Judgement day for Real Madrid as Zidane’s second innings begins

Now it begins again, the season, and Zidane's second era as coach. (Reuters)
Updated 14 August 2019
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Judgement day for Real Madrid as Zidane’s second innings begins

  • Things will change, for sure, says Zidane after he won five of his last 11 games at the end of last season

MADRID: Zinedine Zidane returned to save Real Madrid and the time has come for results.

In a packed-out press conference under the Santiago Bernabeu in March, the club's president Florentino Perez delivered the grandest of re-introductions.

“We need to start working on a glorious new era,” said Perez. “That is why we welcome back Zinedine Zidane.”

Some might have expected a bounce but nobody blamed the coach when performances continued to drag and the gap behind Barcelona, rather than narrowing, widened.

Zidane took over a team with nothing to play for and a squad he knew was in need of reform. He knew because he had left it nine months earlier, just before it was broken.

There was no quick fix. In his 11 games at the end of last season, Madrid won five, the only promise of progress the words Zidane kept repeating. “Things will change, for sure,” he said.

Zidane denied it but they were seen as trials, every lineup scanned for clues as to who would survive the summer.

Yet in some ways, none of it mattered and the results, not to mention attendances at the Santiago Bernabeu, said as much. “The best thing for us is that it’s over,” said Zidane, after the season ended in defeat.

And now it begins again, the season, and Zidane’s second era as coach.

Many wondered why he came back, risking everything after the perfection of three Champions League titles out of three.

The assumption was he returned to a stronger hand, able to make demands the club were ready to meet and with the backing to rebuild in the way he had always wanted.

He might have been encouraged too, when Eder Militao, Ferland Mendy, Luka Jovic, Rodrygo and Eden Hazard all signed for a total close to €300 million.

Hazard was the headline act, a throwback to a previous era that Zidane knew well, when the world's most glamorous players seemed to walk through the doors every year.

“I’m not a galactico, not yet, but I hope I will be one day,” said Hazard when he joined.

But Madrid’s pockets are not as deep as they once were and sales were also needed, by the club and their coach.

Zidane showed no inclination to make soothe and use Gareth Bale, instead urging the Welshman to make a move to China.

“It is very close,” Zidane said. “We hope he leaves soon, it would be best for everyone.”

Bale’s agent told AFP Zidane was a “disgrace” and if the Frenchman had hoped to push the deal over the line, he would be disappointed as Madrid changed their mind over the fee.

James Rodriguez is also yet to leave and there were others that proved more difficult to bring in such as Paul Pogba and even Neymar.

In other areas, Zidane has resisted change, backing experience over youth even if many believed experience last season had turned into apathy.

Marcelo, Casemiro and Keylor Navas have stayed while Marcos Llorente was allowed to join Atletico Madrid and Sergio Reguilon and Dani Ceballos were both sent out on loan.

For all the talk of upheaval, Madrid’s lineup against Celta Vigo on Saturday is likely to have a distinctly familiar feel.

Yet there could be a new formation, with a 3-5-2 tried after some underwhelming showings in pre-season, allowing Marcelo and Dani Carvajal greater freedom as wingbacks and Hazard to play centrally behind Karim Benzema.

And a shift in focus. Madrid have won La Liga only once in the last seven years, their failures in Spain excused only by unprecedented success in Europe.

“For us next year, the league must be our No. 1 priority,” Zidane said in April.

In that sense, Madrid might profit if Barcelona aim their focus at the Champions League. But the Catalans and Atletico Madrid have both strengthened and look ready to challenge again.

“La Liga is the longest competition, it's the one that cannot be missed,” Zidane said. “I'm going to drill that in the heads of my players.” His players. Now they have to deliver.


Iran assures FIFA that women can attend football qualifier

Updated 22 September 2019
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Iran assures FIFA that women can attend football qualifier

  • FIFA traveled to Iran ahead of the weekend for talks on the matter of women and football
  • The Islamic republic has barred female spectators from football and other stadiums since 1981

MILAN: FIFA has been “assured” that Iran will lift its 40-year ban and allow women to attend a World Cup qualifying game next month.

Football’s governing body wants Iran to end its ban on women entering stadiums that breaches international football statutes prohibiting discrimination.

Global attention on the ban followed the death this month of a 29-year-old activist, Sahar Khodayari, who set herself on fire outside a courthouse. She had been detained for dressing as a man to enter a football stadium in Tehran and faced six months in prison.

“There is women’s football in Iran but we need Iranian women as well to be able to attend the men’s game,” FIFA President Gianni Infantino said in a speech at a conference on women’s football on Sunday. “And we need to push for that with respect but in a strong and forceful way. We cannot wait anymore.

“We have been assured, that as of the next international game of Iran, women will be allowed to enter football stadiums. This is something very important, it is 40 years that this has not happened, with a couple of exceptions, but it is important to move to the next level and to the next stage.”

FIFA sent an inspection team to Iran this week to meet government and football officials ahead of Iran’s match against Cambodia at the 78,000-capacity Azadi Stadium on Oct. 10 — its first home match of the 2022 qualifying competition.

Infantino’s comments drew praise from United States outgoing coach Jill Ellis, who was at the same FIFA conference in Milan, two months after leading the American women’s team to a second successive World Cup title.

“I think it’s huge,” Ellis said. “FIFA has enough of a pull and ability to influence change and I think it’s absolutely the right thing. I mean I don’t think there should be any discrimination period and to not allow women to go see football I think is, I just can’t even wrap my brain around it in terms of it being something. I think if FIFA can influence that, I think it’s great.”