Zidane returns to hotseat

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Zinedine Zidane won nine trophies before standing down in his previous stint as coach. Xinhua

MADRID (Reuters) – Real Madrid favourite Zinedine Zidane returned for a second spell as coach on Monday with plans to rebuild the Spanish giants who have fallen into crisis since he left in May after winning an unprecedented third straight Champions League.

Zidane also won a Liga title in 2017 among nine trophies before standing down having taken the club to the European summit but they have endured a miserable season in his absence, first sacking Julen Lopetegui and then Santiago Solari.

Real president Florentino Perez has turned again to Zidane, who stepped in for Rafa Benitez in 2016 and quickly guided the team to Champions League glory, but this time he will be without the club’s all-time top scorer Cristiano Ronaldo.

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The Portugal forward’s departure in July to Juventus has had a big impact on Real this season while their other key players, like Marcelo, Isco and Gareth Bale, have struggled and Zidane has a big job on his hands as he prepares to shake things up.

“Things will change, in every way, we have to change things for the years to come,” he told a news conference on Monday at the Bernabeu. “Now the important thing is that I am back, and there is time to talk and see what needs to be done.”

President Florentino Perez explained that Zidane’s return was to help restore the club’s pride after a painful year.

“This season we have not got the results we wanted and our responsibility is to put into action the reaction the team needs,” he said at Zidane’s presentation.

The Frenchman must oversee a regeneration by using the young players Solari brought through, including 18-year-old forward Vinicius Junior, left back Sergio Reguilon and midfielder Marcos Llorente, as well as welcoming major new signings.

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PRIME TARGET

Chelsea’s Eden Hazard is likely to be a prime target, with the Belgium forward having previously spoken of his admiration for Zidane, who won the World Cup as a player with France.

“Everyone knows the respect I have for Zidane as a player but also as a manager, he was my idol,” Hazard once told Belgian TV. “To play under Zidane would be a dream.”

Spanish newspaper Marca ran a poll https://www.marca.com/futbol/real-madrid/2019/03/11/5c86b005468aebd0588b460c.html on Monday with 56 percent of over 128,000 respondents saying Hazard should be Real’s main transfer target, with Tottenham Hotspur’s England striker Harry Kane in second place on 10 percent and Neymar third with nine.

Diario Sport reported that Paris Saint-Germain’s Neymar, once of Barcelona, is Madrid’s big transfer target as they bid to fill the hole left by Ronaldo and are willing to spend up to 350 million euros ($393.65 million) on the Brazil forward.

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Speaking to reporters after Zidane’s presentation, Perez also joked about Neymar’s PSG strike partner Kylian Mbappe.

“Zidane’s French, so maybe he can do something about (signing) Mbappe,” said the Real Madrid chief.

In Marca’s poll, 74 percent of fans voting said the attack was the area of the team in most need of reinforcement. But Madrid have also struggled in midfield this season, with German international Toni Kroos and Ballon d’Or winner Luka Modric, a World Cup runner-up with Croatia, not at their best.

Zidane must now evaluate his squad before deciding if Madrid need to reinforce the midfield as well as which of the players frozen out by Solari can be brought back into the fold.

Spanish international midfielder Isco was a key player for Zidane, especially in 2017 playing in the hole behind Ronaldo and Karim Benzema as Madrid charged to a La Liga and Champions League double, but fell out of favour the next season.

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