Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane knows a thing or two about his opponents in the Champions League Final. Zidane played for Juventus from 1996 until 2001, when he transferred to Real Madrid for what was at that time a world record transfer fee.

The Champions League final will be played between Juventus and Real Madrid Saturday, June 3rd in the neutral city if Cardiff, Wales.

Zidane coaches the favorites in this year’s final. Real Madrid, of course, boasts arguably the world’s most popular player in Cristiano Ronaldo, along with Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema, midfield playmaker Luca Modric, and Real Captain Sergio Ramos.

Advertisement
Advertisement

Juventus, however, can counter Real at each and every position, and lay claim to the competition’s stingiest defense. The Italian Champions counter the big names in Real’s attack with an equally potent and creative trio of their own. Gonzalo Higuain, Mario Mandzukic – who has been playing like a man on a mission in recent games – and the Messi-esque Paolo Dybala, will have something to say about the final score line before all is said and done.

For Zidane – and for long-time Juventus fans – it will be a match up with a dose of irony.

Zidane's history at Juventus

Zidane joined the Italian giants during the Summer of 1996, as Juventus were coming off of a big win over Netherlands’ Ajax Amsterdam in that year’s Champions League final.

It was the golden age of Italy’s Serie A. AC Milan, Roma, Inter Milan, Napoli, Fiorentina and Juventus collectively were the reigning stars of the world game. The 1990’s saw Italy’s top league achieve dominance, and the world’s popular imagination, against the rest of Europe’s, and the world’s leagues.

Advertisement

Zidane arrived in Turin hoping to help Juventus defend their 1996 Champions League title. They managed a repeat trip to ’97 final, only to lose to Germany’s Borussia Dortmund. 1998 saw Juventus achieve an incredible third consecutive trip the final.

That year Zidane and his teammates – including the great Alessandro Del Piero and current France National team coach Didier Deschamps – would match up against Real Madrid. Madrid won that game, which would also be the end of an incredible run by Juventus.

That Summer of 1998 saw Zidane raise the World Cup trophy with France. After again proving France’s dominance with the 2000 Euro title, Zidane was at the top of the soccer world. One more season in Turin would see him transfer to Madrid with huge expectations on his shoulders.

As for Juventus, the loss of Zidane seemed disastrous. How do you replace the best midfield talisman in the world? Well, you don’t.

You can, however, put together a cohesive, well trained and disciplined team, filled with midfield workhorses (Dutch midfielder Edgar Davids was nicknamed “The Pitbull”) coached by Marcello Lippi, which is just what Juventus did.

Advertisement

They finally made it back to the Champions League final in 2003, only to lose on penalty kicks to Italian rivals AC Milan. The 1996 title was quickly becoming a distant and fading memory.

Italy's most storied team rebuilds

As the 2000’s progressed, several Juve players would claim a World Cup victory – Del Piero, Goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, and Italy Captain Fabio Cannavaro, among others, helped Italy win the 2006 tournament – but the most storied club team in Italy would find themselves struggling to achieve relevance, especially during a five-year run of successive Serie A championships by Inter Milan from 2006 through 2011.

Advertisement

2012 finally saw Juventus break Inter’s strangle-hold on the Serie A crown. These days some in Italy are beginning to grow weary of Juventus’ current run (they are set to win their sixth consecutive Series A title), but the team itself has had only one goal in their sights; a return to the top of Europe.

Two years ago Juventus finally reached the CL final after an absence of a dozen years. They faced the mighty Barcelona in that 2015 final, and never managed to turn their underdog status around. Barcelona, led by the great Lionel Messi, prevailed. It would be the final shot at a European trophy for Andrea Pirlo, who now plays for NYCFC in Major League Soccer.

Juventus Coach Massimiliano Allegri has kept his eyes on the prize. While much of Serie A has undergone a dip in form and popularity, Juventus have relentlessly pursued excellence at every level. They broke the hearts of Napoli fans last Summer when they swooped into Naples and scooped up star striker Gonzalo Higuain.

Their defense is such a cohesive unit that Antonio Conte called them up to Italy’s National team as a single inseparable unit for last year’s European Championships. They may play only three at the back but Barzagli, Bonucci, and Chieleini, with the legend in goal behind them, Gianluigi Buffon, play more effectively together than just about any other defense in Europe.

Much of the rest of the world will be watching Real Madrid on June 3rd, expecting thrills and fireworks from the Ronaldo-Benzema-Bale trio. Do not be surprised, though, if a different attacking trio steals their thunder that day.

Juventus entire season, in fact their last several seasons, have been built to achieve this moment, and it would take some incredible magic, even by Real Madrid’s standards, to deny them what they have been striving for all this time.

Click to read more