ZIZOU BACK AT THE TOP
In years gone by, Real Madrid would occasionally mine English football for the hottest managerial talent. The former Wellington Town striker Robert Firth, for example, who bossed Los Merengues for a couple of years in the mid 1930s, or Michael Keeping, whose win ratio of 45.12% during the late 40s led to the Poole Town gig a few years later. But no longer. They don’t just hand over the keys to anyone, so Sam Allardyce was never seriously in the running to replace Santiago Solari and land his dream job. Instead, it’s gone to three-time Big Cup winner Zinedine Zidane. Poor Sam! Never mind, big man, maybe you’ll get the chance to prove them all wrong next time.
Zidane is back at the Bernabéu after a 284-day sabbatical and, if those trousers are anything to go by, a thundering mid-life crisis as well. He’s 47 in a couple of months! The elaborately up-turned legend resumes control in the wake of Real’s recent season-jiggering humiliations at the hands of Barcelona and Ajax, and theatrical dressing-room rows between president Florentino Pérez and method pantomime actor Sergio Ramos. Having won nine trophies during his first stint as Real Madrid boss – a record only bettered in history by the similarly legendary Miguel Munoz, who lifted 14 – few are more qualified than Zizou to steady the ship. Even so, all that matters in modern football is the present, so he’ll have to quickly demonstrate he’s retained that talent for making big decisions and correct calls. That’s not a given, if opting to turn up for work dressed as a farmer is any sort of signifier.
Zidane has promised to “change things for next year”, an announcement that’s already got the cogs of the rumour mill whirring like billy-o. Real have been linked with Kylian Mbappé, Neymar, Harry Kane and Eden Hazard, stories likely to send shivers down spines at PSG, Spurs and Chelsea – until everyone remembers this is the self-same rumour mill that insisted, all the way up until yesterday, that José Mourinho was coming back. But should the club manage to land a couple of those big-money targets, Zidane’s task of returning Real to the top of the tree will suddenly look a whole lot easier. In fact, his biggest problem may end up being that brand-new Harley Davidson, which will be damn tricky to mount in those fruitbowl-bothering crisis kecks.
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QUOTE OF THE DAY
“By not calling up Agüero and ignoring Menotti, [Lionel] Scaloni lacked respect for the ball, although he was never a good player and just kicked people and nothing more. I wouldn’t have wanted him for my team, he couldn’t even control traffic” – Diego Maradona offers Argentina’s young manager a typically helpful appraisal after Scaloni named his squad for upcoming meaningless friendlies against Venezuela and Morocco.
Oh, and there’s some more Diego hot air here as the Argentina legend is unveiled in the form of a scary giant inflatable tunnel at Argentinos Juniors.
“Brexit is undoubtedly a catastrophic mess, certainly on par with the earlier part of Manchester United’s season. Given the success of Ole Gunnar Solskjær in turning things around at Old Trafford, should Theresa May consider a Norwegian solution?” – Robert Darby.
“The crocodile moat may well have been ‘The daftest crowd-control plan ever mooted in football history’ (Monday’s Fiver) but let’s have a tip o’ the titfer to Kuddly Ken Bates. Back in the fun-loving mid-80s, the beardy attention-hoover installed a 12-ft electrified perimeter fence at Stamford Bridge Back When It Was An Oval, just in time for the friendly derby against Spurs on 27 April 1985. Luckily for sanity, the GLC stepped in, mumbling something about safety certificates. Oh, they were such fun days to be a football fan” – Gary Parkinson.
It’s your man David Squires on … Zinedine Zidane’s return, David de Gea’s inner monologue and more stuff that will at least guarantee a laugh from today’s Fiver.
NEWS, BITS AND BOBS
Manchester City are launching a “survivors’ scheme” for the victims of Barry Bennell that will lead to the club offering compensation packages and ultimately an apology to the players who were sexually abused during their time in the club’s junior set-up.
The FA has published its written reasons for Mauricio Pochettino’s two-match touchline ban, in which Celebrity’s Mike Dean’s approach to spelling is revealed to be as extravagant as his approach to refereeing. “Mr Pochettino acted in a very irresponsible and aggresive [sic] manner,” writes Dean. “He wouldn’t stop saying ‘you know what you are, you know what you are’. I asked him to explain and he repeated ‘you know what you are’. I then said on numerous occasions to go away at least 10 times and he wouldn’t get out of my personnel [sic] space and then aggresively [sic] pointed his finger just a few inches from my face again saying ‘you know what you are’.”
Hibs striker Marc “Sparky” McNulty will get the chance to train alongside Shortbread McFiver after receiving his first Scotland callup for their forthcoming tussles with Kazakhstan and San Marino.
Norn Iron head into their Euro 2020 qualifiers against Estonia and Belarus with fresh-faced Arsenal Under-23s defender Daniel Ballard in their ranks for the first time.
Gareth Bale is in the Wales squad despite suffering ankle-knack in his last outing for Real Madrid while Rotherham midfielder Will Vaulks is called up for the first time.
Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold and James Milner trained ahead of the Big Cup tie against Bayern Munich despite fears of mystery-knack and unknown-twang.
And Louis Van Gaal has waved goodbye to football and said hello to holidays. “I am a pensioner now,” he told Dutch TV. “My wife Truus gave up her job for me 22 years ago … she is entitled to have a life with me outside of football. I can say she is very happy.”
STILL WANT MORE?
Zinedine Zidane holds all the aces on his Real Madrid return, reckons Sid Lowe.
Schalke have a youth academy to envy and admire. Alex Clapham explains the roots of its success.
“I walked into football, I didn’t have a choice,” says Arsenal’s star striker Vivienne Miedema as she gets her chat on with Suzanne Wrack.
In a fractured society, footballers become rage-piñatas to the masses, argues Barney Ronay as he tries to make sense of recent bother in the stands.
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