Last Saturday’s Club World Cup victory was an eighth trophy in less than two years as Madrid coach for Zinedine Zidane, with successes including the first back-to-back Champions League titles of the modern era, and the club’s first La Liga and European Cup double since 1958.
But the Bernabeu stands have been restless through recent months, as their side have fallen 11 points adrift of leaders Barcelona in the La Liga title race, finished behind Tottenham in their Champions League group, and skirted with humiliation in both the Copa del Rey and the Club World Cup in Abu Dhabi.
Whether Zidane deserves the blame for how 2017/18 has progressed so far is a moot point. Transfer policy is generally decided a few floors up from his office, and the coach did not unilaterally decide on last summer’s sales of experienced back-ups Alvaro Morata, James Rodriguez, and Pepe.
These were then mostly replaced by youngsters from Spain’s U21 team, part of a local talent policy mandated by club president Florentino Perez. It is no surprise really that talented but inexperienced kids like ex-Betis playmaker Dani Ceballos and homegrown centre-forward Borja Mayoral have not yet contributed regularly. It is quite awkward politically though that Morata, James, and Pepe have all shone elsewhere since leaving.
A dip in form was probably inevitable following all the recent success, and it is almost traditional at the Bernabeu to lack full motivation and focus through the autumn. The coach was also not helped by leading scorer Cristiano Ronaldo getting himself banned for the first four La Liga games for pushing over a referee, and then setting an unwanted personal record by scoring just one of his first 48 shots at goal in this year’s competition. Or by the latest injury woes of Gareth Bale.
Zidane’s position is more secure than were predecessors Rafa Benitez and Carlo Ancelotti, as a former galactico himself, and someone closely associated with big boss Florentino. The Frenchman is also remarkably sure in his own skin, and despite being under contract to 2020 he admitted openly in October that such paperwork was generally not so important at Madrid.
“I only think about this season,” the 45-year-old said then. “I‘ve a contract but that means nothing. All this can change rapidly. I’ve a lot of experience, I know how things are.”
Zidane has also regularly maintained that he focuses on enjoying himself and giving his all each day at work, as he knows all this must end someday. It is a healthy attitude for a man in such a highly pressurised situation. And it suggests that, even if his team lose on Saturday, he will deal calmly with any consequences.