Real Madrid go green as Zidane's off-colour team see off Espanyol

By John Skilbeck 7 December 2019 5
Real Madrid go green as Zidane's off-colour team see off Espanyol

Saturday lunchtime, and the Gran Via and Plaza Mayor are teeming with Christmas shoppers in Madrid.

Cyclists, too, are out in force, gathering for a peaceful protest ride to make the case for leaving the car at home.

This is day one of a UN climate change convention being hosted by Spain's capital, and it is hard not to be conflicted by the collision of consumerism and conservationism.

We are living through times where we want to give, give, give to afford loved ones brief relief from cataclysmic reality, but at the same time we are warned the shop-around-the-clock culture is killing the planet.

At the nearby Santiago Bernabeu stadium, Real Madrid are wearing their mint-green third kit for a home league fixture against Espanyol.

The gesture is one of solidarity with the environmental campaigners - eco warriors, one and all, particularly when a global audience can snag a rare glimpse of a shirt that retails around the £90 mark.

At the same time, Real Madrid are wondering what their hipster manager, Zinedine Zidane, might deserve in his stocking this year.

Has he been a good boy? Does he deserve Paul Pogba? Kylian Mbappe? Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang?

Another pair of his beloved skinny jeans simply will not cut it this year.

Zidane, in middle age, still has the chutzpah and the physique to pull off a fashion statement, even if his band of footballers rarely catch the eye in such a manner.

A year ago he was enjoying a break from football, having grown tired of Real Madrid life. He and wife Veronique paid a trip to the Great Wall of China, and days later Zidane enjoyed dinner out with his fellow France 98 World Cup winners.

Retirement - for that is how it seemed - looked to be suiting the artisan footballer of his generation. A commercial deal here or there kept the money rolling in, and yet nine months after waving goodbye to the Bernabeu, Zidane was drawn back.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

The Great Wall of China !!!

A post shared by zidane (@zidane) on

Saturday's 2-0 victory over lowly opposition was more pallid than it sounds, yet for several hours at least it lifted Madrid to the LaLiga summit. They and Barcelona are again duking it out for domestic silverware, and Madrid's saving grace is that their great rivals have also been shadows of their old selves at times this term.

The Clasico on Wednesday week - December 18 - might struggle to live up to that billing.

In this post-Cristiano Ronaldo era, Madrid all too often look bereft of the identity their great rivals still possess thanks to the ever-imperious Lionel Messi.

Neither Gareth Bale nor Eden Hazard, both temporarily absent through injury, has risen to the challenge of becoming Madrid's totemic personality, despite both being sufficiently gifted to step into the role. Newcomer Hazard deserves time to make his presence felt, but Bale's continuing presence - and the golf narrative - is helping nobody.

Bale is said by his agent to be "not ecstatic" to be at Madrid, and you wonder whether Zidane might soon feel similarly about his own second reign. The reliance on Karim Benzema, scorer of the second goal against Espanyol, is now all too obvious. This team look ripe to be picked off by stronger opposition, as Paris Saint-Germain have shown in the Champions League.

Marca reported on Saturday that Madrid must find 200 million euros to satisfy financial fair play bean-counters; presumably, in the absence of any more training grounds to sell, that means players will have to move on before others come in during January.

So recycling, fittingly enough, could be the salvation of this most functional of Real Madrid teams. The time is approaching for Zidane, the king of the first Galacticos era, to bring style and verve back to the Bernabeu.

That, or get on his bike.

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John Skilbeck

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