Zinedine Zidane may have won two consecutive Champions League titles but he refuses to admit a third would brand this his very own era at Real Madrid.
Real stand on the brink of a trio of finals ahead of their second leg against Bayern Munich in the last four on Tuesday, when they will carry a 2-1 lead, and two away goals, to the Santiago Bernabeu.
It makes them favourites to go through and, for many, heavy favourites to win the tournament after already beating Paris Saint-Germain and Juventus in the knock-out stages.
For Zidane, a third European crown as coach is now in sight, which would put him level with Carlo Ancelotti and Bob Paisley in the pantheon of successful managers.
Only the three triumphs of Paisley, however, came at one club, Liverpool, and over a single era, in 1977, 1978 and 1981. Ancelotti’s treble stretched across 11 years, with two clubs, Real and AC Milan.
“We cannot talk about this,” Zidane said on Friday. “Coaches like this were given a lot of time, they did a lot of things.
“I am comfortable, we have done well, it is two and a half years that have been good but the rest, ‘Zidane’s Real Madrid’, let’s wait a bit.”
Even Alex Ferguson, Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola have lifted Europe’s biggest prize only twice, all with more years in management under their belts.
But Zidane’s merits as a coach and tactician continue to be downplayed, at least in part because the Frenchman owns arguably the most talented squad in the world and, in Cristiano Ronaldo, the Champions League’s greatest ever player.
– Zidane’s brave call –
Ronaldo’s 15 goals in this year’s competition have certainly been key, but it was Zidane who made the brave call to leave out Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema at the Allianz Arena against Bayern.
The preferred but less established duo of Lucas Vazquez and Marco Asensio combined brilliantly for the winning goal, with the former also switched to right-back late on, where he held off the threat of Franck Ribery.
Bale, harshly treated in recent weeks, may not agree but the majority of Real’s first team are now regularly hailing Zidane’s man-management, his preparation and his tactics.
“When Zizou has to gamble, he does, because he is the boss,” captain Sergio Ramos said. “We are very happy that he is steering the boat.”
There is certainly work still to be done to overcome Bayern, who dominated large parts of the first match and perhaps deserved to emerge with a more flattering result.
“We earned a lot of extra credit for winning the match,” Zidane said. “But we cannot make the same mistakes again and I think on Tuesday we’ll have to go into the match with more determination than we’ve ever had before.”
Real are likely to be without Isco and Dani Carvajal, who sustained shoulder and hamstring injuries respectively during the first leg.
“We are always damaged losing two players but at the same time we cannot do anything about it,” Zidane said.
While Ronaldo was among a number of first-team players rested for Saturday’s win over Leganes, Bale started, a sign the Welshman is set for another snub in midweek.
Bale did not play a single minute against Bayern in Germany and, along with Benzema, has now lost his place in the side for Real’s crunch games in Europe.
“We need everyone,” Zidane said. “I will do everything possible to convince them they are important.
“The important thing is also the key message — for Gareth and Karim, for everyone — that we stay connected. We have a month and we have to give it all we’ve got.”