“They didn’t have a coach inside”

Zinedine Zidane and Ronald Koeman, this season.

Zinedine Zidane and Ronald Koeman face this Saturday (21.00, Movistar LaLiga) at the Di Stéfano their second head-to-head as coaches. In the first, the madridista was victorious (1-3). In this second, a large part of the aspirations of their respective teams for the League title come into play and who knows if their continuity in the position as technicians of Madrid and Barcelona also comes into play. Zidane and Koeman correspond to different football generations. From the 58 years of the Dutch to the 48 of the French, both have traveled different paths to reach the common goal of leading the teams that had elevated them as players.

A jump to the past, to their days as footballers, shows a similar profile. From what is deduced from the words of his wardrobe mates at the time, neither of them gave obvious signs that their future could be headed for the benches. Both were simply playing players. In the case of Zidane, his late vocation was confessed by himself. Shortly after retiring in 2006, after playing for Madrid since 2001, he said: “I don’t know what I will do, all I know is that I will not be a coach.” Six years later, overnight, according to the coach’s own revelation, he changed his mind and his business card shines 11 trophies, including three Champions League and two Leagues.

“As a player I was very cautious. I never heard him think about being a coach. He did not say it and did not show it with his intentions. He was not very participatory in the talks, but he did what was asked of him. He was free to move wherever he wanted, but without the ball he had to position himself a little to the left. There is no doubt that after having played with his national team and at Juventus, he generated a great experience. If he did not think to be a coach and now he is, it will be because over time he organized his ideas and found a method, which of course he now has, ”says Vicente del Bosque, his coach at Real Madrid.

Iván Helguera sat next to Zidane in the locker room. “I was number six and Zizou number five and I couldn’t imagine that one day I could be a coach. I was surprised. He never made a hint like that a little more personal to me. He rarely made tactical comments. What he liked was to play. In his case, they put Castilla de Segunda B in front of him, he took a liking to it, then came promotion to the first team and then for him it was as if he were going to be a footballer again. It’s going back to your old life. Things went well for him, he won titles, he had and has a great team and so it continues. And now he will be enjoying himself, for sure ”.

Curiously, Helguera had Koeman as Valencia coach. “I remember that one day I had it in my head to be a Barcelona coach. It was his obsession and he has succeeded. As a coach, he let them do it, he gave you his concepts and he gave the player freedom. We ended up winning the Cup, but I can’t define his work well because it was a very turbulent year. We were all half crazy. He was not very obsessive with tactics, but, yes, he always went up front and said things to your face. If you played badly, if you trained badly… He didn’t hide ”.

Paco Pavón shared with Zidane the label that encompassed the quarry and the great signings (zidanes and peacocks) and did not find in his partner any hint that he could end up sitting on a bench. “He was very introverted, he had leadership skills as a player, but when you’re a footballer you don’t think about what you’re going to be after. He, more than being a tactical player, broke tactics with his talent. He was not the captain and not the classic costume leader, such as Hierro, Raúl, Figo … He was a leader playing. I was surprised that in the end he decided to be a coach ”.

José María Gutiérrez, Guti then, closes the circle of former colleagues of ZZ. “He didn’t talk much in the dressing room or on the field. As a footballer, you only think that the present is never going to end and Zidane was one more in that sense. When the opportunity came, he was sure to be hooked. I can tell from my own experience. The bench hooks you, it is the possibility of continuing within what you have done all your life. But come on, I didn’t see Zizou as a technician then, of course neither did I.

Ronald Koeman, once he retired at Feyenoord in 1997, after playing for Barça between 1989 and 1995, did not take as long as Zidane to channel his future onto the bench. A few months later he became part of the technical team of the Dutch team that was preparing for the 98 World Cup with Guus Hiddink as coach and immediately afterwards he landed at Barça under the orbit of Van Gaal.

José Ramón Alexanco shared a dressing room for four seasons (1989-93) with Koeman and has no special memory that the now coach already had tactical concerns. “The truth is, no. From our position in the center of the defense we have to command, speak, place our teammates, but only on the field. I didn’t see him as anything more than a teammate who wanted to play football without worrying about much else ”.

Sergi Barjuán, upon reaching the Barcelona first team, had the fortune to fall in the dining room at a table where Koeman, Guardiola and Laudrup were. “It was by chance, the day of my debut against Galatasaray. They did talk a lot between them about the team, about how we played, but Ronald was not the one who intervened the most. In the field he helped me a lot with placement. My leap had been very big and I needed someone like him. He liked to organize the defensive plot. I agree with him his last three years and he already has strength and weight in the dressing room, especially because of the Champions League goal. I was able to verify that he was a person of strong character and one of those who knows how to overcome situations. Ronald has become a coach as a coach. He wasn’t a coach when he was a player ”.

Chapi Ferrer also knows what it’s like to have Koeman around. “If I had a coach inside when I was a player, I didn’t realize it. I do know that he talked to Cruyff a lot. I saw him as a captain. We were together for six years and he did his own thing, he was not especially obsessive with tactics. When you play you don’t think about those things, you leave them to the coach. It was one more ”.

Miquel Soler was already at Barça when Koeman landed in 1989 and lived that first Barça stage of the now coach. “As a newcomer, he was not fluent in the language and it was difficult for him to get into discussions about the game or the tactics. For the next two years, I didn’t feel like he was very obsessed, either. With 25-27 years you just want to play. It is also true that he had the facility that he was very close to Cruyff off the field and they had the opportunity to talk about those issues. If anyone knew about Johan’s philosophy, it was Ronald ”.

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