Few expected Zinedine Zidane to leave Real Madrid and even fewer expected him to come back as coach.

The Frenchman oversaw one of Real Madrid’s most glorious era’s as the club won three successive Champions Leagues under him and one La Liga title. However, he left after the club failed to hand him the necessary recruits that would help them replicate the success in Europe back home in La Liga.

Almost 500 days later, he has won the La Liga title, without fuss, without even the improvements he was promised.

On Thursday, in an empty Alfredo di Stefano Stadium at Real Madrid’s training ground, he hoisted another trophy, his second in La Liga and 11th overall as coach. He is now just three trophies behind the haul of Miguel Munoz, a man who managed Real Madrid for 14 years and oversaw an era of glory.

However, Zidane is closing in on his tally in real quick time.

Real Madrid's most successful managers

Managers Trophies won Matches per trophy
Miguel Munoz 14 43
Zinedine Zidane 11 19
Vicente del Bosque 7 33
Leo Beenhakker 6 28
Jose Villalonga 4 26
Carlo Ancelotti 4 30
Jose Mourinho 3 59

Zidane currently wins a trophy every 19 games on average, a tally that is by far the most impressive among Real Madrid’s top managers. The Frenchman has also delivered big trophies.

In his second spell, as he won the La Liga again, Zidane achieved more milestones that would further cement his place among Real Madrid’s greatest managers of all-time.

He is now only the third Real Madrid coach to manage the club in over 200 games.

Real Madrid's longest serving managers

Managers Matches managed
Miguel Munoz 604
Vicente del Bosque 233
Zinedine Zidane 209*
Jose Mourinho 178
Leo Beenhakker 169
Vujadin Buskov 139
Milan Miljanic 134
Carlo Ancelotti 119
Francsico Bru 118
Jose Villalonga 105

Zidane also surpassed Mourinho and Del Bosque for the number of wins recorded this season taking him second on the all-time list.

Stats comparison of Real Madrid's top managers

Manager Total Wins Win % Loss %
Miguel Munoz 357 59 20
Zinedine Zidane 141 68 12.5
Jose Mourinho 128 72 12
Vicente del Bosque 127 54.5 21
Leo Beenhakker 107 63 13
Carlo Ancelotti 89 75 13.5
Vijadin Buskov 80 58 20

Zidane has the third-best win percentage among the top Real Madrid managers of all-time behind only Mourinho and Ancelotti. As far as loss percentage is concerned Zidane is only behind the Portuguese.

The Frenchman, who was a newcomer into management when he took over the Real Madrid job in 2016, has matched some of the biggest names in the game within just four years. The way he is going at the moment he is likely to end up as one of the greatest managers of all time.

With his second La Liga win as head coach, Zidane has entered an elite group of managers that have won multiple domestic and European titles. Zidane is only the 21st manager in European football history to achieve this feat.

Read: ‘He’s a blessing from heaven’: Real Madrid president Perez hails coach Zidane after La Liga triumph

Most impressive triumph?

While three Champions League titles out of three was historic, this La Liga success might be his most impressive yet. When he was reappointed in March last year, Madrid president Florentino Perez said Zidane had come again to launch “a glorious new era”.

But standing next to him was Madrid’s third coach of the season, taking over a team 12 points behind Barcelona, having just been knocked out while being outplayed by Ajax in the Champions League.

Most thought Zidane’s return was a mistake; the coach that had gone out on the highest of highs and now returning to a team in tatters. Cristiano Ronaldo was gone and it seemed those that remained had lost the hunger. “We will change things, for sure, and for the years to come,” Zidane said.

Change, though, would have to wait, and then it seemed to never come at all. Zidane saw out a miserable 11 games of last season where performances grew worse, not better. The anticipation of a summer overhaul increased as Madrid’s newspapers published polls revelling in which of the world’s best players should arrive.

Kylian Mbappe or Neymar? “I would like them both,” said Perez. Zidane did not want them all but there was one he desperately wanted, Manchester United’s Paul Pogba, who he was convinced could change everything.

Yet Pogba stayed put and so too did Gareth Bale, who Zidane was assured would be sold. “It would be best for everyone,” he said.

Hazard did sign, for €100 million, but arrived overweight and then got injured, the opening sequence of his nightmare first year in Spain.

Instead of a sparkling new era, Zidane was handed more of the same but when the inevitable questions came about broken promises, he refused to stoke the fire.

“The decisions that are up to me are on the pitch,” he said.

The trouble was those were no better. Draws against Valladolid and Villarreal were followed by humiliation in Paris. Defeat by Real Mallorca in October left Zidane on the brink of the sack. “I know how this works,” said Zidane, with Jose Mourinho ready, but perhaps that jolted the players, who beat Galatasaray 1-0 and began to turn the tide.

Zidane grows bolder

Zidane escaped and grew bolder. Fede Valverde came into his midfield and proved the catalyst for change, the Uruguayan bringing dynamism and chaos to an all-too-predictable midfield. “He’s amazing,” said Kroos. “I love this player.”

The defence tightened too, conceding nine goals during a crucial run of 21 games unbeaten either side of Christmas.

Ferland Mendy proved a more reliable alternative to Marcelo at left-back while in goal, Thibaut Courtois blossomed.

“Even as someone who prefers exciting, attacking football, the defence is the most important thing right now,” Zidane said.

In attack, he trusted two young Brazilians, Vinicius Junior and Rodrygo, and between them, Karim Benzema found arguably the best form of his entire career.

“My job is to transmit a sense of calm in the difficult moments,” he said. “To be quiet, patient and positive.”

That ability to exude confidence and diffuse pressure appeared even more valuable as Barcelona descended into turmoil and sacked Ernesto Valverde, the coach that at least kept the team happy, and winning.

And when the coronavirus pandemic hit, Madrid’s players reacted better, coming back revitalised, more determined than ever that an 11-match sprint would end with a trophy.

“After lockdown, there was something very particular,” said Zidane on Wednesday. “I could see it in training. The players wanted something.”

Zidane had a bigger squad than Barcelona’s but his willingness to rotate became key.

Tournaments have also been his strength and perhaps he rekindled that mentality. With no time for training, the message was simple: Win. In that sense, Zidane has silenced the doubters, even if it remains to be seen whether he can rebuild a team or replicate his success elsewhere.

But just as this Madrid were a mess without him, with him they are celebrating again.

Few expected him there but Zidane was right in his first press conference. “Change is for the future,” he said. “The important thing is I’m back.”

(With AFP inputs)