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'He can't play for them!' Why no-one inside Real Madrid discussing Zidane sack

COMMENT: No-one inside the board room at Real Madrid wants to see Zinedine Zidane removed. Nor - contrary to some claims - does any player inside the dressing room. And for the man himself, Zidane's view remains the same...

What Zidane said publicly in the aftermath of defeat at Shakhtar Donetsk is exactly what he conveyed to Florentino Perez, the club's president, minutes after the final whistle. He's not budging. He believes in his work. In his methods. And is confident there's enough talent within this Real squad to snap their current slump.

From the outside, everything hinges on next week's final round of the Champions League group phase against Borussia Monchengladbach. Win and qualify for the round of 16 - and Zidane will remain in charge. Lose and the Frenchman is shown the door.

But a quick ring around to long-time sources at the higher levels of the club suggest the opposite. This column being told that no-one inside the board room has mentioned changing the coach - let alone insist it "be put on the agenda". No feelers have been sent out to prospective replacements. Mauricio Pochettino's people haven't been tapped. Nor have those who take care of Max Allegri. And closer to home, Raul hasn't received any notice about a promotion. Indeed, for the Castilla coach it's business as usual. No-one in and around the B team have had word about any type of change.

This is all not to say Real's powerbrokers have their heads in the clouds. But there is no panic occurring inside the Bernabeu. And there is no great sense of crisis inside Valdebebas HQ. The reality is, as it was put to us last night, Real Madrid, should they win their game in hand, would be four points off the top of the LaLiga table with less than a third of the season played. And in the Champions League, as poor as the campaign has been so far, there remains a confidence of victory at home against Gladbach next Wednesday night.

Looking at the immediate problems confronting the club, the board are with Zizou, confident he can navigate them through this choppy spell. Mid- to long-term, however, is a different matter.

"Zidane can't put his boots on and play for them," was what we were told on Wednesday evening. This observation, though not word-for-word, coming from not one, but two high-ranking Real sources. No-one has suddenly lost faith in the Frenchman. After all, he delivered a first LaLiga title in three years this past summer - only their second in eight. But there are now major, major discussions going on about the state of the squad he has at his disposal.

There's an anger inside the club regarding the attitude of some players. A belief that "certain individuals" are letting down Zidane. For this column, that belief is right, though with a qualifier - certain players simply aren't up to performing consistently in a Los Merengues shirt.

The attitude problem is an easy one to identify. There's a frustration with Eden Hazard and his injury management. While Kris van Crombrugge, Belgium's team doctor, blames the demands put upon Hazard for causing his injury woes - via mental stress no less, some inside the club take a more conventional tact, convinced Hazard's diet and his habit of completely switching off between seasons has now caught up to him.

This was no secret, though, and Real knew what they were taking on when signing the Belgian last year. However, talk of Zidane writing off the former Chelsea man this week was just mischief making from the Catalan press. Claims of Zizou wanting "70 per cent" of his squad sold or released was simply the Barcelona-backed media spying their chance to turn the screw.

For a good 2-3 years, Zidane had personally pushed Florentino to bring Hazard to Madrid. Martin Odegaard, another mentioned as being on the coach's hitlist, remains highly regarded by his manager. Again, it was Zidane who insisted the Norwegian's two-season loan with Real Sociedad be halved this summer. Indeed, if there's one criticism that can be leveled at the coach, it is his loyalty to the players.

Some will point to his treatment of Gareth Bale and James Rodriguez. But it must be said, after their initial honeymoon period with Tottenham and Everton respectively, neither player is currently pulling up any trees. Zidane has stated to close friends, he'll eventually be proved right on both players.

Real's slipshod team building has now caught up to them. There remains no top drawer No9 to work with and eventually succeed Karim Benzema. There's no mid-20's midfield general ready to take the mantel from Toni Kroos and Luka Modric as a leader in Real's engine room. And at the back, when Sergio Ramos is missing - even at 34 - they're a shambles. Centre-half. Central midfield. Centre-forward. The team's core. A spine that has been together for at least seven years. But who's best days are now behind them. The hard facts are, Real have lived off this group of players for years. And now, in their autumn seasons, the lack of recruitment with an eye on rejuvenation is catching up on them.

Changing Zidane won't improve anything. Indeed, it could get a whole lot worse. Just consider the farce of 2018, from Julen Lopetegui to Santiago Solari, before an SOS from Florentino was answered by Zidane. Those close Florentino know only through the Frenchman's charisma and sheer will did the club manage to recover.

And that's disappointment of this moment. Zidane, by agreeing to return, by putting his reputation on the line, bought time for Florentino to fix the problems that were too much for Lopetegui and Solari to overcome.

But the president failed. Yes, Hazard was signed. But as mentioned, that ageing, old core of players remain the club's only hope of success.

And to be fair, there's a recognition of this now. The coach isn't the problem. But the team building and transfer policy is. No-one inside the Real board room wants to see Zidane removed. They know that changing the man in the dugout won't change what's happening on the pitch.

Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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