Is the absence of Cristiano Ronaldo the only reason for Real Madrid's Champions League exit?

By March 05, 2019
Leighton Levy

Leighton Levy is a journalist with 28 years’ experience covering crime, entertainment, and sports. He joined the staff at SportsMax.TV as a content editor two years ago and is enjoying the experience of developing sports content and new ideas. At SportsMax.tv he is pursuing his true passion - sports.

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  • He should have a statue in Perez's garden – Real Madrid great lauds Zidane's return He should have a statue in Perez's garden – Real Madrid great lauds Zidane's return

    Zinedine Zidane's return as Real Madrid coach less than a year after quitting was nothing short of "heroic", according to club great Jorge Valdano.

    The former France international left the club shortly after guiding them to a third successive Champions League title last May, with Cristiano Ronaldo subsequently following him out of the door at the end of an era.

    Things did not go to plan under Zidane's successor Julen Lopetegui, who lasted until October, and his replacement Santiago Solari was dismissed in March following Champions League elimination to Ajax.

    Zidane's return did not produce a huge improvement, as Madrid still only finished third in LaLiga and 19 points adrift of champions Barcelona.

    But coming back in president Florentino Perez's hour of need should – Valdano believes – earn him two statues and the right to build the squad he wants for next season.

    "Zidane's return was, for me, almost an heroic act," Valdano told ESPN. "He knew it was risky, but he did it.

    "The president, and the club, must be very grateful. He should have a statue here at the Santiago Bernabeu, and another in Florentino's garden.

    "Just from his presence, the season ended much more peacefully than it could have. When there is no sporting director, it is the coach who must make the decisions.

    "The risk he took would be in exchange for having the power to design the squad for next season.

    "Things are different now from his first spell in charge, when he had clear leaders – Sergio Ramos for spirit, Luka Modric for football, Cristiano Ronaldo being decisive, and all at the height of their careers.

    "Now Zidane must put together something new, with new players coming in. We don't know how they will adapt to a new city and the unique nature of this club.

    "That will test him, but if anyone has won the confidence of the club, it is Zidane."

    Paul Pogba, Eden Hazard, Kylian Mbappe and Luka Jovic are just some of the stars linked with moves to Madrid over the coming months, with many fans and commentators of the belief the squad needs serious refreshment.

    Valdano is convinced Pogba would play a more central and constructive role at Madrid than at Manchester United, but the Argentine also feels the midfielder would need to be just one of five or six signings.

    He added: "Pogba scores goals. He does not have so much influence in the construction of the play at Manchester United.

    "But if Zidane is thinking of him for Real Madrid, for sure he would have a conducting role in the team.

    "I have no idea what Zidane is thinking, but it is true that the team needs a big shake-up, they must move in the market in a much more decisive way than in recent seasons.

    "There is a need for five or six really well-chosen players. You must choose very well, both the players to come in, and those who will leave."

  • Pogba and Hazard to Real Madrid? It's possible, says Varane Pogba and Hazard to Real Madrid? It's possible, says Varane

    Paul Pogba and Eden Hazard joining Real Madrid is possible because great players are always welcome at the club, says Raphael Varane.

    Madrid have been linked with big-money moves for the Manchester United midfielder and Chelsea winger as Zinedine Zidane looks to rebuild the squad following a disappointing 2018-19 season.

    Pogba has struggled to stamp his mark on United since returning in 2016 for a then world-record £89million, while Hazard appears set to leave Stamford Bridge with just one year remaining on his contract.

    Varane, who has vowed to remain with the club next term despite links to the likes of United and Juventus, believes players of such calibre will always have a place at the Santiago Bernabeu.

    "I can't say what I talk to [Pogba] about, but any great player has a place at Madrid and he is one," Varane told Marca.

    "In Madrid there is a lot of competition. It is a possibility, there is a lot of noise around and we will see in August where he is."

    On Hazard, he added: "I've known him since I started at Lens. He is a top player and it's like I said to explain the case with Pogba, he could also play at Madrid.

    "He is in the best moment of his career with the age and quality he has. When we [France] faced [Belgium] in the World Cup semi-finals we knew we had to have a special plan to stop him."

    Madrid have long been expected to sign a new striker to replace Karim Benzema, but the former Lyon man hit 30 goals in all competitions this season – his best since the 2011-12 campaign.

    "To play for Madrid for 10 years and also being the number nine you have to be very good and have a huge mental strength. He is very talented and has reached a moment of fulfilment," said Varane.

    "He knows himself very well, he knows what he has to do to be at his best level and he has had a very good season.

    "It may be the best of his career, and it is true that I have seen him very comfortable in his role as leader of the attack. I am very happy for him."

  • Del Bosque defends Spanish clubs despite European failure Del Bosque defends Spanish clubs despite European failure

    Vicente del Bosque defended the standard of Spanish football after LaLiga clubs missed out on European success.

    Both European finals will be played between English clubs, with Liverpool and Tottenham meeting in the Champions League and Chelsea facing Arsenal in the Europa League decider.

    But former Spain and Real Madrid coach Del Bosque defended Spanish clubs, pointing to their recent record in Europe.

    Madrid or Barcelona have won the past five Champions League titles, while Atletico Madrid or Sevilla have claimed four of the previous five Europa Leagues.

    "Well, if you saw the last 20 years, the Spanish clubs have won 50 per cent of the Champions League titles," Del Bosque said on Tuesday.

    "Also, we've had very good performances of Sevilla and Atletico, who win the Europa League.

    "Villarreal, Deportivo La Coruna and others contributed to a great hegemony of Spanish football during the past two decades."

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