Real Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane annoyed by Kepa battle reports
Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane says he is “annoyed” by reports he won an internal battle to stop the club signing Athletic Bilbao goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga this month.
Kepa, 23, was widely tipped to join Madrid, with the Spain international having reportedly undergone a medical in the Spanish capital on Jan. 4.
However, Zidane insisted he did not want reinforcements midseason, and Kepa has instead agreed a new contract at Athletic, which runs until 2025 and includes an €80 million clause.
The morning after that deal was signed, Marca’s front cover said: “Zidane stops it” while reports have claimed the coach’s insistence to stick with his under-performing stars has caused friction with club president Florentino Perez.
MARCA (@marca) January
Speaking at a news conference ahead of Wednesday’s Copa del Rey quarterfinal second leg at home to Leganes, Zidane said: “In June any player can come to Madrid, if the club’s strategy is to change something, along with the coach.
“But my idea, and that of the club too as we are all together here, was to not change many things. I get annoyed when I hear comments saying I have won [an internal battle]. The important thing for me is to protect my squad, the players here are those who concern me. But I have nothing against Kepa, or any other player.”
Ronaldo used a doctor’s cell phone to examine the problem and Zidane said: “Cristiano wanted to know whether the cut was very deep or not.
“I am saying exactly what he told us in the dressing room. The doctors stitched it up and today he was back. If he is training with us, with his eye like this [swollen] it shows how important it is for him to be on the pitch.”
With Madrid 1-0 up from last week’s first leg, Ronaldo is likely to be rested for the return against Leganes, but club captain Sergio Ramos is set to be involved for the first time in 2018 having recovered from a calf muscle problem.
“Sergio will be with us tomorrow,” Zidane said. “Then we will see how we do it, but he will be there.”
Isco, who has just started two of Madrid’s last five La Liga outings, is set to start while Gareth Bale has returned to the team following a switch back to 4-3-3.
“Isco will always have an important role here, whether I am coach or not,” Zidane said. “I have always shown my confidence in him, he can be a decisive player. That will not change.
“He did not get any time [before Christmas] against Barcelona, although that was not the plan. Isco can play in many positions, in a 4-3-3 he can play up front, as he has done before, or in midfield. So there is no problem.”
Even with his team apparently in control of the tie against neighbours Leganes, Zidane predicted the visitors would arrive at the Bernabeu in good spirits following their 2-2 comeback draw at Alaves last weekend.
“They were 2-0 down and came back to equalise,” he added. “They will be super motivated.
“And in the Copa anything can happen, if a goal goes in for them. So we know how important the game is. They will keep fighting until the end.”
Dermot Corrigan is a Madrid-based football writer who covers La Liga and the Spain national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @dermotmcorrigan