanish giants' second team, has produced some top talent through the years, but now it's gearing up for one of its toughest assignments yet.
Zinedine Zidane -- one of Madrid's, and football's, greatest sons -- will take the reins as manager next season and many consider it a stepping stone to taking charge of the club's illustrious first team further down the line.
The Frenchman had been linked with the vacant manager's post at his former club Bordeaux, and talks were held between the two parties, but Zidane decided to stay in the Spanish capital, despite the lure of the number one role in Ligue 1. Bordeaux president Jean-Louis Triaud said it was down to the 41-year-old being settled in Madrid. His sons play in the club's youth set-up and his family had lived in the city for 11 years. But maybe it was more than that.
Nobody knows how the former World Cup and Champions League winner will get on with Castilla but plenty are hoping he succeeds and makes the next step in becoming boss of Los Blancos. Club president Florentino Perez certainly will be hoping for that: One of his Galácticos to lead the current Galácticos. Zidane is a managerial newbie but Madrid already have eyes for "Zizou" becoming a future manager and what better learning curve than within the confines of Valdebebas, the club's training base.
Last season was a big one for Zidane, who spent five years as a player at the Bernabeu following a then world-record transfer from Juventus. He assisted manager Carlo Ancelotti in leading Los Blancos to a famous tenth Champions League title, while also achieving a diploma in sports management at the Centre for the Law and Economics of Sport in Limoges in January. The foundations had been laid for a venture into life as a number one.
Ancelotti, rightly, took the plaudits for calming things down in the Madrid dressing room following Jose Mourinho's tenure and the Italian guided them to two trophies in an excellent first season in charge. Zidane, and indeed Englishman Paul Clement, were crucial cogs in that process too, however. On Thursday Spanish sports newspaper AS ran with a striking picture of Zidane furiously pointing the way from the sidelines as Ancelotti looked on. A picture showing that he was ready for the job with Castilla, and maybe more.
Perez, clearly, had always rated him highly as a player, but he's rated him almost as highly in as part of his staff, post-retirement. Zidane was brought in as a special adviser when Perez won his second term as club president and since then he's held roles as sporting director and assistant manager. When general director Jorge Valdano departed, Zidane remained -- he wasn't going anywhere. Perez has bigger plans for a player who almost symbolises his tenure as Blancos president.
Castilla is another big step. Madrid's second team suffered relegation from the Segunda Division to Segunda B last season and Zidane has a tough task ahead of him. It'll be a real test of his managerial abilities and it'll bring more attention to Castilla. His time in charge could play a big part in whether he gets the big job at the Bernabeu in the not-too-distant future.
Not only will he be charged with trying to get the team back to the second tier of Spanish football, to aid the players' possible progression to the first team, but he'll be charged with bringing Castilla in-line with the way the first team play. Not only will that help the players, in this instance it will help Zidane, too. Expect Castilla to be the little brother to the Champions League winners next term, if only in style.
A similar stepping stone was used with Pep Guardiola and Luis Enrique at Barcelona. The success of the former is well known but how Luis Enrique -- who got the first-team job via stints at Celta Vigo and Roma -- will get on remains to be seen. Spain boss Vicente Del Bosque and Napoli manager Rafa Benitez also started their careers in charge of Madrid's second string. Perez will certainly be hoping Zidane can follow suit. If his teams can play the style of football with which the Frenchman graced the Bernabeu during his playing days, he's on to a winner.
Eyes will also be gazed on to first team affairs and who Ancelotti brings in as Zidane's successor. Fabio Cannavaro, who has recently been linked with the vacant manager's position with the Italian national side, looks to be the front-runner and his know-how of playing on the biggest occasions and with the biggest teams will be key. The former defender, who won the Ballon d'Or while at Madrid and lifted the World Cup with Italy, worked under Ancelotti during his playing days at Parma and it seems a good match.
Zidane's absence from first-team affairs will be noticeable, however. The Frenchman often led training sessions and was said to be crucial in helping get the best out of countrymen Karim Benzema and Raphael Varane. His idol status at Madrid and among some of the club's current squad can only help inspire and he will be a tough act to follow.
His departure should at least mean Clement, Ancelotti's other assistant who followed him to Spain from Paris St. Germain and Chelsea, remains as part of his coaching staff. The Englishman has not shied away from publicising his desire to also become a number one in the not-too-distant future, but losing two assistants in one summer could prove problematic for Madrid and for Ancelotti.
Castilla get more column inches than most outside Spain's top-flight thanks to their badge, but there will be extra eyes on Los Blancos' "little brother" next season as Zidane gets his teeth into management for the first time. There will be high hopes for one of the world's greatest-ever players.