On the 4th January of 2016, a new era began at the Santiago Bernabeu, where Zinedine Zidane was announced as the new manager of Real Madrid on a two-and-a-half-year deal. The departure of Rafa Benitez was simply inevitable, as his short and unconvincing time at the club had to come to an end.
At the time of the announcement, there were a lot of mixed thoughts on the decision made by Los Blancos, with the majority being filled with excitement as the Frenchman aimed to extend his legacy at the club by bringing in success as a manager. However, the rest of the footballing world felt the appointment was a huge risk, with Zidane lacking managerial experience and tactical knowledge.
During his time as the coach of Real Madrid, Zidane went on to one La Liga title, three Champions League trophies and one Spanish Super Cup as well as a number of individual awards. The European dominance along with winning the club’s 33rd league title in 2017 would not have been possible had the coach kept Cristiano Ronaldo on the left flank instead of moving him up top as a lone forward.
Focusing more on Ronaldo, he first started to acknowledge this new role under Benitez, when Karim Benzema was suffering from a few injury issues. The five-time Ballon d’Or winner faced a number of problems whilst playing in this position, with the main one being the side was not built around him, and Benitez’s defensive style of play did not work well with Real Madrid’s free-flowing system.
On the other hand, once Zidane was introduced into the managerial picture, Ronaldo became the perfect number nine in Europe due to his movement on and off the ball and his pure instincts. The best example to show that he adjusted to a new approach and style is the 3-0 victory over rivals Atletico Madrid in November 2016, when his hat-trick summed up his growth as a centre forward.
The 4-4-2 diamond formation got the best out of both strikers in Benzema and Ronaldo, with the former playing as the deep-lying forward who would combine with the midfielders, whilst the latter would remain in the final third of the pitch and come up with the goods for when his side needed him the most. Overall, the improvements became evident as the trophies started to come in.
Ronaldo’s transition from being a dazzling winger to a dominant and ruthless forward became much easier, when Portugal coach Fernando Santos started playing him up front alongside either Ricardo Quaresma or Luis Nani. Playing in the same role as well as a similar formation at both club and international level has allowed the Madeira-born star to adapt and thrive within this new change.
It’s definitely not easy to pick out an international game that proved Portugal were on top of their game and the opposition. Though, the most recent and memorable competitive fixture that comes to mind is the World Cup match between Portugal and Spain, where Ronaldo’s incredible hat-trick allowed his team to pick up a vital point early in the tournament as they went past the group stages.
Throughout the closely-watched game, Portugal were defensively sound and composed to a certain level whilst Ronaldo’s influence on the pitch gave Santos’ men some hope that they would get something out of this match. In the end, the test of patience pulled through as Portugal earned themselves an invaluable point and Ronaldo went on to steal the headlines for the next few days.
Overall, it is fair to say that two to three managers have helped Ronaldo to become the centre-forward he is today. Although he is playing as a left-winger for Juventus at this moment of time, the Italian side will be relying on his individual brilliance in strike as the Serie A and Champions League campaign goes on, especially given that they are aiming to complete the treble this season.