BARCELONA – When Ronald Koeman became a Barcelona legend at Wembley in 1992, Zinedine Zidane was living his last months as a Cannes footballer, at the age of 19 and packing his suitcases to go play for Girondins de Bordeaux.
Four seasons later the Dutchman spent his last days as a footballer at Feyenoord and the Frenchman, discarded by the president of Barça despite the interest of Johan Cruyff in his signing, went to Juventus. They never got to face each other on a pitch … Neither in their role as coaches.
This Saturday, finally, they will see the faces. ‘Tintin’ as coach of a Barcelona that he intends to wake up from the nightmare and ‘Zizou’ busy in recovering a Real Madrid whom he led to glory and whom, as unlikely as it may seem, two consecutive defeats have put in doubt. Nothing, however, separates them from their roadmap. It would be said, and it is not an empty phrase, that they are well above the present because if they are something, both of them, it is a living legend of their clubs.
At the Camp Nou, on the way between the dressing room and the pitch, there is a large photograph with the heroes of Wembley and the London stadium gives its name to a room in which Koeman’s shoe that led to that success of ago is seen 28 years; another photograph stands out at the Bernabéu: in the locker room you can see the imperial volley with which Zidane scored the goal that in 2002 meant an unforgettable Champions League for Madrid.
Fate, in one way or another, was written so that one day two iconic world football characters would cross their paths on a pitch. Stellar protagonists of two different generations as footballers, this unpublished Classic, without an audience in the stands but plenty of tension on the pitch, will test two different and similar ways of watching football. And it is that talking about Koeman or Zidane is not anything.
Curiously, the Frenchman reached glory before the Dutchman on the bench. Florentino Pérez’s risky bet in January 2016, when with a short and discreet resume as Castilla coach (just 26 wins in 56 games) the president gave him the reins of Real Madrid replacing Rafa Benítez, Zizou responded by linking three Champions League titles and adding one League, two Club World Cups and two European Super Cups.
For Koeman the road, much longer, has not yet reached the ceiling. Since his debut on the Vitesse bench in 2000, the Dutchman has managed nine different clubs before taking over his country’s national team … and finally has the opportunity to return home in the middle of a storm.
He always had Barça in his mind, as evidenced by the fact that each contract included an escape clause with the Camp Nou as a destination, but it was not until the Lisbon disaster that the Barça club offices decided for him.
Two league titles with Ajax and another with PSV, a Portuguese Super Cup with Benfica and a King’s Cup with Valencia are the most prominent trophies on the Dutch coach’s curriculum, whose figure, despite everything, is so revered by the Barcelona environment as respected in the dressing room. Nothing to do with his predecessor Quique Setién.
“When you see Koeman, you see someone with a different personality, who knows very well what Barcelona means, who makes himself respected only by his presence, who imposes …”, a former club player told ESPN Deportes, for whom His arrival, at this precise moment, is commendable and good news for the club.
The respect imposed by the Dutchman at the Camp Nou is not very different from that which the Frenchman causes at the Bernabéu. The letter of introduction of both as footballers motivates their players to know that half measures are not worth with them and that each advice, order or talk has a clear and concrete background and motivation.
As happened in his day with Johan Cruyff and the sacred cows of the Dream Team, “it is not the same that Messi wants to convince Quique Setién to do it Ronald”, confirmed the same former player, convinced that the ascendant of the coach between Your footballers have a lot to do with their position on the pitch. “This is something that goes beyond videos, reports, computer programs … It is something that is felt, that the player sees with his eyes directly.”
DUEL OF STYLES
What Koeman has been transmitting for two months at Barça has been known for almost five years in Madrid with Zidane, no matter how current, rabid and cruel in his case daring to question his future, it is not the best in first person.
The Frenchman, who has never lost as a coach at the Camp Nou (two wins and three draws) and who as a player only did so once in five visits (with two wins and two draws) will pose this first Classic against the Dutchman with his usual tranquility, without being carried away by an altered environment and taking the game as a chess game in which the ball will be as protagonist as Benzema, Sergio Ramos or Courtois are expected to be.
In the Barça side, the Dutchman, how could it be otherwise, will be aware of the role of Leo Messi, of his fit in the collective game of a stronger team than that of the recent past, with a greater dose of pressure on the rival, of a more vigorous, fast game in which youth is making room without waiting … As much as he knows, he is not a rookie, that a game against Real Madrid, with all that it represents, is different from everything. And it can also be different from any prediction.
Koeman will live his first Clásico on the bench after having faced the Merengue team 14 times as a Barça footballer. Six victories, three draws and five defeats illuminate their numbers from the Dream Team era, between 1989 and 1995, with a 5-0 in favor and another against as specially marked nights.
At the Camp Nou, with number 4 on his back, he played 8 Classics with five wins, two draws and a single defeat that, today, no one wants to see around the Barça club.
Koeman-Zidane. The hero of Wembley faced the figure of Glasgow. Two legends who, at last, will face each other in the first Barça-Madrid without fans in the stands but who, as always, will attract the attention of the entire football world.