Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 June 2019

Reality check time for Real Madrid but Zinedine Zidane's return gives hope of fresh success

The Frenchman will have 11 games till the end of the season to work out what he wants to change up in the summer

Zinedine Zidane, in white in the centre, oversees his first training session back as Real Madrid manager. EPA
Zinedine Zidane, in white in the centre, oversees his first training session back as Real Madrid manager. EPA

The seven days between February 27 and March 5 were ones to forget for Real Madrid fans.

They were defeated three times at home. Twice by Barcelona. The first knocking them out of the Copa del Rey, the second effectively ending their La Liga title hopes.

Then the final blow was being hammered 4-1 by Ajax, a result that ended their long reign as champions of Europe that stretched back to May 2016.

But this week has been a lot more positive.

Aside from the joyously received re-appointment of Zinedine Zidane, 284 days after he left the club, there was another sliver of happiness. Atletico Madrid will not be winning the Uefa Champions League in Madrid in June after Juventus came from behind to beat them 3-0 in Turin on Wednesday.

That Cristiano Ronaldo scored all three goals is bittersweet for Madrid fans.

Ronaldo was the man who scored the goals which powered Madrid to those four European Cup finals in five years.

Ronaldo was the main man for football’s most successful club in all nine seasons which he played there. They miss the Portuguese and his goals and they missed Zidane too. They also missed their captain Sergio Ramos against Ajax, a game he missed because he was deliberately booked in the first leg which Madrid won.

At least Ramos fronted up and admitted to mistakes this week on social media. He’s 33 this month and will likely stay, but Zidane returns rested and in a position of strength. He will likely have more say in the players Madrid sign and sell. Not that he gave any reason why he left in the first place last May beyond: “I went because I needed it for me and the squad needed a change after winning it all. We had to change at that moment, in my opinion.”

Zidane said that he had no had promises made to him. The Frenchman has long mastered the art of avoiding saying anything significant and prefers to be judged by the actions of his team on the pitch.

The first thing he did as manager was call Sergio Ramos. They played together and worked together well as captain and coach. They need each other.

Zidane was in charge of Madrid for less than three seasons and won three European Cups, but he had plenty of low points.

Barcelona may have been the best team in Spain season after season, but it was bearable because Madrid were the best team in the world.

Not now and not when Madrid crashed out of Europe last week to that fine young Ajax side and fans began calling for club president Florentino Perez to resign.

It is tough at the top, it is even tougher at the top at Madrid, a club who sacked Vicente del Bosque after he had won the Champions League in 2002.

Having replaced Santiago Solari, who lasted 119 days - and Solari replaced Julen Lopetegui who lasted only 138 - Zidane returned to Madrid’s Valdebebas training ground on Tuesday.

At his news conference on Monday he said what he was expected to say, he wore what he was not expected to wear – tight ripped and turned up jeans with trainers combined with a blazer.

It wasn’t a winning sartorial combination judging by the online reaction, but that is not what he’s there for.

Zidane has signed a contract until 2022 and has the 11 remaining games this season to figure out what he wants in the summer.

“We’ll change things,” he said. “We have to change things for next year but now it’s not about that. What matters is that I am back and we have time to talk about what we have to do. But today that’s not the issue. What we want is to finish well. I’m here because the president called me. I’m here, because I love this club.”

Those words resonate with fans who need to hear them right now. After winning so much and being football’s pre-eminent force for the last half decade, they’re facing the reality of normality. At least they can save some money for next season.

Updated: March 13, 2019 09:08 PM

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