Friday 20 October 2017, 05:04

Fernandez: What Zidane is achieving is exceptional

  • Former French star Luis Fernandez sings praises of Zinedine Zidane

  • Believes the FIFA World Cup winner has "not been found wanting" at Real Madrid

  • UEFA EURO 1984 winner tips Zindane for success at The Best FIFA Football Awards

French football legend Luis Fernandez is a true lover of the sport. The former midfielder can look back with pride on a 15-year career as a player, in addition to over 20 years of experience as a coach. But at the end of the day, there is nothing he likes better than to talk about the beautiful game.

And when Fernandez talks, people listen. After all, this is a man who won 60 international caps, played in the French side that triumphed at EURO 1984, lifted the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup in 1996 while manager of Paris Saint-Germain, and has since performed miracles in Spain during spells in charge of Athletic Bilbao, Espanyol and Real Betis.

Such is his love for debating football that Fernandez has become a familiar voice on the radio. These days, he even presents his own television programme. And if there is one topic of conversation for which his enthusiasm knows no bounds, it is Zinedine Zidane. Fernandez was there to see Zizou take his first steps in the professional game at AS Cannes, way back in the early-90s, and looked on admiringly as he blossomed into one of the world’s biggest stars.

In a few days, his former protege is in with a chance of being crowned the world’s top men's coach for 2017 at The Best FIFA Football Awards™.

It did not take much, therefore, for to persuade Luis Fernandez to share his thoughts on the current Real Madrid coach. “I don’t have a bad word to say about the boy,” he warned as the conversation got underway. And, as you will see, he proved as good as his word. Luis, as your career came to an end, you shared the AS Cannes dressing room with a young midfielder who was just starting out: Zinedine Zidane. What do you remember about him back then? Luis Fernandez: Firstly, his family has always taught him the values of respect. You could see that in the dressing room from the word go, when he came to train with the pros. He’s a lad who always wanted to learn and improve. Today, he’s still the same as when I used to play alongside him. He gives off an air of such serenity, of a young player with the ambition to work, to succeed, to improve his skills, to listen.

I saw him when he was just starting out, and then I saw him develop into a coach, into an ambassador, into a personality in the football world. He’s an exceptional man. Some people have judged him on the basis of one action on the field of play but that incident cannot undo all the happiness he has brought us.

Out on the pitch, did he already have a good tactical sense? Or is that something he acquired once he decided to become a coach? When you’re playing, you don’t really have a tactical sense. But he showed intelligence in the way he played, in his movement and his use of the ball. He already showed that capacity to improve through hard work. He had his natural skills, but he wanted to develop them. And without that, he wouldn’t have made it. On the tactical side, he also improved by working hard, by watching and listening. He’s someone who observes what’s going on around him. He’s not someone who looks down on others, or lectures them, or thinks he knows it all already. He’s someone who lives and breathes football, and who loves the game.

Congratulations to our Zizou. Many people doubted your capacity to be a coach. Today, they are probably having a hard time.

When he started taking his coaching qualifications, and then took charge of the Real Madrid B team, many said that it was a mistake and that it wasn’t in his personality. Whereas you predicted, even back then, that he would be a success. Yes, but if you listen to all the nonsense that goes around... 80 per cent of what was said about him completely missed the point. Lots of people have a tendency to make their minds up without even waiting to see how others get on, and to make pre-judgements on the basis of one aspect of their personalities. Out on the field, Zizou had character, even if there’s a side to him that’s more reserved, poised and calm. Certain people thought that he lacked personality, lacked character, and that he was going to be undermined by other people’s egos. He gave a lesson to all those detractors who have that tendency to judge without taking the time to observe.

Has Zidane’s success at Real Madrid come more easily because of his name, his past achievements and his aura at the club? He really made his mark at the club. It’s 'his club', somewhere he has spent time as a player, as a sporting director, and as an ambassador. He’s an icon there. Before, there was Di Stefano; now it’s Zidane. In Spain, they love these players who have gone down in history, who show an affinity with their club. As a player, he won the European Cup. Then he became a coach, and he won them another European Cup. Imagine what the name Zidane means in Madrid! He’s a Real legend. He will always be a remarkable figure. But what’s more, he has that capacity to adapt. Thanks to his intelligence and his talent, he is constantly learning, constantly observing. He knows everything about the club. At Real, he feels at home.

Was it easier to start out at Real Madrid, where he is working with great players? Would he be as successful at a club fighting relegation, or going through a phase of reconstruction? Some people say: “It’s easy, he’s working exclusively with great players.” Since when was coaching great payers easy? What about those who went before him, and who didn’t have success with those great players? Firstly, he made the right choice by taking the Castilla job. It’s not easy to coach a reserve team. It was there he learned how to take training sessions, how to prepare properly. That gave him the chance to find his feet, to develop, and to expand his imagination before taking charge of the senior team.

Zidane is one of the three finalists for The Best FIFA Men’s Coach, alongside Antonio Conte and Massimiliano Allegri. In your opinion, is he the best coach in the world today? Or, in any case, better than Allegri and Conte? Of course! Their styles are different. I like Conte, someone who has a system of play and an intensity that have brought him success while making his mark in Italy and England. Allegri, too. It wasn’t easy for him to follow in Conte’s footsteps at Juve, but he has done well. Not everyone would have managed that. But the highest profile club in the world is Real Madrid. Real and Barça, let’s say. You’ve got Ronaldo and Messi and, in order to get the best out of them, you need a coach who can understand them. I won’t name names, but that’s where others have been found wanting. Zizou hasn’t been found wanting. He’s won two European titles and the Spanish championship – he’s bringing in trophy after trophy.

For me, he’s the best coach in the world. He has been able to impose his ideas, his way of thinking. He has adapted to a group full of egos, and brought out the best in the young players. Nobody mentions it, but he has allowed youngsters like Isco, Vazquez and Asensio to flourish, just as Ceballos, Mayoral and Nacho are now. That’s what is so fantastic about his work too. The value of a coach can also be seen in his capacity to bring out the best in every player, not just the stars. It’s exceptional, what he’s achieving.