Pepe sent a message to the under-fire club chief with his words in Monday’s press conference ahead of the clash against Roma: no more coaching changes for the time being
The message was subtle but clear. Pepe sat alongside Zinedine Zidane in the pre-match press conference ahead of Real Madrid’s match against Roma on Tuesday and gave a glowing appraisal of his coach which translated to something simple: the players want him to stay – whatever happens this season.
Seen as a villain for so many years at Real, Pepe is a leader at the Santiago Bernabeu these days – one of the club captains and a man who has worked to clean up his bad-boy image on the pitch. And when he spoke to the media on Monday, he did so on behalf of the whole squad.
The Brazil-born defender described Zidane with plenty of praise. “He was a legendary player who needs to work patiently because he will be one of the best coaches in the world and he will win many titles,” the 33-year-old said.
Time, though, is a precious commodity for coaches at the Bernabeu and a season without a trophy is usually enough for Florentino Perez to pull the trigger and set his sights on someone new. But that plan has brought only disruption in recent times and the fans have had enough.
At the Bernabeu on Saturday, there were renewed chants of “Florentino, resign!” despite Madrid’s 7-1 thrashing of Celta Vigo. The result was an excellent one, but supporters expect their team to prevail against sides such as the Galician outfit, like Levante and even Roma. Meanwhile, however, failures against Atletico, Barcelona and other top teams this term have left the fans frustrated. They want a proper project, not constant changes.
The same can be said for the players. Most of the squad had wanted former coach Carlo Ancelotti to stay in the summer, but Perez pushed the Italian out of the door against their wishes as Madrid missed out on a major trophy at the end of last season. Six months of disappointment and another sacking – and all to bring in Rafa Benitez.
The signing of the Spanish coach convinced nobody and the players never clicked with the former Napoli and Liverpool boss. Pepe added on Monday: “Zidane has brought many things: first of all, teamwork; secondly, we don’t waste time on things that have no place in football – because he was a player and he knows what a player thinks and wants on the pitch; then, the togetherness in the group.”
In praising Zidane, he had also managed to ridicule Rafa. Two birds with one well-aimed stone.
Madrid beat Roma 2-0 in the last-16 first-leg meeting at Stadio Olimpico last month, so Zidane’s side will be big favourites to make it to the quarter-finals of the Champions League. And anything else will be a disaster for a Real team already out of the race for La Liga and eliminated from the Copa del Rey earlier this season for fielding the suspended Denis Cheryshev in an astonishing administrative blunder.
A place in the last four of the continental competition is the very least the club should be aspiring to in what is now the only objective left on their agenda in 2015-16. But whatever happens, dispensing with Zidane will not be the solution.
If any coach deserves time to prove himself at the Bernabeu, it is the 43-year-old. A club icon who won Madrid their ninth European Cup with that wonderful volley against Bayer Leverkusen in 2002, the Frenchman also assisted Ancelotti as Real claimed La Decima in Lisbon in 2014 and he is in only his first season as a coach at this level.
“Regardless of how things turn out come the end of the campaign, Zidane should remain as coach next season,” Ancelotti said recently. And he is absolutely right, because regardless of how the season ends for Real, the Spanish side face a crucial period over the next year and a half.
Banned by Fifa from transfers for two windows for irregularities in the recruitment of youngsters, this summer looks likely to be the club’s last chance of signing new players until January 2018.
That situation brings the need for something somewhat unusual at the Bernabeu: a long-term plan. Zidane is in the man in charge right now and he should be the one to oversee a project for the foreseeable future too, with Real looking to cushion the blow of the ban as Barcelona did so successfully in the summer of 2014 by bringing in a number of players such as Luis Suarez, Ivan Rakitic, Claudio Bravo and Marc-Andre ter Stegen.
One omen in Madrid’s favour in the current Champions League is that the club have enjoyed success in the competition when their league form has been below par. In their last four European wins (1998, 2000, 2002 and 2014), Los Blancos finished fourth, fifth, third and third (the position they currently occupy in La Liga) respectively.
That is no guarantee of success in the current campaign, of course, and Real rank as outsiders right now due to their own performances and the dynamic displays of both Barca and Bayern Munich.
Nevertheless, Zidane should stay in charge for next season at the very least – even if Madrid fall short and even if they are knocked out on Tuesday. Pepe has spoken and his words on Monday echoed the thoughts of his team-mates and most madridistas: stability is now needed and Zizou is the man to provide it.
For the good of the club and also for his own sake, Florentino would do well to listen this time.