Zidane shelves league intentions as Madrid shift focus to Europe

Zidane made several changes ahead of Tuesday’s Group A game away at Galatasaray. (AFP)
Updated 21 October 2019

Zidane shelves league intentions as Madrid shift focus to Europe

  • Real Madrid coach made several changes ahead of Tuesday’s Group A game

MADRID: Zinedine Zidane said in April Real Madrid would prioritize La Liga over the Champions League this season and their defeat to Real Mallorca on Saturday suggests they may not have the squad to go far in both.

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

“It’s the longest competition, it’s the one that cannot be missed, and I’m going to put that in the heads of my players.”

Yet Zidane made several changes ahead of Tuesday’s Group A game away at Galatasaray and those who came in failed to impressed, with a blunt performance against Mallorca revealing familiar failings up front and causing Madrid to slip to their first league defeat of the campaign.

Some of the adjustments were enforced as Eden Hazard was absent following the birth of his fourth child on Friday while Toni Kroos, Luka Modric and Gareth Bale were all nursing injuries of varying severity.

Others were seemingly chosen as Raphael Varane and Dani Carvajal were rested, along with Fede Valverde, who had brought much-needed energy into the midfield before the international break.

Bale’s calf injury is believed to be minor but was considered too much of a risk and will also miss the trip to Turkey along with Ballon d’Or winner Modric.

Heavy rotation points to a belief in the utmost importance of the game against Galatasaray and a recognition from Zidane that Madrid cannot afford another misstep in Europe.

“The problem is we have to show every three days that we are good,” Zidane said on Saturday.

“That is our difficulty and that is what we do not do. We must have consistency. We have to have more life in our game if we want to do important things this year.”

They sit bottom of the group, with just one point from their opening two games and the prospect of failing to make the knock-out stages for the first time in the Champions League still faint, but a possibility nonetheless.

It also suggests for all the good intentions about consistency in La Liga and wrestling back some of the domination enjoyed by Barcelona over the last decade, for Real Madrid the Champions League perhaps never plays second fiddle.

After all, it was in the Champions League that Zidane forged his reputation as a coach, three triumphs in a row almost eradicating from memory his more disappointing period in the domestic league and cups.

Zidane might have weighed up that there is time and games to recuperate in La Liga that do not exist in Europe but losing to Mallorca does not come without a cost.

After five games unbeaten, doubts have returned about his team and the spotlight is back on their Frenchman.

Perhaps he hoped for more from those that came in. Isco, Luka Jovic and Vinicius Junior were all taken off in the second half on Saturday and while Vinicus is young and Jovic recently signed, it remains to be seen how long it might take to regain Zidane’s trust.

Alvaro Odriozola, in for Carvajal at right-back, was at fault for the goal and then sent off.

“Injuries are part of football,” Zidane said.

“There were other players and we had to do better.”

When Madrid won the league under Zidane in 2017, he successfully rotated in games against lesser sides but, despite around 300 million euros ($300 million) spent last summer, his squad might not have the same depth.

Galatasaray have won only four of their opening eight Super Lig games and have not reached the Champions League last 16 since 2014.

But Madrid cannot be complacent, having lost three of their last four visits to the Turkish giants.

Zidane’s hopes of progress will be transformed with a victory but he might need his best players back to do it.

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Saleh’s hiring by Jets source of pride for Muslim community

Updated 16 January 2021

Saleh’s hiring by Jets source of pride for Muslim community

  • The New York Jets’ new head coach has families and community leaders excited in neighborhoods all across the US
  • The 41-year-old Saleh, expected to be formally introduced next week by the Jets, is the son of Lebanese parents and grew up in Detroit

