After a short but troubled reign, Real Madrid made the decision to dispense with Rafa Benitez on Monday, turning instead to former on-pitch idol Zinedine Zidane in search of a savior. But while Zidane will lift the spirits in the Bernabeu stands and command respect in the dressing room, there are underlying problems at the club that will take far more skill to resolve.
Unquestionably the biggest issue facing Zidane will be the top-heavy imbalance to the squad and in particular the roles of Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale. Both players, the two most expensive in the history of the game, have been strongly linked with transfers away from the club for some time, and doubts remain whether both their personalities and abilities on the pitch can coexist successfully at the same club.
While at their great rivals Barcelona, Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar have selflessly formed a devastating attacking trio, Real Madrid’s own star-studded forward line of Ronaldo, Bale and Karim Benzema continues to play like three individuals. At the same time, the lack of defensive effort of Bale, and, in particular, Ronaldo has caused problems for the team as a whole when they lose the ball.
Yet when asked if he planned to continue with the so-called “BBC” attacking line, Zidane responded at his first press conference on Tuesday with an emphatic, “Yes, that will be the clear idea.”
Zidane has experience of seeing the trio work effectively, having been assistant to Carlo Ancelotti when Real Madrid won their 10th European Cup two season ago. But things have taken a backward step since, particularly after two players who did so much to help balance the team, Xabi Alonso and Ángel di María , being moved on.
Meanwhile, Bale has, publicly through his agent, called for a more prominent role in the team. It was a request that Benitez fulfilled, moving him into a more central position. And it is thus not surprising that Bale is reported to be the one member of the Real Madrid squad particularly unhappy with the Spaniard’s dismissal after just seven months in charge. Yet Zidane, who has previously insisted that Real Madrid would reject approaches from Manchester United or other suitors for the Welshman, insisted that Bale features prominently in his plans.
“I understand he can be annoyed with the departure of Benítez because he was an important coach for him but he is going to have the same affection [from me] as with Rafa,” he said on Tuesday, according to The Guardian. "He is important for the squad, fundamental for the team. He’s phenomenal and what he has been doing recently is fantastic. I am going to give him all my affection and support so that he plays well for us.”
The situation is further complicated by Ronaldo, who will turn 31 next month and whose influencing on games has been diminishing as he has increasingly developed into a penalty-box finisher. The Portuguese was widely reported to be unhappy with Benitez’s methods from the off and the perceived shifting of focus away from him in the way the team was set up. He has been strongly linked with a transfer to Paris Saint-Germain in the summer, when he will have just two years remaining on his contract, and has openly flirted with the possibility. Still, speaking in October, when he was still coach of Real Madrid’s Castilla [B] team, Zidane suggested that Ronaldo would want to stay at the Bernabeu.
“He's the best player in the world so it's normal that you'd want to sign Ronaldo,” he said. “But he's comfortable at Real... since Raul left he's really become the other legend of the club.”
Those words will ring hollow, though, unless the delicate ego of Ronaldo is provided with an environment that proves to his liking. A World Cup and Champions League winner and three times voted FIFA’s World Player of the Year, Zidane knows a thing or two about the mindset of superstar players. Yet if he is to keep both Bale and Ronaldo happy, he will need to quickly prove both his coaching acumen and skills overseeing each player's role.