“I don’t need anybody and that’s that. I don’t want anybody, I don’t want anything.”
That was Zinedine Zidane’s stance on January 9.
The Real Madrid boss was standing by his team despite their disastrous start to the season.
“We have a squad, I believe in my squad,” he added.
“There are moments in the season that are difficult, but everything is in front of us and we will see what happens between now and the end of the season.’
That situation hasn’t got any better. They’re now 19 points off the league leaders, sitting in fourth in La Liga and out of the Copa del Rey after a shock defeat to Leganés.
It’s all gone wrong for Zidane. His only hope of silverware is the Champions League, but they’ve got possibly the trickiest tie possible, facing a rampant Paris Saint-Germain.
The Frenchman himself knows that his Real Madrid future lies on that match.
When asked if his job would be defined by that game, he said: “Of course.
“That is really clear. I am responsible for this, I’m the coach. So I must find solutions.
“I must take on this situation. I will keep fighting always, keep working, try and look for things to make the team better. Nothing more.”
Bizarrely, he seems to have decided his solution is to batten down the hatches, keep all the players he’s got and try and get back to the team that won the Champions League and Spanish title last season.
The problem is, the squad is considerably weaker.
They lost experience and talent in Pepe, James Rodríguez and Álvaro Morata, and replaced them with Jesús Vallejo, Dani Ceballos and Borja Mayoral respectively. None of the young Spanish trio have been able to have a real effect.
Perhaps the only upgrade in the summer was bringing in Theo Hernández to replace the departing Fábio Coentrão, but even then, a backup left-back isn’t really going to make too much difference in the grand scheme of things.
It felt like all the eggs were thrown in the Kylian Mbappé basket in the summer, and when the young French star chose to move to Paris Saint-Germain, Zidane threw a strop and refused to bring anyone else in.
He hasn’t been stubborn on the pitch, switching to a 4-4-2 from the traditional 4-3-3 to try and get the best out of the likes of Isco, before reverting to the 4-3-3 after Gareth Bale’s return from injury. Indeed, that switch has seen them get some of their best results of the season, including a 4-1 win at Valencia.
But off the pitch, he seems to have become very stubborn, sticking to his principles that he believes his team is good enough to turn it around because of what they’d previously achieved.
In the end, the Athletic Bilbao goalkeeper got fed up with Zidane signing off on the deal, and feeling unwanted, he penned a new deal at the San Mamés.
He had a €20million buyout clause in his old deal, which was set to expire in the summer. Now, if Real Madrid want him, they’ll have to pay €80million.
There’s no doubt that president Florentino Pérez wants a strong Spanish spine, and the promising young keeper would have been the perfect man in goal.
When Arrizabalaga signed a new deal at Athletic, it felt like Zidane had won the internal battle, something he denied.
“I said the other day that if the strategy of the club wants it, then all players can come in June,” he said.
“But my idea for the club – and we’re working together – is not to change things at the moment and that’s all.
“It bothers me a little when I hear comments saying that I’ve ‘won the battle’. My main worry is my players and what they do at Real Madrid; the rest isn’t my business and doesn’t affect me.”
Despite what he says, it feels like it is a battle.
Marca reported that with 48 hours of the transfer window left, there was definitely nothing going in or out of the Bernabéu transfer-wise.
When Barcelona have strengthened this January, bringing in Philippe Coutinho for £145million, it seems like madness to not even try and bridge the gap a bit.
Although Los Blancos have a game in hand, they are only one point ahead of Villarreal in fifth, and Champions League qualification is by no means a guarantee.
It’s all very well waiting until the summer, but should they not have Champions League football, the quality of players that will want to come to the Spanish capital will considerably decline.
What’s more, should they lose to PSG, and the French side are the favourites to pass to the next round, Zidane will more than likely be sacked.
With his future untenable, it seems strange letting him cost them potentially €60million on a player in Arrizabalaga and to let his stubbornness get in the way of a team that badly needs strengthening.
Even if they don’t go back in for Arrizabalaga, the likes of Thibaut Courtois and David de Gea, who have both been subject of Real Madrid transfer rumours, will only arrive for considerably more than the €20million they were set to pay for the Basque keeper.
Madrid desperately need freshening up. It will, undoubtedly, happen in the summer. But it could be too late by then. The time to act was January and by not bringing anyone in, there is a real risk they will slip even further behind not only Barcelona in Spain, but the best teams in Europe.