Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane has insisted the players are fully behind Cristiano Ronaldo, despite comments from the Portuguese at the weekend in which he seemed to criticise his team-mates.
Speaking ahead of Los Blancos’ trip to La Liga’s bottom side Levante on Wednesday, the Frenchman revealed he has since spoken to the 31-year-old, the player has talked to the rest of the team and there are no issues moving forward.
“Cristiano spoke with everyone—and with me as well,” said Zidane, per Sport. “It's already in the past. We are with him. The matter has been fixed. We will move on with this together, but internally, not externally.”
It’s since been reported by Marca (h/t Sid Lowe of Guardian) that the forward has claimed the comments were misinterpreted and that he was referring to the physicality of the team. It’s also been suggested that Ronaldo has apologised for the comments made to his team-mates via WhatsApp and in person at the training ground, per El Mundo (h/t Francesc J. Gimeno of Sport).
Indeed, it was noticeable up against an industrious outfit like Atletico that Real were not quite as sharp as their opponents.
Zidane dismissed that notion, though, insisting the players need to become more ruthless in their approach and attitude to the game, per Sport:
We're doing well physically. For me, the defeat in the derby is not a question of fitness. That Atletico ran more than us is just data, for me we're doing well physically.
It's other things. We have to win our battles. We lost a lot of battles. I see the team improving and we are still going to improve more, too. I don't know if I'm convincing you... Yes, it's an attitude problem. What we have to do is make sure it doesn't happen again.
Either way, it’s clear all is not well at Real Madrid. While they’re set to progress into the quarter-finals of the Champions League, this has been a season to forget for the club overall; they’re out of La Liga title race, the Copa del Rey and have been convincingly beaten by their two biggest rivals at the Santiago Bernabeu.
However, as noted by Phil Kitromilides of the Spanish Football Podcast, a poor performance in the domestic league hasn’t always meant the season is a complete write-off for Real:
Real Madrid— Phil Kitromilides (@PhilKitro) February 29, 2016
1998: La Liga 4th, UCL winner
2000: La Liga 5th, UCL winner
2002: La Liga 3rd, UCL winner
2014: La Liga 3rd, UCL winner
Still, something does need to change, and quickly. Ronaldo, for all the goals he’s scored this season, is not affecting big games like he once was, and the manager will be desperate to see more from him.
As suggested by Bleacher Report’s Clark Whitney, whether he meant these comments or otherwise, Ronaldo needs to set a better example as a senior player and one of the world's best:
Legends win big games & bring best out of their teammates. Ronaldo says, after big Atleti loss: "If everyone was at my level, we'd be first"— Clark Whitney (@Mr_Bundesliga) February 27, 2016
Zidane’s task was always going to be difficult. At the moment the expectations are so high at Real, especially with Barcelona and Atletico Madrid faring so well, but what he needs is time to build his own squad and for key figures like Ronaldo to make things easier for him. So far, that’s not been the case.
Real should be too strong for Levante on Wednesday and a comfortable win may ensure some scrutiny is lifted from the club. Ronaldo, after his presence in the press over the past few days, could certainly do with turning in a virtuoso display.