Zinedine Zidane has always been a bit of an enigma: gifted and capricious as a player, but guarded and aloft in the real world. As a coach though, he has steered Real Madrid away from troubled waters and into the final of the Champions League. Zizou will face Diego “El Cholo” Simeone, but in a press conference yesterday, he had nothing but praise for his Argentine counterpart.
That all-Madrid encounter in Milan is the big culmination of the soccer season across the Atlantic. With Zizou and El Cholo, old friends meet again. They played at the same time in the Serie A during their playing careers. Zidane and Simeone were very different players, if not diametrically opposed: earth vs. sun in soccer terms. That’s also reflected in their coaching philosophies.
Simeone is a lone crusader for a school of pragmatic soccer with a simple maxim: winning is everything, victory as the highest good in the game. The Argentine urchin revels in his supposed antagonism – against a legion of “Pep-adepts” and “Bielsists” who profess that anything else but attacking football would constitute blasphemy. Indeed, Zidane opts for 4-3-3. Real Madrid’s style aspires to be inviting and forward-minded.
They favor a different style of soccer, but Zidane was very forthcoming in acknowledging the qualities of his rival. In fact, Zizou has hailed Diego Simeone as the complete manager.
“[Simeone] has everything,” said the Frenchman. “He has everything a coach has to have but above all he knows his team, his players very well and that’s the most important thing.”
“Simeone is one of the best coaches in the world,” added Zizou.
Saturday marks the biggest day in Zidane’s fledgling managerial career – a chance to add la undécima to Real Madrid’s trophy cabinet. Zizou took over in January from Rafael Benítez. He lost 1-0 to Atlético and Simeone in La Liga, but finished above El Cholo in the league table.
“I have a lot to learn still, but the desire I have to learn is tremendous so I am going to improve, for sure,” acknowledged Zidane. “There’s still a lot I need to do to be a great coach. An important coach.”