In his interview published in L’Équipe on the day of his 50th birthday, Zinédine Zidane notably discussed his relationship with France and Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema and indicated that he believed the former Lyon man was worthy of this year’s Ballon d’Or.
Does a manager need to have been a great player like you in order to have respect from players like Cristiano Ronaldo or Karim Benzema?
It helps to have experienced what they’re doing. But most of all, you can’t try to be more than them. You’re the manager, that’s not a problem. You’re the one who’s dictating where to go, but on the other hand you can’t piss them off. They’re the ones who make the difference on the pitch. I have no ego in terms of that. I’ve experienced situations where lots of managers or players wanted to be more than the others. Somewhere along the line, it doesn’t work.
Are these stars easy to manage?
I’m going to state the obvious a bit when saying this, but the better and more important a player is, the easier it is. Really. They know what they’re doing. They’re focused. They know what they’re doing. The link I have with them is on a specific match, on specific tactics, on the opponent. That’s also why I love managing big players.
Did your Real Madrid players speak to you about your career?
We spoke about football. For example, with Karim [Benzema], it was all the time. It was on everything, not just what I did myself. There were exchanges on certain matches, certain things. We also spoke a lot about family. We’ve kind of had the same journey.
With him or other players, do you transmit things, such as technical abilities?
Karim didn’t need to progress. But he liked to stay back after collective training sessions. In front of goal, I gave him two-three [pieces of advice], but in an exchange. With my staff, we often liked to stay with one or two players. Even the goalkeeper. I was loving it. My feet are still there! We did some fun exercises, challenges. And I would still win often.
[…] Does your relationship with Karim Benzema go beyond the pitch?
There is affection. Karim is like the little brother I never had. I am the youngest in my family.
To that extent?
Our relationship has kept growing. We met each other when he arrived at Madrid, I was an advisor to the president and then assistant to Carlo [Ancelotti]. We see each other a bit less now. We send each other messages. But he knows where he can find me. And I know where I can find him.
What do you make of his season?
I’m not surprised. It’s just following on [from his previous form]. I knew he was capable of what he’s now doing. He’s always been very good all the time with Real Madrid. Only that now, he’s exceptional!
Will he be your successor as the next French Ballon d’Or winner?
I’m not the only one who’s saying it, it’s the whole world! He more than deserves it.