A fortnight ago it was Dani Carvajal who gave Zinedine Zidane a boost with his comments about solidarity and team spirit, and this week it was Sergio Ramos.
He’s not afraid to take on Conor MacGregor it seems, going by earlier comments made this week in the gym, but there was nothing tongue-in-cheek about the message he delivered to the players in Thursday’s meeting with Real’s first-team squad.
Ahead of a monumentous eight days during which Real face Sevilla tomorrow followed by Borussia Mönchengladbach on Wednesday and then host neighbours Atlético in next weekend’s Madrid derby, the skipper got everyone together before training. He then pulled no punches in emphasising what he expects of the team in advance of these three games.
The fact that’s he’s not going to be involved in the Sevilla game will only have fuelled his emotions. Currently of action due to a hamstring injury picked up in Spain’s recent match with Germany in mid-November - an injury described by national team coach Luis Enrique as ‘minor’- he’s only now getting anywhere near back to full fitness.
But that hasn’t stopped Sergio from continuing to provide his own brand of inspiration and enthusiasm from the side-lines in addition to giving his under-fire coach some much-needed support at a time when he needs it most.
AS reported that although the core of Real Madrid’s playing squad are behind Zidane, it’s thought that some of those on the periphery of the first team don’t necessarily share the same view.
That’s often a natural and only to be expected reaction from players whose names aren’t usually first on the team sheet, but there will always be an expectation from Ramos and co that personal issues are put to the side at a time when divisiveness is clearly not productive.
High profile and very pro-Zidane personalities like Iker Casillas have already come out in public backing the coach and questioning why, at a time when he needs support most, people are quick to turn. As reported elsewhere in managingmadrid, ‘’now is the time to trust him’’ he said.
Zidane still has the backing of the president, Florentino Pérez, and predictably he stuck his with man after the defeat by Shakhtar Donetsk in midweek. That’s not to say though that in the interests of the club he wouldn’t be afraid to make changes, but having stuck with Zidane this far, the likelihood is that he’ll stick with him even longer.
Zidane has never been one to play the injury card. Despite having a season where Madrid have had one injury to contend with after another, he’s remained aloof to the temptation to blame results on missing key players or point fingers at players who have been unavailable through injury.
The latest to wade into the injury debate over Eden Hazard’s fitness is Belgium’s national team doctor, Kris van Crombrugge, who had his say in midweek over the number and frequency of Eden’s appearances since returning from injury last month.
Critical of how Zidane had used Eden Hazard lately, the doctor felt that the mental stress of trying to meet Real Madrid’s expectations had partially contributed to Hazard’s vulnerability to injury in a physical sense. Not surprisingly, this was quickly refuted.
As Zidane pointed out, return to play decisions are taken in conjunction with the medical and coaching staff plus the player himself, and unless everyone is happy then he prefers to err on the side of caution.
We’ve been there before. It’s easy for the national team medical staff who don’t see the players on a daily basis to get involved in injury situations from afar. No doubt the doctor has Eden Hazard’s welfare in mind but so too do Real’s medical staff, and Zidane himself has never been one to push players to turn out in matches when they are clearly unfit to do so.
Zidane conducted himself with dignity when Gareth Bale suffered a run of injuries before moving back to London with Tottenham and refused to push the player into making an early return or be drawn on the extent of those injuries.
Zidane is conducting himself with dignity at the moment in the most difficult of circumstances. Despite waiting for key players to make a return from injury, he refuses to be drawn on any suggestions of divisiveness within the camp while continuing to focus on the preparations for Saturday’s game.
From an injury aspect, Álvaro Odriozola is back in the squad, but Zidane is still without Eden Hazard (thigh), Danny Carvajal (adductor), Fede Valverde (tibia), and of course Sergio Ramos. The latter, though, will be playing his part from the side-lines.