Zinedine Zidane may never have been hired as Real Madrid coach but for the success of Pep Guardiola at Barcelona, but it is Guardiola who now must follow the Frenchman’s example to complete his mission at Manchester City.
Zidane’s Madrid travel to Manchester on Friday looking to overturn a 2-1 first-leg deficit from February as the Champions League resumes after a five-month coronavirus shutdown.
Much has changed since the sides last met. Then under pressure, Zidane, in his second spell in charge at the Bernabeu, has again interrupted Barca’s dominance of La Liga with a run of 10 straight victories after Spanish football’s return in June to take the title.
Even for the club where Champions League success matters more than anything else, the pressure is off Madrid as Zidane looks to protect his perfect record in the competition as a coach.
Three times he led Madrid to Champions League glory in his first spell in charge between 2016 and 2018 and Zidane is yet to be eliminated from the competition as a coach.
“When he has done what he has done, winning three Champions Leagues in a row, taking two La Liga titles from Barca when they – in this decade – have dominated this competition like no other club, it shows his ability,” Guardiola told DAZN.
“Although people may not believe me because he is from Real Madrid, I am very happy that things are going well because it is very good for football that things go well for people like him.”
When Zidane was first handed the Madrid job, they were aiming to copy the formula of their rivals in appointing a former midfield great, who had only previously coached the club’s youth team.
Guardiola won 14 trophies in four seasons at the Camp Nou between 2008 and 2012, including two Champions Leagues.
League titles and cups have continued to flow for Guardiola at Bayern Munich and in Manchester, but he has not tasted success in Europe’s elite club competition since 2011.
Despite winning two Premier League titles among six major trophies since arriving in England, Guardiola admitted earlier this season his time at City would be judged “a failure” if he did not win the Champions League.
The pressure on City has reduced since the first leg as their two-season ban from European competition was overturned by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, meaning this month is not their final chance for three years to end their wait to win the Champions League.
However, Guardiola has hinted they may never get a better chance, with the competition reduced to one-off matches from the quarter-finals and all on a neutral site behind closed doors in Lisbon.
The former Barca and Bayern boss has often lamented the lack of atmosphere generated by the City support on big European nights compared with the cauldrons of some of the continent’s more intimidating arenas.
“Of course, we have the chance to fight (again next season) but the situation that we have is not coming back again,” said Guardiola. “I think the big clubs don’t miss these chances to try until the last effort they have in their bodies.”
Finishing the job against Madrid would be a major milestone as City’s first knockout victory against a former nine-time winner in the Champions League.
Zidane has repeatedly stated his belief that Guardiola is “the best coach in the world”.
But after finishing 18 points behind Liverpool in the Premier League this season, it is the former Barca ball boy, player and manager who needs to do what Madrid have made a habit of – transforming miserable domestic seasons into memorable Champions League triumphs.