The Frenchman returned on the basis that ageing players would be replaced, so why, asks Adam Drury, is he still relying on the old guard?
The old trope is that you should never go back, but that can usually be ignored.
Football is littered with stories of successful second stints. Marcello Lippi, Fabio Capello and Jose Mourinho all won domestic titles after returning to Juventus, Real Madrid and Chelsea respectively, while there are plenty more low-profile examples.
But, in Zinedine Zidane’s case, he should have listened to the layman’s advice.
Even without the benefit of hindsight, Zidane’s decision to return to the Bernabeu in March seemed confused.
He had known 10 months earlier that the imminent sale of Cristiano Ronaldo and the unwillingness from above to reinvest would cripple an ageing squad that had redefined the extremes of mental strength and good fortune to win three consecutive Champions League titles.
Real limping out of the Champions League and La Liga title race in the opening seven months of the 2018/19 season proved him right.
Yet Zidane’s leadership of the team since has raised even more questions about his U-turn.
President Florentino Perez lacked his manager’s foresight, but he didn’t allow things to stay stale for long.
A deal to sign Eder Militao from Porto for £44.5m was agreed in the middle of last season, before £200m was splashed out on Eden Hazard, Luka Jovic and Ferland Mendy this summer.
Hardly a comprehensive rebuild, but a solid, and pricey, start.
So why has Zidane – who, presumably, demanded the spending spree when he was asked to return – subsequently favoured the old guard that he originally wanted to replace?
Jovic, who cost over £50m after plundering 27 goals for Eintracht Frankfurt last season, has reportedly failed to impress Zidane in training, to the point that an immediate loan move elsewhere in Europe was mooted. He has started two matches, not lasting 90 minutes in either, and is yet to score.
The Frenchman also says that “we want more” from Eden Hazard.
But, of the players to start for Real Madrid against Club Brugge on Tuesday, only Hazard and Thibaut Courtois were not involved in the three Champions League victories between 2016 and 2018.
Those are hardly the ideal conditions for the Belgian to spearhead a brave, new future.
Zidane also cannot claim that those are the only cards he has been dealt.
When Rodrygo – the £40m summer signing from Santos – scored a wonderful debut goal against Osasuna last week, he was immediately demoted to the B team rather than be included in the squad for the Madrid derby.
Gareth Bale and James Rodriguez – two players who could have been dispensed with to make room for a reshaped attack – have both played more minutes than 19-year-old Vinicius Junior, who seemed ready for regular first-team football after making 33 appearances last season.
In fact, of the nine Real players to have played the most minutes this season, only Courtois has not been at the club since 2014. That is not in line with what Zidane believed the team needed when he took over as manager the second time around.
Real are top of La Liga, but that is more a reflection of the poor quality of the league.
Fifteen points from seven matches, including a 1-1 draw at home to Real Valladolid and a 2-2 away at Villarreal, is not an impressive return, and probably not a points ratio that will win them the title.
Besides which, a club that prides itself on European dominance will likely be too hung up on the 3-0 drubbing at PSG and inability to beat Club Brugges at home to actually enjoy any domestic success.
The temptation to turn to the safety blanket provided by experienced players – Sergio Ramos, Marcelo, Luka Modric, Bale, Rodriguez – must be huge when the alternatives are unknown quantities.
But their ropey start to this Champions League campaign is indicative of their manager’s faults.
Zidane has only succeeded at Real Madrid by facilitating stars at the peak of their powers, with no discernible playing style or philosophy.
He quit the job because he couldn’t see how the squad could transition into a new era, particularly without Ronaldo.
And, now, he seems to be snubbing the very transition that he wanted to implement.
More investment may be required, particularly in midfield. But a fresh voice is needed in the dugout if Madrid are to take the steps they must in order to reclaim their European crown.
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