Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane cut a cool and confident figure during his first pre-match press conference on Friday, ahead of his bow in the Bernabéu dugout this weekend when Deportivo visit the capital. The question and answer session was fairly tame, the press thrusting without real conviction and Zidane parrying where necessary, a smile more or less fixed on the Frenchman's face.
Zidane was elevated to the top job on Monday – "I was thinking about Castilla's next game and then everything changed" – after the termination of Rafa Benítez's contract and it was evident from his first exchanges with the media that the former player is thrilled to be handed the task. "I'm very happy and the players are happy," Zidane said, which was a recurrent theme throughout his discourse. Benítez's tenure was a mixed bag in terms of results, with the side losing recent matches to Sevilla, Barcelona and Villarreal, which leaves the team third in La Liga, two points adrift of Barça, who have a game in hand, and four shy of Atlético. However, Zidane said he was impressed by what he had seen in training and the players are "fully focused" on the task in hand.
That task begins with the visit of 7th-placed Depor on Saturday evening. Víctor Sánchez's side have won as many games on the road as they have at Riazor and in Lucas Pérez possess one of the league's in-form strikers. "Depor are dangerous on the break but what is more important is what our side does," Zidane said. "When we don't have the ball everyone has to defend, but the best way to defend is to have the ball."
Asked about his line-up, Zidane would only confirm the presence of Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale. "The rest you'll see tomorrow," he added. Under Benítez, Isco and James Rodríguez were given scarce playing time, the former racking up a mere 12 Liga minutes over the last four games of the Spaniard's tenure. Both will hope to gain more protagonism under his successor. "Not everyone can play," Zidane said of the pair. "It was the same when I was a player. What we have to do is to treat everyone with affection and an even hand."
With the January transfer window open, Zidane was quizzed on potential comings and goings but said he was happy with what he has at his disposal and did not want anyone to leave the club. "All of the players ate top quality and they are a pleasure to watch ," he said. "I'll sleep well tonight. [Friday's] training session was fantastic. But you can always improve. There is always room for improvement and I will try and improve the players and myself every day"
With only a game a week in the schedule until the Champions League restarts in February, Zidane said he will use the extra time on his hands to impose the style of play he wishes the team to adopt and to work on the players' fitness levels. "We want to make the fans happy. We want them to enjoy watching the team and the players. We have been working well in training and we are focused on the Depor game."
As was inevitable, questions on Ronaldo were forthcoming and Zidane was forthright in his responses. The Portuguese will continue to take the free-kicks and he will play on the wing, the Frenchman said. "What we want id for Cristiano to be happy. I don't have to say much about him, his numbers speak for themselves." On whether there was any truth to the president rumours linking Ronaldo with a move to PSG, Zidane answered: "Not as long as I am here. Cristiano is more than non-transferable. He is the soul of the team and a symbol of Madridismo. He isn't going anywhere."
One inquisitor asked Zidane if he thought his appointment would go well. "I am absolutely convinced it will," he replied in a tone of voice that suggested he will do just fine in the media room. The first indication of where he stands in terms of football will come on Saturday.