NEW YORK: Robert Saleh has made history that extends far beyond any football field.
The New York Jets’ new head coach has families and community leaders excited in neighborhoods all across the country, celebrating the first known Muslim American to hold that position in the NFL.
That’s a source of great pride for a group that has been generally underrepresented in the league’s on-field leadership roles.
“It’s something that shows the growing diversity of our nation, the inclusion we’re trying to achieve at all levels of our society,” said Ibrahim Hooper, national communications director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations. “And I think it’s a very positive sign.”
The 41-year-old Saleh, expected to be formally introduced next week by the Jets, is the son of Lebanese parents and grew up in the Detroit suburb of Dearborn, Michigan, which is home to the largest Muslim population in the United States per capita.
“I think he’s just a trailblazer for a lot of coaches who are Muslim, to let them know that they do have a chance to be a head coach,” said Lions offensive lineman Oday Aboushi, a practicing Muslim who has played in the NFL for eight seasons — including his first two with the Jets.
“He shows them you do have a chance to be a defensive coordinator, you do have a chance to grow up and have a job at the professional level,” Aboushi added. “As long as you’re professional and you’re passionate about it like he is, I think a lot of people will look to him as a trailblazer, as far as everyone feeling like they could do it themselves and it’s an attainable dream.”
After Saleh’s college playing career as a tight end at Northern Michigan ended, he got his start in coaching by working as an assistant at Michigan State, Central Michigan and Georgia before being hired as a defensive intern by the Houston Texans in 2005.
Then came stints with Seattle and Jacksonville before Saleh became San Francisco’s defensive coordinator in 2017, helping the 49ers reach the Super Bowl last year with his No. 2-ranked unit. He was a popular candidate among the seven teams looking for a new coach this offseason, and quickly emerged as the favorite for the Jets job.
Saleh, known for his energy on the sideline and being well-liked by players, impressed the Jets during his first remote interview. He was flown in a few days later for an in-person meeting with Jets chairman and CEO Christopher Johnson, president Hymie Elhai and general manager Joe Douglas at the team’s facility in Florham Park, New Jersey.
After a two-day visit, Saleh left to meet with Philadelphia for its coaching vacancy — but the Jets knew they found their new coach. The team announced Thursday night the sides reached an agreement in principle.
“As a pioneer in the sports world, Saleh will serve as an inspiration to many young American Muslims,” Selaedin Maksut, the executive director of CAIR’s New Jersey chapter, said in email to The Associated Press. “In addition to the positive impact that he’ll have on Muslims, Saleh’s presence in the field and on the screen will remind the rest of America that Muslims are a part of the fabric of this nation and proudly contribute to society. It’s a step toward tearing down walls and building bridges.
“Welcome to Jersey, brother!”
Ahmed Mohamed, the legal director of CAIR’s New York chapter, congratulated the Jets and Saleh for what he called a “historic hiring in the National Football League.” He’s optimistic it’s a sign of increasing inclusion and recognition of the Muslim community.
“For all the Muslim youth who may be told they don’t belong or can’t do something because of how they pray, we hope that when they see Mr. Saleh on national television, they will say to themselves that anything is possible and will reach for the stars,” Mohamed said in an email to the AP. “We hope Mr. Saleh’s hiring opens the door for other American Muslims in sports.”
Saleh is believed to be the third Arab American to become a head coach in the NFL. He follows Abe Gibron, who led Chicago from 1972-74, and Rich Kotite, who coached the Eagles (1991-94) and Jets (1995-96) — both of whom also had Lebanese roots.
Saleh is also just the fourth active NFL head coach who is a minority, joining Miami’s Brian Flores, Washington’s Ron Rivera and Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin.
“Robert Saleh has made history on the field and off,” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted Friday night. “Now he’s knocking down barriers in our own backyard. Congrats, Coach!”
While Saleh’s focus will be on restoring the Jets to respectability and not necessarily being an inspiration, he has provided a path for others to someday follow.
“Any person in a new job, their first goal is going to be performance in their job,” Hooper said. “But I think a secondary consideration might be being an example to Muslim and Arab American youth around the country, that this kind of inclusion and respect for diversity is possible.
“But I don’t think he got the job because of his ethnic or religious background. He got this job because he’s good at what he does.”