Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane says that Cristiano Ronaldo himself deserves the credit for a late-season burst of form which has made him favourite to claim the 2017 Ballon d’Or.
Ronaldo has often finished recent campaigns hampered by injury issues, but in recent weeks his eight goals in three games saw Madrid past Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarterfinals and secured a commanding 3-0 advantage in last Tuesday’s semifinal at home to Atletico Madrid.
During this time the 32-year-old has been rested for four of Madrid’s last five away Liga games, and could again remain at home to prepare for Wednesday’s Champions League semifinal return at Atletico, while even this week the Portugal captain was asking the demanding Bernabeu crowd for more respect and fewer whistles.
Ahead of Saturday evening’s La Liga game at Granada, Zidane was asked if he could take credit for managing Ronaldo’s fitness and keeping him focused on the most important goals.
“The credit is all his,” Zidane said. “He has won many Ballons d’Or and he is close to winning another one. Cristiano has respect from everyone around Real Madrid. You can love Cristiano or not, there is no middle ground, but he knows that.
“I speak a lot with Cristiano and he knows that until now he has played 50, 60, 70 games each year. A moment comes when he knows he must rest sometimes. I am not the coach who has benched Cristiano, it’s not like that. It is a dialogue.”
Zidane is likely to again heavily rotate his team for the game at already relegated Granada, with Alvaro Morata, James Rodriguez and Mateo Kovacic among the candidates to come into attack and midfield. There is less room for manoeuvre in defence, with Raphael Varane having missed training on Friday with a possible recurrence of a hamstring problem, and Pepe and Dani Carvajal sidelined through injury.
“Fabio [Coentrao] will be with us tomorrow,” Zidane said when asked about his defensive options. “Pepe is doing well and next week will be with us, but not tomorrow. Rafa has felt something, not very much, but as always we do not want to take risks with someone who has an issue.”
Granada have taken just one point from their last 10 games, including four defeats from four outings under interim coach Tony Adams, and relegation was confirmed by last weekend’s 2-1 loss at Real Sociedad. Zidane said his team could not ease off now with the possibility of a first Liga/European Cup double since 1958 within reach.
“It is more difficult now, as they have nothing to play for except to face Real Madrid,” he claimed. “We can say that they have had a bad season as they are going down. But they have quality players. I am concerned only that we keep our heads as it is a very important game for us. If we think it will be easy, we are mistaken.
“We have not won anything yet. We can win one trophy, two trophies, or nothing. We must keep going as we have been, every day, until the very last minute of the very last game.”
The former Galactico’s own future remains in doubt as he himself has said that he has not yet begun planning for next season, hinting that he knows he might not continue should the team slip up over the coming weeks and disappoint club chief Florentino Perez.
“The president of Real Madrid gave me the chance to coach this great team,” Zidane said. “People can have their opinions about whether I am doing good or bad, that will not change. To speak about that is useless.
“I know exactly where I am, if you do not perform, you just go home. But that does not stop me work hard, and try and win everything we have in front of us. What I do every day is try and progress. That is what excites me, being at this club is the best thing that happened to me in my whole professional career.”