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Guardiola v Zidane: Great players who became great managers

Guardiola v Zidane: Great players who became great managers

The word used by both Pep Guardiola and Zinedine Zidane to describe the upcoming Champions League last 16 tie between Manchester City and Real Madrid.

You’ll find few in football who will disagree with their assessment.

With a catalogue of talent on display, the contest promises to deliver several unmissable storylines, but the two men in the technical area will no doubt take the lead roles.

They are what makes this tie truly special.

Two world class midfielders who have maintained the dizzying heights they reached as players in their managerial careers.

To use a word synonymous with City’s opponents, they are Galacticos.

And the significance is not lost on either of them.

"It's a special moment because Zidane is one of the best," said Guardiola after the draw was made.

"I dreamed when I was a player of playing with him, but it never happened. I didn't talk much with him, but my impression is that he is an amazing person, I admire him, it's really good to have these kind of people.’

Zidane concurred.

“It will be special to go up against him. I played against him lots of times. I respect him as a player and as a coach because I think he's the best coach in the world.

“He's proved that during his career and I'm looking forward to going up against him and facing his team.”

That this is their first competitive meeting as coaches only adds to the occasion, but how did we get here?

The journey is a mixture of contrast and similarity.

Having left home to join La Masia at 13, Guardiola made his debut for his beloved Barcelona within six years and helped them to a La Liga and Champions League double in his second season.

He went on to play more than 350 games and won 16 titles as the influential metronome in the midfield of Barca’s fabled 90s ‘Dream Team’.

Zidane swapped his hometown of Marseille for the French Riviera and joined Cannes’ youth set-up aged 14, but his rise to the top was comparatively steadier.

He made his professional debut at 16, but it would be eight years before he arrived on the grand stage at Juventus, via a four season stay at Bordeaux.

His time in Turin catapulted his career into the stratosphere as he established himself as the finest midfielder of his generation, winning six titles as well as back to back World Cup and European Championship triumphs with France.

That earned him a move to Madrid for a then world-record fee, where he won a further six trophies.

On the surface they could not be more different as players, with Guardiola in his deep-lying midfield role and Zidane as the archetypal No.10.

The similarity was in their skill set and, most importantly, their influence.

Guardiola was the orchestrator in chief for Johan Cruyff’s Barca, dictating proceedings with his elegance, vision, speed of thought and range of passing, attributes which Zidane shared as the creative heartbeat of every team he was part of.

They both oozed class in their own way.

                        Guardiola v Zidane: Great players who became great managers

“What all those people didn’t see was that Guardiola had the fundamental qualities needed at the top level: speed of action, technique, insight,” recalled Cruyff in the autobiography released after his death.

“Those are phenomena that very few people exhibit, but in his case, they were present in spades.”

Ronald Koeman, a legend of Barcelona and an inspiration to Guardiola, agrees with his fellow Dutchman.

“The most gifted deep-lying playmaker I’ve ever seen, and most of Barcelona’s attacks came through him [Guardiola].

“He had this brilliant awareness of what was going on around him, rarely gave away the ball and had a superb range of passing. Without him, Barcelona weren’t the same team.”

Mastery of the basics, awareness, tactical understanding. Koeman could also be talking about Zidane.

"Technically, I think he is the king of what's fundamental in the game – control and passing,” said Michel Platini, the forefather of French No.10s.

“I don't think anyone can match him when it comes to controlling or receiving the ball.”

Steve McManaman, who swapped Real Madrid for City in 2003, also feels the Frenchman was unrivalled.

“The best player of our generation in my opinion. People talk about the likes of Maradona and Pele, but they were a long time ago and I think Zidane is certainly up there with them.”

WATCH: Coming soon to CITY+ - Kevin De Bruyne documentary

That was the playing past, tut the story of the managerial present is also one of extreme success.

Guardiola needs one more trophy to hit 30 as a coach, having lifted two Champions Leagues and numerous domestic championships in Spain, Germany and England.

If Zidane was the standout playing talent of the mid-90s and early 2000s, Guardiola is unquestionably the outstanding manager of the last decade.

Though the Frenchman’s own achievements in the dugout should not ignored.

Returning to Santiago Bernabeu in January 2016, he has since won 10 trophies, including an unprecedented three successive Champions League titles

Again, there are similarities between the two, with both having began their coaching careers with the B teams of the Clubs where they left a legacy as players.

And it seems as though they were always destined to be managers.

“Pep was born telling people what to do,” said former Atletico Madrid striker Kiko, who won 1992 Olympic Gold alongside Guardiola.

“I can imagine him telling the babies in his ward: ‘You in that cot and you in this cot.”

Roberto Carlos' verdict on former team-mate Zidane was similar: “I am sure Real will have a very good season and will play a better football in Zidane’s hands.

“Zizou has been a leader wherever he has played. He was the captain of France, a World Cup winner and been a winner in all the clubs he played for. So he has enough experience to handle and manage a group.”

The pair have certainly delivered in the dugout to leave an indelible mark on their clubs.

Guardiola impacted the whole philosophy of Barcelona, Bayern Munich and City, whilst Zidane has strengthened Madrid’s unshakeable love affair with the European Cup.

They have managed their achievements differently, utilising different systems for example, but similarities in their approach still shine through.

One is their relentless hard work.

“Pep thinks about football 24 hours a day,” said Bayern striker, Robert Lewandowski.

“He covers every angle to the smallest detail and he always demands 100 per cent in training and in games.”

It is a similar situation with Zidane, with former Madrid B team player Derik Osede recalling: “Apart from the quality he had, the foundation of his success was always hard work.

"He was a very hard-working footballer and as a manager he also dedicates a lot of extra time to the job."

The other shared managerial trait is their ability to win their players trust.

Dani Alves famously declared: “If Pep told me to throw myself off the second tier at the Camp Nou, I’d think: ‘There must be something good down there,” while Luka Modric has similar faith in the Real boss.

“Every piece of advice he gives you is like gold dust and it helps you improve on the pitch,” said the Croatian.

It is a rare transformation; the world class player who becomes a world class manager, but it's been a seamless transition for both Guardiola and Zidane - two greats who've had many great nights.

We could be in for two more when City face Madrid in the Champions League last 16.

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