“I played five years for Juve and I have really good memories from my time there. This final feels special,” Zinedine Zidane said in the press conference ahead of this Saturday’s match.
The Real Madrid manager will be facing the team he once played for in Cardiff. This Champions League final has an special meaning for Zidane, as he was a bianconeri for five seasons (1996-2001). The former midfielder had previously played for French sides Cannes and Girondins de Bordeaux, but it was at Juve where he consolidated himself as a world class player and in Madrid where he restrengthened his legend status. In his years at Juve, Zidane won two scudettos (league titles), one Intercontinental, one Supercup of Italy, one Supercup of Europe and one Intertoto. He had even won a Ballon D’Or in 1998, following a World Cup conquest with France. Zidane’s list of honours was remarkable, but he was still missing something: a Champions League trophy.
When Zidane arrived at Juventus, the club had just become Champions of Europe after winning Ajax in Rome on penalties. In his first year playing for La Vecchia Signora, he already got the chance to play a Champions League final. Juve met Borussia Dortmund in Munich, and the Germans won 3-1. He did not have to wait long for a second opportunity, as Juve made it to the final for a third consecutive year in 1998. This time Amsterdam was the host city and Real Madrid the rival. Juve, who had won the Serie A that season, were favourites against a Madrid side that had done a poor league campaign, and yet the Spanish team won 1-0.
“It was tough,” Zidane answered in the press conference when asked about that 1998 final, “I have bad memories from it. When you lose a final it’s always a shame. But that’s part of football and I accept everything that football gives me. When I arrived to Madrid I was yet to win a Champions League and I eventually won it with this white shirt.” Four years after loosing a final against Madrid, he won one defending their colours. And not only was he in the winning team; he was the actual hero of that game. Bayer Leverkusen and Madrid were 1-1 in Glasgow when Roberto Carlos put a cross from the left without even looking to its destination. Before the ball met the ground at the edge of the area, Zidane redirected it to the net with a perfect volley. It was the winner, and probably the best ever goal in the history of the tournament.
Real Madrid did not celebrate another Champions League title until 2014, when they beat their neighbours Atlético in Lisbon. Madrid manager was Carlo Ancelotti and next to him stood his assistant, Zidane. That summer, Zidane would become the manager of Madrid’s B team and then, in January 2016, he would move replacing Rafa Benítez in the first team. His return to the Bernabéu’s bench excited many supporters, but also generated some scepticism: was he ready to manage one of the biggest clubs in the world after just a few months training the youngsters? History has proven that being a good player does not guaranty being a good manager (e.g. Diego Armando Maradona). But Zidane did not disappoint the madridistas, as the team improved in the second half of the season and won the Champions League final, again beating Atlético. One year later, Zidane’s position as the suitable manager for Madrid has been reinforced: they have won their first league title in five years and are yet to play another European final. Their rival, Juventus, brings mixed feelings to Zizou.