It was just one year ago. After winning his third Champions League title in a row, Zinedine Zidane stepped down as the head coach of Real Madrid. Exhausted but also perhaps under no illusion that the club needed a rebuild he stepped away from perhaps the biggest job in world football.
Just six months later, however, he was back, tasked with rebuilding a Real Madrid side that has struggled last season -- a rebuild that will begin in earnest at this summer’s International Champions Cup.
“It is a new season, an important season as we are back with the illusion and excitement of being able to win again,” Zidane said in an interview with the executive chairman of the ICC Charlie Stillitano.
“There are no vacations for us,” Zidane said. “We are here to work, and it is very important to have a good season next year.”
One aspect that will be exciting for the fans will be the arrival of several new signings. Real Madrid have already signed high profile transfer targets Eden Hazard, Luka Jović and Ferland Mendy.
The fans are not the only once, who are excited, however. I am very excited; this is a very interesting thing for us,” Zidane. The 46-year-old was quick to point out that the new signing will play a big role this summer.
“Of course! For sure,” Zidane said. “That is our plan and what we want -- that is why we already bought players, so that they are ready with us and prepared,” Zidane said. As you know, the pre-season for a player is very important,” he added.
“The important thing is that they are with us from day one,” Zidane said about Hazard, Mendy and Jović. They will have played games with their national teams but will have around one month of vacation, and they will be with us,” he added.
Zidane believes that playing some of the new signings in front of big crowds in the United States could help them prepare for life at Real Madrid. Jović and Mendy, but also young players might be added to the roster can grow with the experience.
“Well, we are going to have all types of players, the new signings, the players that are already on the team and the young players who can support and add a lot to a team in pre-season,” Zidane said. “We are going to have all types of players, and of course this is important for us,” he added.
It is not just the environment but also the opponents that matter. Real Madrid are facing Bayern Munich, Atlético de Madrid and Arsenal this summer at the International Champions Cup.
“The preparation it is key to play against these teams, they are different; there is an English team, a Spanish team and a German team,” Zidane said.
“The organizers did a great job picking the best teams, and it is important to play against the best,” the 46-year-old added.
What intrigues Zidane are the different challenges he will face at the tournament. “For example, the Germans are physical, the English too, the Spanish play different than the English teams,” Zidane said. “Well, there is a bit of everything in terms of teams, and it is important to play against different European clubs.”
One game, in particular, will capture the masses, however. For the first time in history, the Clasico between Real and Atlético will be played in the United States.
“It is a very nice game for all the fans, especially in New York as you know,” Zidane said. “For the clubs, it is important because we want to give the fans a good image of Madrid. We are going to try to have a great game and show how good the two teams are,” he added.
As always the duel between Zidane and Atlético Madrid manager Diego Simeone will be at the forefront. One question Zidane was asked was whether it was harder to play Simeone as a player or manager. Said Zidane: “I think it ́s harder to face him now as a manager because as a player, he was one of eleven players, just like me.”
“Now he is in charge of his team, and he works really hard,” Zidane said. “He is a manager with a lot of character; always doing things the right way, so that is why it he is tougher as a manager,” he added.
Despite the rivalry, Zidane admires his adversary. “I have a lot of respect for Simeone as I do for all managers; he has been training for a long time and works very well with his coaching staff,” Zidane said. “He has a good team and is part of a big club, he does a great job, and I respect him a lot,” he added.
Finally, Zidane was quick to point out how important the ICC is not just for the season preparation but also for football in North America. As you know, I have enormous respect for you and all you do, not only for Real Madrid but also for all the clubs,” Zidane said.
Looking at Charlie Stillitano said Zidane: “I believe what you do is important for football, for all the players, the clubs, the people and the fans.”
“You allow them to enjoy watching their teams in person,” Zidane said. “You do a great job, Charlie, and that is why we are back again in the preseason at the ICC.”