Zinedine Zidane’s smooth transition from Real Madrid legend as a player to Champions League winning coach has caught many by surprise, but Real president Florentino Perez believes success was guaranteed by the Frenchman’s “love story” with the Spanish giants.
Zidane dazzled for five years as a Madrid player after being signed by Perez for a then-world record fee in 2001. Yet his incredible record in 11 months since being handed his first senior managerial role has more than rivalled his accomplishments as a player.
Having suffered just two defeats in 48 games in charge, Zidane led Madrid to an 11th European Cup at the first time of asking in May and has Los Blancos on the way to a first La Liga title in five years by opening a six-point lead on Barcelona ahead of El Clasico on Saturday.
“He changed the history of this club as a player and it was such an easy option for us. He is someone who came here to offer a new and distinct future… it was obvious that he would do a great job,” Perez told AFP in an exclusive interview.
“It has been a beautiful and eternal love story and that is why I am not surprised by the results he is getting and those that are still to come.”
Madrid’s form under Zidane is even more remarkable given that his predecessor Rafael Benitez lasted just seven months at the Santiago Bernabeu with his short-lived reign blighted by poor results and player revolts.
It is the respect garnered from his playing days that Perez believes sets Zidane apart.
“Zidane last year changed our lives. As well as working very well from a professional point of view, he has an authority with the players because he was a great player. He was one of the greatest ever,” added Perez, a construction magnate, proudly sitting before Real’s 11 European Cups in the club’s decorated trophy room.
“When he says things, when he speaks with the players, he has the recognition and the authority you have to have.”
– Ronaldo worth every penny –
Zidane has the luxury of one of the most expensively assembled squads in world football at his disposal, led by Real’s all-time record goalscorer Cristiano Ronaldo.
“Cristiano is also special,” said Perez. “His stats are scandalous.”
The Portuguese recently signed a lucrative new five-year contract with Madrid, protecting his position as the highest-paid sportsman in the world.
“We are delighted with Cristiano Ronaldo. He gives us more than we pay him. We have renewed his contract for five more years and we are very proud to have done so.”
Perez’s two spells in charge have been characterised by blockbuster “Galactico” signings.
Madrid have topped Deloitte’s Football Money League for 11 straight years, but Barcelona (679 million euros, $720 million) and Bayern Munich (627 million euros) have posted a higher turnover for last season than Real’s 620 million euros despite their Champions League success.
Meanwhile, backed by £8.3 billion ($10 billion) television rights deals for the Premier League and massive commercial contracts, Manchester United captured Paul Pogba for a world-record 105 million euros in August.
“When I first arrived (as president) in 2000 there were already English teams making more money, particularly Manchester United. We have had 15 years of success in every aspect, including economically,” Perez said.
“We know we have to compete with the English, French, Germans and Italians, we are continuing to work on that.”
As part of the club’s plans for economic growth, work on upgrading the Bernabeu is scheduled to start next year at a cost of 400 million euros with the aim of improving fans’ experience as well as generating greater income from corporate facilities.
“I am one who believes that if Madrid have the best players in the world in every position, then the revenue will not be a problem,” concluded Perez with a confident air that Real are not about to be knocked off their perch.