Neil Humphreys on Zidane: Juve made him, now they could break him
Juventus made him, now they could break him
Zinedine Zidane didn't want to play the homecoming hero, not now at least.
He's revered in Juventus. Turin made him a man, he insisted recently. He pledged to be a "Juventino" for life, before adding that his heart belonged to Real Madrid.
It's an apt metaphor. Zizou's heart might say "Madrid", but the head might be whispering "Juventus" when no one's listening.
This isn't the quarter-final that the Real Madrid coach wanted and not for soppy, sentimental reasons either.
When the two sides meet in Turin tomorrow morning (Singapore time), Zidane isn't worried about returning to a lost lover.
He's worried about losing his job.
If Juventus do that thing they do across two legs - i.e. wobble a bit, before eventually winning - then the glorious reign in Spain could come to a premature end for the enigmatic Frenchman.
That's not over-egged hyperbole. Zidane spent much of last week answering similar questions about his uncertain future.
By any conventional yardstick, he's had a reasonable season. But Real are European royalty. They're interested in trinkets, not yardsticks.
The Champions League and Real Madrid are easy bedfellows. A spiritual connection exists on both sides.
Real's legacy was built largely on their European escapades and the tournament's finest moments invariably involved the Madridistas.
As long as the umbilical cord between club and jug-eared cup remains in place, Zidane has a focus, a purpose and, most critically, a get-out-of-jail card.
Real's notoriously restless hierarchy can just about tolerate the feeble defence of their La Liga crown and the 13-point gap that currently separates them from those insufferable Catalans. They'll even overlook a downright embarrassing Copa del Rey exit, losing to Leganes.
But their sense of entitlement knows no bounds when it comes to the Champions League. In Madrid, they genuinely believe in their ownership rights.
Zidane has won two in a row. If it's not a third time, unlucky, he'll be facing a difficult conversation in the boardroom.
So there's no room for misty-eyed nostalgia. The 45-year-old won't return to the Old Lady of Turin with open arms, but an open mind.
Unlike Real supporters who were relieved with the draw, happy to avoid Barcelona and Manchester City, Zidane recognised the underlying threat.
Tottenham Hotspur revealed it to him.
In the previous round, Spurs scored two away goals in Turin and dominated Juventus for arguably 160 of the 180 minutes across the two legs.
But Juventus' wise old men have a stubborn habit of not falling for the odds. They bend. They do not break.
Real Madrid beat the Italian side 4-1 in last year's final, but across two legs, Juventus have a masochistic tendency to suffer pain before suffocating opponents.
In the Champions League era, the heavyweights have clashed in four two-legged meetings in the knockout stage. Juventus have won the lot.
Their last triumph, in the 2015 semi-finals, epitomised their vice-like grip across tight contests. A 2-1 win at home was followed with a 1-1 draw in Spain.
Real Madrid were favourites then. They are favourites now. Carlo Ancelotti lost his job then. Zidane gets the picture now.
Fortunately, the Frenchman seems to thrive on the European stage. In the previous round, his bold selections against Paris Saint-Germain paid off.
He dropped Gareth Bale for the first leg and may repeat the trick in Turin.
He also has more midfield options now, with Luka Modric and Toni Kroos close to full fitness and Isco in fine form.
But, as always, salvation beckons in the guise of the shiny, sinewy one up front.
Cristiano Ronaldo's age-defying achievements no longer belong in a museum. They belong in a science lab.
Like a committed environmentalist of Planet Ronaldo, he's done that energy-saving thing again, preserving body and soul for the Champions League run-in.
He's 33 and yet he's inexplicably scored 21 goals in his last 11 Real appearances. No wonder he's giving Gianluigi Buffon sleepless nights.
Ronaldo scored twice in last season's final against Juventus. He's facing a slower, 40-year-old keeper this time around. He'll fancy his chances in both legs.
But the same could be said of Juventus, the dogged titans of two-legged contests.
Zidane's PSG party piece may come in useful again.
He can't contain the Italian side for 180 minutes, but he could potentially outscore them.
The "Juventino" will enjoy a warm reception as he returns to Turin for the first time as a manager.
But when he turns towards the dugout, Zidane knows his Italian friends will happily stab him in the back.