Zinedine Zidane has lost his aura: Neil Humphreys
Real's coach cannot dine on past Champions League glories, which were achieved with Ronaldo and Co
The Champions League always felt like a Band-Aid, not for Real Madrid, but for Zinedine Zidane.
Those back-to-back European Cups, all three of them, did not cover a multitude of sins, but a sense of muddled uncertainty.
Zizou's biggest sceptics even suggested Real's continental dominance was essentially achieved in spite of the enigmatic manager, rather than because of him, with the Frenchman benefiting from accomplished superstars who essentially picked themselves.
But their talisman Cristiano Ronaldo is gone. And so has Zidane's aura.
Real's 3-0 defeat by Paris Saint-Germain left Zidane exposed. In the Parc des Princes, an emperor's new clothes were revealed.
He was not wearing any.
He had no valid explanation for his side's dishevelled appearance, no excuse for Real's collapse, beyond some fluff about a lack of "intensity".
When all else failed, he fell back on the musty book of defeated coaches' cliches. Except, on this occasion, even the cliches defeated him.
In the era of Juergen Klopp, Pep Guardiola and PSG coach Thomas Tuchel, intensity is no longer the simple language of the archaic TV pundit, but a tangible, teachable commodity.
Modern managers coach intensity. They cannot play out from the back or counter-attack without it.
Intensity is taught on the training ground, through quick transitional plays, providing the foundation for the favoured tactical model of fast pressing.
At times in Paris, Real Madrid did not seem coached at all, nor were they sure of their formation. Something vaguely resembling 6-0-4 was often spotted, as defensive midfielder Casemiro drifted backwards, dragging Toni Kroos with him, while James Rodriguez instinctively headed the other way.
Zidane has expressed his dissatisfaction at Real's failure to sign Paul Pogba, but he still spent heavily in the transfer market to build his team.
One lost Pogba explains a lopsided squad heavy on forwards and light on midfielders, with little flair in the middle of the park.
Luka Modric's ageless pedigree was obviously missed, but the absence of a 34-year-old veteran shouldn't leave a club of Real's stature bereft of creative options. That's what the transfer window was for.
Zidane lamented the players who couldn't play. Modric and Marcelo were both injured and Sergio Ramos was suspended.
Ramos' absence was keenly felt - Real's last five Champions League defeats were games that he missed.
But PSG missed Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and Edinson Cavani, a complete forward line, which leaves Zidane sounding like a home owner moaning about a couple of broken sofas when the next-door neighbour has lost his entire roof.
PROMISED A REVOLUTION
Zidane promised a revolution, in both the transfer market and on the team sheet, but little has changed.
Apart from a couple of defensive stand-ins, Real's line-up was more Groundhog Day than groundbreaking. The old guard are still in favour.
Ironically, the one attacker that Zidane coveted did not impress and the one attacker that Zidane treated like an ex-wife mostly delivered.
Eden Hazard was anonymous. Gareth Bale was often involved, maintaining his solid form despite being treated appallingly by his manager in public.
Zidane spent much of the summer informing potential suitors that both Bale and Rodriguez were available. The trouble was there weren't any credible suitors.
As a result, the Madridistas are now a baffling mix of Zidane's old favourites, whom he refuses to drop, and his recent rejects, whom he can't drop, topped off with a slightly bewildered Hazard.
The Belgian was part of a side that failed to register a shot on target in the Champions League for the first time since Opta began collecting data in 2003.
He played as if he were cut adrift against PSG, which was hardly surprising. Real looked directionless.
The La Liga listlessness that destroyed so many of Zidane's domestic campaigns has seeped into the Champions League.
The Frenchman can no longer rely on Ronaldo, or personal prestige, or even the muscle memory of past glories.
After the poor appointments of Julen Lopetegui and Santiago Solari, Zidane was called back to launch a revolution.
But there is no anarchy, just apathy and an increasing realisation that the defence is abject without Ramos, the midfield is at least two signings short and the forward line seems stamped with a use-by date.
And yet, Zidane continues to pick yes men and yesterday's men. He'll struggle to succeed with either.
His three Champions League triumphs perpetuated the myth. The disaster in Paris revealed the man, which is a concern.
A myth cannot be touched.
A man can be sacked.
Sadly, Zidane's stagnating line-ups suggest he's a manager stuck in the past, which is probably where he should've stayed.
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