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Zizou’s gambles have paid off.
Zizou’s gambles have paid off. / AFP

Plenty in reserve

  • One of the keys to Real Madrid’s success so far this season has been Zinedine Zidane’s use of his ‘B’ team at the right moment

Zinedine Zidane’s legacy at the Bernabeu may yet be the ‘Americanization’ of Real Madrid.

As Johan Cruyff revolutionised the way Barcelona played, Zizou may well have revolutionised how teams approach marathon football seasons. Let me explain...

When I lived in America, I was bemused when the top sports teams came into the local arena but had left their marquee players back home.

It was a regular practice in basketball, baseball and then spread into soccer. Frequently Beckham and Keane missed out on the road-trips. I couldn’t get my head around it. Surely they were sacrificing vital away points by not picking their best team at all times?

Zidane has taken on this approach and it has empowered him to take Real Madrid into a position to become double champions of Spain and Europe for the first time since the 1950s.

Some may say he has gambled, others may say that it is an educated estimation. In weeks when his team have tense Champions League games coupled with away games in La Liga, he has made mass changes.

When they travelled to Granada, nine stars missed out on the chance to take in the beautiful city. In truth, footballers see very little of the football destinations beyond the airport and best hotel in town. Zidane has reasoned that his stars are better off with home comforts and watching the game in front of the TV and he’s been proven right.

For example, Cristiano Ronaldo has missed the delights of Eibar, Leganés, Gijón, La Coruña and Granada recently. This meant that he was at the peak of his powers when he faced Bayern Munich and Atlético in the Champions League.

I would hazard a guess that Zidane is using his experiences as one of the game’s great artisans to understand how his superstars work. It is quite a revolutionary method and does rely on the nine players you call up reaching the required standards and having the correct balance.

He’s also brave to go with his own module when his president has a vision of a team of ‘Galácticos’ (though it does help when the players you are “drafting in” are all fully-fledged internationals who have cost millions of euros).

But what has worked for Zidane has backfired on his rival Luis Enrique. When he made mass changes back in September for the home game with Alavés, he was forced to call on the cavalry of Messi, Suárez and Iniesta, but even they couldn’t save the day.

Iniesta, who for so many years has been the catalyst to success has this season been the key to failure. It should be noted that he wasn’t in the starting eleven for the defeats against Celta, Deportivo, and Malaga home and away. Barça’s bench just hasn’t been strong enough.

Bill Shankly once surmised that there were only two teams on Merseyside: “Liverpool, and Liverpool reserves.”

Well, Zidane can claim Madrid only has two teams; the Real Madrid ‘A’ team who are in the Champions League Final and the ‘reserves’ whose away form is making them favourites to win La Liga.