Friday 01 April 2016, 08:10

Salgado: Zidane coaching Real Madrid was destiny

Heading into Saturday’s El Clásico at the Camp Nou, Real Madrid will be doing everything they can for a win to stay in the hunt in the La Liga title race. Real Madrid head coach Zinedine Zidane was a supreme competitor in his playing days, and perhaps no one knows this better than his former team-mate Michel Salgado. caught up with Salgado recently to get his thoughts on Zidane’s appointment as first team coach at his beloved Real Madrid, the strength of the Spanish Premier Division and the unprecedented duel for the FIFA Ballon d’Or between Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo in recent years. In your role as an ambassador for La Liga, you stress that the league is more than Real Madrid and Barcelona. Why is that important for you to communicate? Michel Salgado: La Liga started its job late worldwide, to be honest. The English Premier League has been travelling to Asia for many years, even here in USA because the language, of course. Now we are trying to explain to everyone what La Liga is, obviously it means much more than Real Madrid and Barcelona. We are the first competition to have five teams in the UEFA Champions League history. We have teams working in grassroots amazingly, introducing players every single year with a special style of playing. Obviously one big part of Spanish football’s success in the last six to seven years when this generation achieved something that will be difficult to repeat, winning three major trophies back-to-back. I think La Liga played a big part in that.

Why can La Liga compete with any competition in the world? We are improving our brand recognition and play on the field all the time. The new television deal will be close to the deal the Premier League got. That’s going to improve the quality of all the teams as well. At the same time, we have to say we have the best two teams in the world, the best players in the world. There’s so many reasons to try to get a little bit more out of La Liga.

I know you emphasise La Liga is more than Real Madrid and Barcelona, but we can you give us your thoughts on Zinedine Zidane’s appointment as head coach at Real?  He was one of the best players I saw in my life. When he steps into the dressing room, everybody is going to say, “Wow!” They’re going to respect him and listen to him. He’s got character on and off the pitch. He can seem kind of shy but when it comes to normal relationships with people, he’s got a special character. He’s got Algerian blood in there! He’s got that mentality, that hot blood. When people say he won’t have the character to deal with players and to be a winner, they are totally wrong. He’s got a lot of character. He’s a winner as well. He suffers when he doesn’t win. He’s a perfectionist as well.

For me, it was fate when he was named the manager of the second team, everyone knew the next step would be to be the first team manager. The question is: would it make any difference to stay two more months or two more years? I don’t think so. Professional football is professional football. For me, this is the right time. The team needed him. The club decided to change things because they needed a change. He’s in there now bringing a change of mood. You can see happiness now with the fans. The fans love him. So it’s the first step and obviously it’s the work he’s going to do as a coach. He’s got all the experience and knowledge to deal with Real Madrid and the players. He’s been through all kinds of situations in Real Madrid and all the teams he played in.

You think it’s the right time for him? It’s never the right time, is it? When Guardiola was appointed, the same questions were being asked at Barcelona. What about his experience? Players like Pep who had been in there 10 to 15 years at the highest level, I don’t think they need experience. It’s really just a question of dealing with the dressing room and the egos and personalities you’ve got in there. Zidane has an advantage. It was destiny. There isn’t so much pressure because the team was struggling. The only thing he can do now is improve it.

The FIFA Ballon d’Or concluded in January in Zurich. How long do you think Messi and Ronaldo will have a strong grip on the trophy? It’s difficult to say. This competition between Ronaldo and Messi is the best fight ever in football! It’s amazing to see two players like them, to be honest, pushing each other to be the best. It’s unbelievable. I don’t know how long it will last, but I hope they can keep going. Ronaldo is over the 30 years old mark, but I know he is a fighter and he works really hard every day to be the best. Age is age. He needs to know the muscles won’t be the same. I think it will be really exciting if we can see another player, like Neymar this year, coming through and making it difficult for them. I think it will happen. I still think Messi has years to stay up there. Ronaldo has at least another two years as long as he stays at Real Madrid and doesn’t decide to go for another experience, I think he’ll stay up there.

Michel Salgado was speaking with at the 2016 National Soccer Coaches Association of America convention in Baltimore on behalf of La Liga and US Club Soccer.