MADRID, Spain, Aug 19 – Zinedine Zidane has lifted Real Madrid to such heights in less than two years in charge as coach that the challenge now facing the Frenchman is simply maintaining the status quo.
Real kick off their La Liga defence away at Deportivo la Coruna on Sunday as European and world champions and having added the UEFA and Spanish Super Cups to their trophy haul in the past fortnight.
However, it was wresting the Spanish title back off Barcelona for the first time in five years last season that Zidane, a World Cup winner in his days as a player, described as the biggest achievement in his professional career.
“Professionally by a long way, the greatest emotion I have felt was winning La Liga,” Zidane said on Saturday.
“When you win it on the last day of the season as we did, having that consistency all year, for me it is fantastic.
“To win any trophy is beautiful: the Champions League, the European Super Cup, the Spanish Super Cup, but I think there is a special flavour to La Liga.
“This year the objective is to try to win it, but we have 38 games to play.”
Madrid pipped Barcelona to the title by three points in May with victory at Malaga on the last day of the season.
However, Zidane’s men are expected to ease to back-to-back titles for the first time in a decade with the gap between Spanish football’s two giants seemingly growing over the off-season.
Barca lost Brazilian star Neymar to Paris Saint-Germain and, despite receiving a world record 222 million euros ($261 million) in return, have so far failed to find a replacement.
Real have made a profit in the transfer market themselves following the departures of Alvaro Morata, James Rodriguez and Danilo.
Yet, Madrid appear to have built on their success from last season with an impressively deep squad filled with rising stars such as Marco Asensio alongside established names like Cristiano Ronaldo, Sergio Ramos and Luka Modric.
The stark contrast between Real and Barca’s depth was laid bare as a Real side without Ronaldo, Gareth Bale or Isco swept aside the Catalans 2-0 on Wednesday to complete a 5-1 aggregate win in the Spanish Super Cup.
“I have a fantastic squad for sure,” said Zidane.
“We can improve because they are players that are still very young and you can always learn.”
Worryingly for Madrid’s rivals after a run of seven trophies in 16 months, Real’s reign of success shows no sign of letting up.