Zizou’s magic versus Klopp’s spell

Somehow, despite the great modern hunger for sequels and franchises, there hasn’t yet been a follow-up made to Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait, the 2006 film that trained 17 cameras on its leading man for 90 minutes of a Real Madrid win over Villarreal.
Zizou’s magic versus Klopp’s spell

There is a short video on YouTube, made by beIN Sports. But On the Bench with Zinedine Zidane lasts just four minutes.

In it, Zidane first leans against the tunnel wall before a game with Deportivo La Coruna, chatting to Karim Benzema. He stands, swaying side to side, in the technical area, hands deep in pockets. There is frowning and occasional universal football gestures. Get tighter. Push up. One clenched fist. Clapping. He sits down. Looks at the work his coaches have been doing, while they are still scribbling on a pad. Gets up. More frowning. A smile. More clapping.

Four minutes is enough. Nothing much happens and when A 21st Century Portrait Of A Football Manager finally gets made, it is more likely to star Jurgen Klopp.

A less arty version was planned when Liverpool faced Borussia Dortmund in the 2016 Europa League quarter-final. German broadcaster Sport1 promised a 90-minute ‘Klopp Cam’ to mark his return to the Westfalenstadion, but eventually pulled the plug after Klopp objected.

“If someone is silly enough to want to see my face for 90 minutes during a game, I cannot change the world,” Klopp had said. But if he wasn’t born for that kind of world, Klopp has quickly adapted.

On the touchline, Klopp is action hero. Gesticulating, jumping, gurning, roaring, sliding, as the moment demands. He once chased Alberto Moreno for 40 yards along the touchline, shouting at him, in a diligent display of tracking that his full-back may not have been entirely familiar with.

Klopp instinctively knows when the world is looking at his face, so when Sadio Mane screwed horribly wide against Roma and Anfield groaned, Klopp motioned instantly to quell the impatience. To remain in control of the narrative.

There may not be many footballers left who can control a game, so it seems to be up to the great managers to fit some kind of identity around the chaos.

For Klopp’s gegenpressing game to work, former German international Thomas Hitzlsperger says players must completely accept it without doubts. “Whoever pulls you back and hesitates endangers the success of the team.”

It means Klopp can never rest in case his players slip from under his spell.

“I am not the guy who is going to go out and shout ‘we are going to conquer the world’ or something like this. But we will conquer the ball. Yeah? Each fucking time!”

Maybe he achieves that acceptance partly by convincing players he has discovered a loophole, a cheat, that he can stretch the game’s parameters. How much you can run, how soon can you go again? How gauche a full-back can you be and still play in the Champions League? How many goals can you score in 10 minutes?

“Between 82 and 94 minutes, you can make eight goals if you like,” he said, early in his Anfield reign. So 5-0 up to 7-6 in the semi-final was a modest swing.

He strips the game of old certainties, such as the need for midfield play, while Zidane stands naked on the touchline without a philosophy to hide behind. With nothing particularly persuasive to convince players he is in control.

So a third consecutive Champions League win for Zidane tonight might be a blow to the cult of the manager, or it might inspire a closer look at the cult of Zizou.

“I’m not the best coach, I’m not the best tactically,” he said again this week. What exactly is it he does, remains the popular question. Clap his hands, some scoff.

He can’t get Madrid to do it week in week out in the league and he won’t even provide ‘controvassy’, couldn’t work as assistant to Jose Mourinho at Real because, as Spanish daily Sport put it, Mourinho wanted a mouthpiece to criticise referees and wage verbal wars, “but Zidane wanted to coach”.

We hear how he once lined up 20 balls on the training ground and beat Cristiano Ronaldo at a free-kick contest and it sounds a bit like the time Roy Keane “lost Craig Gordon” by proving, to the tune of £100 a shot, that he could save more free-kicks.

But Zidane didn’t lose Ronaldo, rather he’s the first manager to persuade him to miss games and concentrate less on quantity of goals than on being ready to score the big goals.


o what is it about Zizou? Is it the headbutt in his locker? The potential for explosion he hasn’t yet detonated.

“Sometimes when you arrive in the stadium you feel that everything has already been decided. The script has already been written,” he said, in 21st Century Portrait.

But that’s more Klopp’s area too, that command of destiny. “We have to change from doubters to believers. Now.”

It’s unclear whether Liverpool are packing the Spirit of Istanbul or the Spirit of ‘81 tonight. But they will have unbelievable belief that they can win it from any position, even if their fans will be fearful they could lose it from any position.

Maybe it inspires Salah & Co. to greater heights, this knowledge that three, four, or even five mightn’t be enough.

“I’m glad we’re not playing against each other. Me against him, marking him or whatever... I’m very glad I can send my players onto the pitch,” Klopp said of Zidane this week.

But in many ways this is billed as a match-up between Klopp’s belief system and Zidane’s players, even if the magical Salah story has changed things a little. Though since Klopp unlocked Salah’s genius, we must presume he could lose the keys at any point.

What if neither manager showed tonight? What difference would it make? Would Liverpool still conquer every fucking ball? Would a belief system beat Zidane’s players?

Or what if Klopp shows but his spell breaks? He has lost his last five finals. This week, Jordan Henderson recalled the inspirational speech Klopp gave two years ago on the night of the Europa League final. Unfortunately, it was after the game and Liverpool players only rediscovered the unbelievable belief when they got back to the team hotel, in defeat.

Zidane seems happy enough for people to think he could remain at Madrid’s Kiev hotel tonight. But he has somehow won every final so far in his managerial career. Perhaps his players believe, most of all, in whatever made them Real Madrid players in the first place. And their manager’s unselfconscious nakedness somehow helps them in that regard. Empowerment, goes the jargon.

Steve McManaman sees something of his old Real boss Vicente del Bosque, who also won two Champions Leagues.

“He was not a shouter or a super architect with elaborate training sessions, but he kept the camp happy. He let the leaders in the dressing room — the Spanish players — do all that. Zizou looks like he has taken the same approach.”

It worries football writer and Liverpool fan Paul Little: “Zidane unnerves me. Like Ol’ Man River, he don’t say nuthin’, but he must know sumthin’.”

Zidane hardly says nuthin’ in a 21st Century Portrait — a beautiful study of time and motion and elegance though quite a boring film, if hypnotic and hard to switch off.

As Zizou puts it, among the mostly mumbo-jumbo that pops up on screen: “Magic is sometimes very close to nothing at all. Nothing at all.”

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