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Ronaldo, Keylor & trust: Why Zidane agreed to shock Real Madrid return

COMMENT: So what did he give up? Florentino Perez. What did the Real Madrid president sacrifice to convince Zinedine Zidane into this sensational return...?

The short answer is: not that much. Greater control of transfer policy? Erm, maybe. But Zizou already had a decent grip on who was to arrive and who was to be sold before walking away last May.

Well, what about spending? Today across Europe, the backpages are full of screaming headlines about the list of big names ready to make the jump to Madrid - on Zizou's insistence. But again, he and the president are pretty much simpatico on this. Indeed, a major factor in acting now and having Zidane in place was that it would help smooth negotiations with Real's top summer targets. Having Zidane - rather than the now dismissed Santiago Solari - now in the dugout makes life much easier for Florentino and their squad planning as we enter the close-season transfer window.

But where the insistence of Zidane could be felt is in the squad he inherits. There were plenty of factors which led the Frenchman to walk away nine months ago - not the least the lack of loyalty shown by the board to his players. Zidane, particularly last season as it became clear they would fall short in the LaLiga, was constantly having to face down directors - including Florentino - wanting to tear apart his then double Champions League winning team.

"The relations between Florentino Perez and Zinedine Zidane had always been excellent until the last few months," stated 1998 World Cup winning teammate Christophe Dugarry last night. "He had the feeling of not being sufficiently supported last season - because they won the Champions League but in the league it was difficult - that the fans were hard..."

Keylor Navas. Karim Benzema. Even Gareth Bale. All players regarded by Zidane as critical to his team. To his system. Though an opinion not shared by members of the board. And especially not by the local Madrid media.

Indeed, for all the speculation today about where Zidane's return leaves Bale. The more fascinating situation is where this leaves Keylor and Thibaut Courtois. The Belgian goalkeeper has hardly set the world on fire since his summer arrival from Chelsea. Indeed, he's suffering career worst stats this season. Will Zidane persist with him? Or can the ever popular Keylor earn an emotional recall? This could've been one of the make-or-break topics discussed between president and prospective coach during their series of phonecalls this past week.

In January 2018, it was Zidane who blocked Florentino from signing Kepa Arrizabalaga out of loyalty to Keylor. The then Athletic Bilbao No1 would eventually leave last summer for Chelsea in a world record deal.

And the same loyalty from Zidane was shown towards Benzema during the very same window. Florentino offered to buy a new striker midseason, convinced the Frenchman was past his best. But again, Zidane refused to consider any changes. He did not want to disrupt the dynamic inside the locker room - which included standing by the then maligned Benzema.

So he did have some control on transfer policy. Though it was never 100 per cent. The departure of Cristiano Ronaldo - and Florentino's rejection of Zidane's request that he cave into the Portuguese's contract demands - the real breaking point for their relationship last year.

Ronaldo was Zidane's big project last season. That summer, the Frenchman had approached the striker with a plan to tailor his campaign in order to have him peak in the final month of the season. For the first time, Real fans saw Ronaldo withdrawn from LaLiga games. Rested for Copa ties. The speculation ran wild. But Zidane had a plan. One which Ronaldo believed in. And their reward was Champions League glory in Kiev.

It was a masterstroke from Zidane. A piece of management genius. But with the blueprint established and in place, Florentino refused to play along. Even delivering the La Decimotercera wasn't enough for the president to fully trust his coach's opinion.

Dugarry again: "He was expecting a little more support, especially from his president. But he did not feel it."

But now those feelings have changed. And you fancy the big difference nine months later isn't so much transfer budgets or policy. It gets down to trust - even respect.

It will be Zidane who decides when the time is right for a player to move on. Not the board. Nor the president. This is where the real difference will be felt in the second era of Zizou.

Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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