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Real Madrid: Zidane seeks French physical presence


Given how well Dani Ceballos is playing at the Under-21 Euros, people have been asking me why Zinedine Zidane doesn't fancy him. Well, because he just doesn't. He made that plain during his first stint in charge of Real Madrid, and has shown no signs of changing his mind since returning. As we witnessed at Madrid last season, coaches all have their own particular tastes. Within a single campaign, Los Blancos' appointment of three separate bosses saw members of the same group of players fluctuate from prominent figure to forgotten man. Football's funny like that. However, the club don't want to lose Ceballos altogether and have told Zidane that if he's to be offloaded it has to be on loan. What if the player goes for good and then Zidane ends up leaving himself, is the train of thought among the hierarchy.

Other than Belgium's Eden Hazard, whose signing was basically a no-brainer, Zidane has asked the club for Frenchmen who'll offer physical presence. Ferland Mendy has already arrived, and Tanguy Nbombélé is on his wishlist, as, of course, is Paul Pogba. All three fit the profile. Mendy's signing means Sergio Reguilón will leave, while Madrid's interest in Nbombélé has led Marcos Llorente to move to Atlético. There are still plenty more who are to be shipped out, among them Ceballos, a player who, speaking to me in the weeks before the Euros, Spain Under-21s coach Luis de la Fuente waxed lyrical about. And in view of his displays in Italy, you can't blame him. He needs to play in his favoured role just behind the strikers; operating in that area, he's a footballer who is daring, influential, dangerous. A player with poise who can pick out a killer pass and also find the net himself.

It's not about their nationality - it's whether their style of play will go down well

Ferland Mendy during his presentation as a new Real Madrid player.
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Ferland Mendy during his presentation as a new Real Madrid player.Victor J BlancoGTRES

But what Zidane wants is steel. That he prefers to target compatriots is not unusual; indeed, it's pretty normal. Coaches tend to have a better knowledge of the players from their own country, can ask around about them more easily, and generally feel they're a safer bet. Diego Simeone has had a good few Argentinians at Atlético (with so-so results), and back in the day Louis van Gaal crammed his Barcelona squad with Dutchmen - so much so that when a Netherlands game clashed with a cup tie against Atleti, Barça pretty much had no players left for it, and didn't turn up. What matters isn't where the signings come from, but whether their style of play will go down well at the Bernabéu. Fabio Capello inflicted a midfield duo of Emerson and Mahamadou Diarra on Madrid's fans, and was out of the door come the end of term, despite winning the title. Zidane should bear that in mind.