Zidane feels 'lucky' to be back in Champions League final
ABS-CBN Sports on May 27, 2016 08:41 AM
Real Madrid Head coach Zinedine Zidane speaks during a press conference before a training session ahead of Saturday's Champions League soccer match final between Atletico de Madrid and Real Madrid, at the Valdebebas stadium in Madrid, Spain, Tuesday, May 24, 2016 . (AP Photo/Daniel Ochoa de Olza)
TALES AZZONI, AP Sports Writer
MADRID (AP) — Zinedine Zidane couldn't have asked for much more after only five months as Real Madrid's head coach. The former France great has a chance to end the season celebrating the Champions League title, just like he did 14 years ago as a player for the Spanish powerhouse.
Victory on Saturday against Atletico Madrid would cap a superb start to Zidane's head-coaching career, joining Miguel Munoz, Giovanni Trapattoni, Johan Cruyff, Carlo Ancelotti, Frank Rijkaard and Pep Guardiola as the only men to have won the European tournament both as a coach and a player.
Zidane would also become one of the few coaches to win European soccer's most important club competition in his first job as a head coach, along with seven other men, including Guus Hiddink, Vicente del Bosque and Guardiola.
Zidane scored with a remarkable left-foot volley on the edge of the area to give Madrid its ninth title in the 2002 final against Bayer Leverkusen. He also won the tournament as an assistant coach to Ancelotti two years ago — against Atletico.
"I'm lucky to be here and share these moments with the players and fans. I'm very happy," the 43-year-old Zidane said. "I'm thinking about how lucky I am to be in a final with this great club."
Zidane led Madrid to the final in Milan after taking over a club in crisis under coach Rafa Benitez. After an up-and-down start, he put the team back on track and it finished the season by winning 15 of its last 17 matches. The setbacks were a 2-0 loss to Wolfsburg in the first leg of the Champions League quarterfinals and a 0-0 draw against Manchester City in the first leg of the tournament's semifinals.
Madrid won its last 12 Spanish league matches to finish only one point behind champion Barcelona.
"After he arrived, everybody could see that the team improved," Madrid midfielder Toni Kroos said. "We didn't have a good first half of the season but we improved a lot with him."
A loss on Saturday would leave Madrid without a title this season, although Zidane's first spell as head coach would not likely be defined by that.
"Failure would be if we didn't give everything," said Zidane, who was coaching Madrid's "B'' team in the third division before replacing Benitez in January. "We know that in a final the most important thing is to prepare well and anything can happen. We must prepare as always and see what happens on Saturday."
As a player, Zidane was used to the big stage after leading France to the World Cup title in 1998 and the European Championship title in 2000. He was named the world's best player of the year three times.
"There's always pressure at Real Madrid," he said. "It's part of the job and I like it. I was a player and I also had pressure. I like it. I've got a lot to learn but the desire I've got to learn is tremendous. I'm going to improve, obviously, but there's still a long way to go until I'm an important coach."
Despite badly wanting to win the final in Milan, Zidane said he wouldn't exchange the trophies he won as a player for the title as a coach on Saturday.
"I wouldn't exchange them," he said. "I've won what I've won. Hopefully what's to come will be better. We are all going to try to win together on Saturday."
Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/tales-azzoni