New Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane has dismissed suggestions that Cristiano Ronaldo could leave the Spanish giants under his watch, describing the record-breaking forward as the “soul” of the team and “more than unsaleable”.
Speculation about Ronaldo’s future with Madrid has been a regular topic over the last few years and those reports have intensified in recent times, with former club Manchester United and Paris St Germain among those sides once again touted as possible destinations for the Portugal international.
In his press conference ahead of his debut as Madrid coach against Deportivo La Coruna on Saturday, Zidane was quizzed about Ronaldo and the links to PSG – but the Frenchman was unequivocal in his response.
“He is more than unsaleable, he is the soul of this team and symbol of Madridismo. He isn’t going anywhere. It makes me laugh because while I’m here he’s going nowhere,” said Zidane.
“What we want is for Cristiano to be happy. I don’t have to say much about him, his numbers speak for themselves.”
Zidane, who was this week promoted from the club’s B side Castilla to replace the sacked Rafael Benitez, takes over a side that are only four points adrift of Primera Division leaders Atletico Madrid but who will be keen to get supporters who became disillusioned under Benitez quickly back on side.
Zidane himself was a big crowd pleaser as a player at the Bernabeu, and now as coach he intends to give the fans something to cheer on the pitch as well.
“I’ve seen this week that everybody’s talking about this (a full Bernabeu). What’s important is that the fans see the team playing well. It’s important they want to see their team, support their team and that we get the victory.”
With Atletico not in action until Sunday night, when they go to fifth-placed Celta Vigo, Barcelona will be expected to take over top spot when they host struggling Granada in Saturday’s early game.
Barca are two points behind Atletico with a game in hand, but they have been held to draws in three of their last four league games and coach Luis Enrique knows it may not be as straightforward as it seems against Granada at the Nou Camp.
He said: “They are an opponent on the up following their win over Sevilla. They are a physically strong team, work hard and need points. As such, there is no more dangerous an opponent.”
In Saturday’s other matches, Sevilla will aim to bounce back from that shock 2-1 loss to Granada when they travel to high-flying Athletic Bilbao, while Getafe host Real Betis and Levante take on Rayo Vallecano in the battle of the Primera Division”s bottom two clubs.
Sunday’s fixtures kick off with in-form Villarreal playing host to third-bottom Sporting Gijon.
Villarreal boast the best current record in the division with five successive victories lifting them up to fourth, a point behind Madrid, but they go into this weekend’s matches on the back of a painful 3-2 defeat to Athletic in the Copa del Rey, a game where they led 2-0 at half-time.
Gary Neville’s Valencia beat Granada 4-0 in the cup in midweek and they now go in search of their first league win under the Englishman when they travel to Real Sociedad.
Also, Eibar face Espanyol and Malaga – on a four-match winning streak in the league – travel to Las Palmas.