In the summer of 1996, 24-year-old Zinedine Yazid Zidane departed Girondins de Bordeaux for Juventus, but as he left the shores of France for the boisterous atmosphere of Turin, the Frenchman would have laughed hysterically if a stranger suggested he would be sharing a dressing room with Chelsea’s future manager.
Naturally bald, won multiple trophies together in the famous Bianconeri strip, yet Zidane and Antonio Conte now have more in common than they did as team-mates in the late 90s; the former Juventus midfielders have now gone from the most popular managers in their respective leagues to the most troubled and horrified.
Although it is the Chelsea boss who looks more disturbed, given the recent string of disappointing results, and his discontent with the board on transfer decisions, Zinedine Zidane’s calm demeanor doesn’t in any way, make the ongoing crisis at Real Madrid any less disturbing.
However, to say that the former Juventus team-mates don’t boast an incredible managerial record would be a lie, especially for Zidane, who took us all by surprise; with back-to-back Champions league triumphs, and a 5/6 trophy sweep in 2017, but the reality today, as we speak, is that both men are, it has to be said, subconsciously suffering the same kind of managerial hemorrhage.
While Antonio Conte, Italy’s manager at the 2016 European championships, was readying himself to resume work at Cobham, his counterpart, Zinedine Zidane, was busy turning things around at the Santiago Bernabeu
Rafa Benitez, who eventually helped Newcastle win back promotion to the Premier League and is currently trying to keep them up (Lord help that man), had lost favor in the eyes of the Madrid faithful after a horrifying first few months in charge, but for Real Madrid fans, bringing in an inexperienced Zidane as caretaker was even riskier than allowing Rafa continue.
The risk paid off though, and for the first time in donkey years, Los Blancos regained dominance on all fronts, silencing the critics and winning more friends in a two-year-period that will go down as one of the most memorable for the club.
Zidane had implemented a rotation system that worked, and although not everyone got as much playing time as they would have loved, the minutes went round, and the results were consistently good, enough proof that the Frenchman knew what he was doing… or so we thought.
Antonio Conte, a Serie-A stalwart to the bone, was brought in to restore the pride of the bridge, Chelsea wasn’t just hurting, they had become a laughing stock after a 10th place League finishes in what was supposed to be an orgasmic title-defending season, IT WASN’T.
The Italian tactician arrived the Premier League not just on the back of an impressive European championship outing with the Azzurri, but with a track-record of Italian top flight dominance that suggested he wasn’t going to be messing around in West London.
Unlike Pep Guardiola, Conte didn’t need time and money to settle, his 3-5-2 system, a set-up alien to English football, didn’t just win Chelsea their third league title in seven years, it restored order and normalcy at Cobham, players were smiling again, and the fans were looking forward to greater memories in the Italian’s second term in charge.
Two things are pretty clear at this point; first, Chelsea and Real Madrid fans started this campaign more excited, more confident than anyone else, the second? They are probably the most disgruntled as you read.. forget AC Milan and Liverpool, their case has become the norm over the years.
After successive defeats to Bournemouth and Watford, Antonio Conte’s side now finds themselves languishing in fourth-place, same as Real Madrid, whose players have even admitted to journalists that Champions League qualification has become the priority at this point.
The only trophy Zidane hasn’t won as Madrid boss is the Copa Del Rey, but he might never get another shot, after watching in despair as a defiant Leganes dumped-out the Los Blancos in the quarter-finals.
Chelsea too was not spared in the Cup elimination satire, London rivals Arsenal were more than pleased to dispatch the blues as they booked a spot in the Carabao Cup final with Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City.
While much of the blame for Zidane lies with sticking to his players and blocking transfers, Antonio Conte’s nightmare at Stamford Bridge is, to be candid, much more complicated.
First, the text message to Diego Costa, then the war of words with Jose Mourinho, axing David Luiz from the first team, crying out over the club’s Transfer policies, and of course, telling the press that he still has 18-months left on his contract and doesn’t intend to go anywhere.
The cases of Zinedine Zidane and Antonio Conte couldn’t be more similar, and as bad as it looks on paper, the Champions League last-16 isn’t the best place to draw inspiration from.
PSG are currently the most ambitious club on the planet, and it’s not just in how they spend, their form right now is a bitter reminder that Real Madrid has a lot more to worry about than a disappointing La Liga title defense.
Maybe they are up against farmers in the French top flight, but with Neymar, Mbappe, and Edinson Cavani at the peak of their powers, Real Madrid players will be going into that tie well aware of the danger that lies ahead.
Even then, Antonio Conte has more to worry about.
Barcelona remain unbeaten in La Liga, in fact, they’ve lost just once all season, and in the end, it didn’t matter because they overturned the tie and eventually dispatched Espanyol (2-0, II Leg) en route the Copa del Rey Semi-Final draw against Valencia.
In eight appearances against Chelsea, Lionel Messi has NOT found the back of the net, the Blaugrana have also been eliminated in the quarter-finals of the last two Champions League campaigns, we are talking about a team driven by hunger and anger.
In 2012 Chelsea won the Champions League for the first time in history, and en route the final, they did the unthinkable, standing up to rock the rides each time it looked like they were drowning, it’s a campaign Napoli, Barcelona and Bayern supporters hate to remember
Although the five-time Premier League Champions are having a less frustrating season than they did six years ago en route a historic night in Munich, back-to-back defeats to Bournemouth and Watford isn’t the sort of performance that brings back good memories.
This is football, the odds and bookmakers don’t always get it right, Leicester City defied a 5000/1 odd to win the Premier League in 2016, but then, it would take a really brave man betting that Chelsea comes out tops in what is expected to be a really frustrating encounter for the blues.
Away from the corridors of the beautiful game, Roman Abramovich and Florentino Perez may not have a lot more in common, but deciding the fate of two troubled managers is a roundtable the football tycoons subconsciously share right now… and the real surprise would be not hiring new tacticians in the coming months.
Real Madrid and Chelsea are probably not headed towards hell, but for Zinedine Zidane and Antonio Conte, 2017/18 will be remembered as the era when Old birds flocked together, in an atmosphere of dramatic inconsistency and frustration