Zinedine Zidane will one day be a first-team manager.
We know this because he recently admitted as much, telling Canal Plus that he was “on the normal path” to becoming a head coach. Only, his path has been anything but normal.
Unlike countless retired superstars who see management as an entitlement, Zidane, like he has his entire life, has put the work in.
He was never keen on the sort of symbolic player-manager position awarded Ruud Gullit at Chelsea; he did not, like Clarence Seedorf, hang up his boots one evening and take control of a seven-time European champion the next morning.
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For a man who once said football came more easily to him than music, Zidane’s coaching apprenticeship has been remarkably thorough—meticulous to the point that after being handed an advisory role at Real Madrid in 2010 he proceeded to gain experience as a sporting director and then, in 2013, as an assistant to manager Carlo Ancelotti.
“I am learning a lot with Carlo,” he told Canal Plus. “I want what I am doing now to be useful for me in the future.”
And his future could be about to take a sharp, significant turn.
Last week both L’Equipe and Le Figaro revealed the 41-year-old’s time as an understudy was about to come to an end, and that Ligue 1 outfit AS Monaco would be his likely landing spot.
It was a report immediately endorsed by UEFA president Michel Platini, who told L’Equipe the principality club would be the ideal place for his fellow Frenchman to embark on a managerial career.
“If Zidane wants to be a coach, it’s good to start with Monaco. It’s a good club that has means,” he said, adding, “He has spent a year with Carlo Ancelotti at Real. So, he’s ready. If he wants to do the job, he has to take this step.”
Already, current Monaco boss Claudio Ranieri, whose contract expires in 2015, has received the dreaded vote of confidence from club owner and chairman Dmitry Rybolovlev. Rumours of discontent within the locker room at Stade Louis II have also surfaced, and it’s widely thought that Rybolovlev intends to make a coaching change ahead of next season, when Monaco will be back in the Champions League.
The potash magnate has invested hundreds of millions of euros in player acquisitions and salaries over the previous two transfer windows, and while Ranieri has performed admirably—perhaps commendably—in his job, the appointment of Zidane would immediately add the sort of cache and brand value the Italian simply can’t present.
It would also provide a club with lofty ambitions a recognized and universally respected spokesman, well versed in the power corridors and boardroom dealings of a big-money club.
Zidane, after all, began his off-field work at Madrid as a sort of intermediary between former manager Jose Mourinho and a front office that mostly despised the Portuguese. General director Jorge Valdano, since sacked, especially disliked Mourinho, and Zidane’s first assignment at the Bernabeu was essentially to massage that relationship.
In January 2011 he helped Mourinho convince Madrid president Florentino Perez that additional attacking depth was required, and later that month the club signed Emmanuel Adebayor on loan from Manchester City. They went on to win the Copa del Rey, and the Togolese striker contributed eight goals in all competitions.
More recently, Zidane’s penchant for peace-keeping has been used to both placate supporters disgruntled with the perceived excessive acquisition of Gareth Bale and sooth a goalkeeping situation that has left club icon Iker Casillas on the outskirts of the first team squad.
And all the while he has gleaned more practical information from Ancelotti.
“I analyze the goals we concede—how it happens, in what minute—and help prepare for games,” he told Canal Plus, adding that he was putting particular effort into developing Madrid’s tactics, which have switched from a 4-2-3-1 to a more effective 4-3-3 this season.
Still, he is not among the favourites to succeed Ranieri at Monaco.
Le Figaro has speculated that Walter Mazzarri (Inter Milan), Luciano Spalletti (unattached) and Jorge Jesus (Benfica) are among Rybolovlev’s primary targets for the position, and that the billionaire was hesitant to risk his lavishly-assembled squad on a managerial rookie.
The thing is, Zidane is anything but a risky candidate. In fact, his scrupulous approach and experience at various levels in club hierarchy make him a safer bet than many career coaches who get on and off the managerial merry-go-round each season.
Whoever appoints him will be taking advantage of a rare opportunity, and Monaco should consider themselves fortunate that they may just have first crack.
Jerrad Peters is a Winnipeg-based writer. Follow him on Twitter.