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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - Zinedine Zidane says he is a better manager than the one who guided Real Madrid to three successive Uefa Champions League crowns, as he attempts to add the Spanish Super Cup on Sunday to his collection of trophies.
The Frenchman, in his second stint in the Madrid dugout, takes charge of the team for a ninth final when they face city rivals Atletico Madrid in Saudi Arabia.
Madrid defeated Valencia 3-1 in the semi-final at Jeddah's King Abdullah Sports City on Wednesday to tee up a replay of the 2015/16 Champions League showpiece, which the Bernabeu club won on penalties. In fact, Zidane has yet to be beaten in a final as manager.
For some time, though, the former midfielder's achievements have come with a caveat: that he was a lucky manager simply blessed with a talented group of players.
However, such has been his side’s recent reversal in fortunes, Zidane is beginning to get the credit many believe he deserves.
“Yes, I think I’m a better manager,” he told reporters at Saturday's pre-match press conference in Jeddah. “I’m progressing in life, not just as a person. You learn from those around you. I listen to those around me and that helps me to develop as a manager. And that’s my objective.
“When people say that there’s luck, I don’t think that will change. You might have an opinion and someone sat next to you might have a completely different one, but I’m just here to do my job.
“I love what I do, which is the most important thing. I can’t control those external opinions. But I’m confident and sure in what my players and I are doing.”
Zidane, 47, returned to the Madrid hottest in March last year after an initial two-and-a-half years there from January 2016. He has overseen a notable upturn in form, with the club joint-top of La Liga after 19 matches, behind Barcelona only on goal difference.
When Zidane stood down originally in 2018, he said both he and Madrid needed a change in direction, but he is getting results with largely the same squad.
“I was away for eight months and think I changed a lot," Zidane said. "The team more or less remained the same. With any squad or team there are highs and lows, especially after having won so many titles. This happens every day in the life of a footballer; it’s cycles.
"And what we’re doing is working hard, with an excellent attitude. Maybe 80 per cent is the same as my first spell, so maybe 20 per cent has changed, and now we’re here to give our fans something to celebrate.”
Asked what has been key to the turnaround, Zidane added: “There’s no secret formula. If we lose two games the critics will be out again in force. All we have to do is work and work hard, and that’s what we’re doing.
“I have a lot of faith in this squad, but we have to go out and prove it. We’ve got to deliver the goods time and time again, prove your worth in each and every game. We know what to expect tomorrow. We’ve come here to win the title, we’re happy to have qualified for the final, and we’re ready to put in a very good performance.
"We’ve prepared for the final; it’s in our DNA. It’s a huge club and the players want to take part in games like the one on Sunday."
Zidane has tasted defeat as a manager to Atletico only twice in nine matches, but said he understands the task that awaits his side in Jeddah. Atletico came from 2-1 down on Thursday to prevail 3-2 in the tournament's other semi-final.
"They’ve always in the past proven to be a very difficult side to beat," Zidane said. "They defend extremely well, they attack well too. We know what game to expect on Sunday."
Meanwhile, Zidane did not want to comment extensively on under-fire Barcelona counterpart Ernesto Valverde, only that “it happens to us all”.
On how the outcome of Sunday’s final would impact Madrid’s transfer plans this month, he added: “It’s a trophy, it’s a title. We’re focusing solely on the final. And we’re going to do that because that’s all I’m concerned about right now: winning on Sunday.”
Updated: January 11, 2020 04:14 PM
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