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A tale of two French managers





I suppose when you have scored two goals in a Fifa World Cup final, dominated a European Championship in which your country won, scored a stupendous winning goal in a Champions League final and then dominate another Fifa World Cup (in which you bowed out after a head-butt), nothing modern day footballers bring to you will faze you.

Zinedine Zidane has led Real Madrid to their first Champions Cup/Champions League and La Liga double since before man landed on the moon. In the process, he has also led the team to make history in becoming the first team to retain the European premier club competition trophy since it was renamed the Champions League.

Not even the great sides put together by Pep Guardiola at Barcelona could retain the trophy, such is the high demand put upon clubs competing in it and their domestic league campaigns. The 4-1 demolition of Juventus to put the curtain down on the 2017 European Football season was a fitting finale to the football this Real Madrid side played all season.

It is probably impossible to put together how much credit must go to Zidane. Real Madrid are not your regular club side. They believe they are the best in the world. They believe the best players must be playing for them. Their managers and teams are expected to play with style, flair and panache. The dominance of Guardiola’s Barcelona hurt. Real bad. Despite hiring the likes of Jose Mourinho, Carlo Ancelloti and Rafa Benitez, they were never able to get over their enemies in Catalonia. Zidane seems to have done that.

Zidane’s Real Madrid play football on the front foot. Not for him the obdurate double pivots many “winning managers” are known for. Casemiro – a gifted and technically accomplished passer of the ball – is his holding midfielder. Around him are the delicate and brilliant ball manipulators of Luka Modric and Toni Kroos. Where Zidane has done especially well was to convince Cristiano Ronaldo to conserve his energies and play as a centre-forward. The Portuguese has responded by scoring crucial goals in all the key games this season. Benitez was basically sacked because Ronaldo refused to play as his number 9.

Zidane turns 45 later this month of June and has won two Champions Leagues and one La Liga title in his two seasons at the club, so what or where next can he go from here? Maintaining success is one of the most difficult things in sports it will be interesting to observe what happens for Zidane in the coming seasons.

Another French manager who won a trophy is Arsene Wenger. The Arsenal manager won his 7th FA Cup triumph by beating the champions and favourites, Chelsea, in the final. Arsenal played the type of football expected of the team, but rarely seen consistently over a season, in beating Chelsea. Granit Xhaka, Per Mertersacker, Rob Holding and match-winner Aaron Ramsey finally repaying the faith the manager had shown in them.

Wenger had a difficult last few months of the season, with many of the fans asking for him to resign. A few days after the FA Cup win he penned a new two-year deal. I have to say I was stunned at the news. I felt that, with the way his team had performed in that Cup final, the win was the perfect way for him to bow out at the top with his legacy intact.

While Zidane’s stock is definitely high and on the up I am not sure what or where exactly Wenger’s stock is. What they both have in common though is a desire to set teams out on the front foot. To entertain the paying public and to have players enjoy their work on the pitch. I have not said or even implied that there is only one way to win football matches and trophies; what I am saying is that playing attractive attacking football and winning trophies are not mutually exclusive. That is a fact.

In a few weeks these two great French football ambassadors will start it all over again in Madrid and London, hoping to thrill their fans, and winning trophies while doing so. We will all be watching again.

My most iconic image of the 2017 European Football season was Lionel Messi of Barcelona holding his shirt up with his number turned to show the Real Madrid fans. It was a rare show of arrogance from the great man following his injury-time winner in the Madrid leg of the Classico. Thank you for sharing your time reading all through the season.

You can follow us on twitter @CalvinEmeka and @supersporttv


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