Just how good a manager is Zinedine Zidane? Cristiano Ronaldo was in no doubt last week, crediting the Frenchman with being the brains behind Real Madrid’s 11th European Cup won so dramatically last May.
But while winning the Champions League is very nice on your managerial CV, as with all cup competitions, Lady Luck almost always plays a part.
The real mark of a manager is surely to win your domestic title, and to do it again and again. Add in some European glory along the way, and that will get you a seat at the managerial top table.
Zidane obviously hasn’t had a chance to really do any of that. And for that reason, his Champions League success should really be greeted with a little caution when it comes to trying to judge his abilities or considering a flutter on a good sports betting site.
That’s not to say there aren’t positive signs from Zizou, but as of yet, that is all they are.
Zidane’s priority this season has to be knocking Barca of their La Liga perch. He certainly has the artillery to do so.
Los Merengues, who had a rather quiet summer transfer window (curious even given the impending FIFA transfer ban), nevertheless have a squad few can equal in terms of talent.
They can certainly match or best Barcelona and Atletico Madrid for talent. But can they match them for application and concentration over the course of a gruelling league season?
“He came, made us work hard, work well,” said Ronaldo, as he sought to explain the Frenchman’s impact.
If he can do the same across an entire league season, keep his players focused and hungry on those less than glamorous nights, on those nights when you have to dig it out, then we could be seeing the emergence of a serious managerial talent.
Of course, they are big “Ifs”.
But while it is really early in the managerial career of the three times FIFA World Player of the Year, I think there is evidence to suggest that he might have a bit about him.
First, Zidane certainly seems to have a grasp of the basics. His recognition that Real were vulnerable without the stability afforded by a dedicated defensive midfield screen was concrete proof of that.
Casemiro’s promotion to that first team role was a crucial to last season’s progress – as the Frenchman established a better balance between defence and attack.
Second, the fact that he was able to do so at the expense of a number of the club’s galacticos suggests that Zidane is not without backbone.
His predecessor Rafa Benitez – long recognised for his single mindedness – also dabbled with playing Casemiro in the same role, but appeared to lack courage in his convictions when under the searing gaze of club president Florentino Pérez.
Thus far, Zidane has shown no such weakness, using his legendary status at the club to face down any undue pressure from above.
Third, we can also say that Zidane seems to have a hold over his players and has their buy in.
The galacticos wanted a man who shared similar experiences – who was on their wavelength. Galacticos to be managed by a galactico. They got that.
But being a great player doesn’t guarantee managerial greatness – and players will spot a manager out of his depth very quickly.
As Ronaldo says though, he got them “working hard, working well” – working for him. Vital for any manager hoping to make an impact in the game.
So, positive signs indeed, and that sense of positivity has been strengthened by the club’s impressive start to the season.
Saturday’s 5-2 mauling of Osasuna made it three from three for Real and was Zidane’s 20th league win from 23 league games at the helm.
The result also equalled the club record of 15 La Liga wins in row, set back in 1960/61.
And despite the fact that it really is early days for Zizou, one man at least is clearly convinced of the Frenchman’s abilities. “What coach can win the Champions League in six months?'” Ronaldo asked last week, as he buttered up the boss.
Very few, it’s true to say, Cristiano. Very few.
But a word of caution. Roberto Di Matteo did it in three, and he’s managing Aston Villa in the Championship now.