On Soccer: At Real Madrid, Zinedine Zidane’s Gift Is Wrapped in Charisma

Pérez made it clear that Benítez was safe as long as he picked what the president felt was his strongest team: an adventurous lineup that included the Colombian midfielder James Rodríguez. Such a selection ran against Benítez’s cautious instincts. He would have preferred the more defensively minded Brazilian Casemiro as a bulwark against Barcelona’s formidable attack, but eventually Benítez relented.

Rodríguez started; Casemiro did not. Barcelona won, 4-0, humiliating Madrid on its home field. Benítez would cling to his job for only six more weeks.

As Real Madrid and Barcelona prepare to come face to face again on Saturday at Camp Nou, Pérez will not be having any such frank conversations with Benítez’s successor. Casemiro, fitness permitting, is expected to start. Rodríguez almost certainly will not. In that one lineup decision lies not only proof of the power of Madrid’s new coach, Zinedine Zidane, but evidence of the source of it.

Almost a year into his top-tier managerial career, it is hard to find fault with Zidane’s record. He lifted the Champions League trophy after only six months, his third Champions League…

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