Famed for his grace and elegance as a player, Zinedine Zidane apparently has other priorities as a coach, as yesterday he made brawny, bustling Finnish striker Eero Markkanen his first signing for Real Madrid’s B team.
Now boss of the Champions League winners’ ‘Castilla’ reserve side, Zidane sought out the relatively unknown Finn and bought him from Swedish club AIK Stockholm, where his six goals in 14 appearances were enough to convince one of the game’s greats that he was worth a gamble.
“Coming to AIK was a dream come true,” Markkanen said in a statement issued by AIK announcing the move. “Thanks to hard work, my team-mates, (AIK coach) Mr Alm and his coaching staff, another dream is now coming true.”
No details of the transfer fee have been released.
Unheralded when he joined the Stockholm club from JJK Jyvaskyla in Finland, Markkanen was only six months into a three-year contract at AIK when the Spaniards came calling.
For the 23-year-old Finn, who has one cap for his country, the move marks the latest stage in a meteoric rise.
But given that Markkanen, who makes the most of his 197 centimetres to dominate in the air, is so different to his new mentor, it offers an intriguing insight into the mind of Zidane the coach.
Asked how Zidane became aware of Markkanen, an AIK staff member told Reuters: “No-one knows. Apparently Zidane went to the sporting director of Madrid with a DVD of Eero and said ‘I want this guy’.”
Having signed a four-year deal, Markkanen will now come under the watchful eye of the French World Cup winner, who played for Real Madrid from 2001 until his retirement in 2006, as he makes the transition from manager Carlo Ancelotti’s assistant to being the man calling the shots in the B team dugout.
And just as Zidane saw passes on the field that no-one else did, he may have noticed something in Markkanen that others missed.