Football: Zinedine Zidane can't imagine a Real Madrid without Cristiano Ronaldo

Real Madrid's coach Zinedine Zidane (right) speaks to Cristiano Ronaldo during the match between Real Madrid and Sevilla, on Dec 9, 2017.
Real Madrid's coach Zinedine Zidane (right) speaks to Cristiano Ronaldo during the match between Real Madrid and Sevilla, on Dec 9, 2017.PHOTO: AFP

MADRID • Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane insisted he cannot foresee Cristiano Ronaldo leaving the club despite various reports saying he is in the middle of a stand-off with club president Florentino Perez over a pay dispute.

Ronaldo signed his last deal with Real in November 2016 until June 2021, but reportedly wants to quit as the club has yet to agree to a new contract that will bring his €21 million (S$33.9 million) salary in line with Lionel Messi and Neymar, the top two earners in world football.

And according to Spanish football expert Guillem Balague, the Spanish giants are open to selling Ronaldo to rejuvenate the squad.

"Ronaldo's message is he wants to leave, and it appears Real Madrid will be willing to let him go," Balague told Sky Sports.

"It's not just the fact he isn't scoring much... but his influence in games is diminishing."

The forward has 422 goals in 418 appearances since joining Real from Manchester United in 2009 but has scored only four times in LaLiga this season.

His worst return since the 2005-06 season is a huge factor in their limp title defence. They are 19 points behind leaders Barcelona and fourth in the standings.

Real's crisis has heaped the pressure on Zidane, but he expects Ronaldo, who collected a joint-record fifth Ballon d'Or award in December and turns 33 next month, to stay at the Bernabeu.

"I can't imagine Real Madrid without Cristiano, this is his club and the one where he needs to be," the Frenchman told a news conference on Wednesday ahead of Real's King's Cup quarter-final first leg against Leganes last night (early this morning Singapore time).

"We all know what people are talking about outside the club, but inside he has to just think about playing, as always. I only want to talk about his performances."

In the King's Cup on Wednesday, Messi had a penalty saved as three-time winners Barcelona suffered a surprise 0-1 loss at city rivals Espanyol in a quarter-final first leg.

Oscar Melendo's 88th-minute goal ended Barca's unbeaten run of 29 games in all competitions.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 19, 2018, with the headline 'Zidane can't imagine a Real without Ronaldo'. Print Edition | Subscribe