Leagues, Real Madrid, Spanish Primera División, Story

ESPN FC’s Sid Lowe believes Real Madrid’s inability to achieve results in La Liga is taking a mental toll on the players.

Ex-Real Madrid defender Francisco Pavon says that his former teammate Zinedine Zidane deserves respect not criticism, with the manager facing his first real crisis in charge at the Bernabeu.

After a year in which the team won a club record five different trophies, a 3-0 Clasico defeat at home to Barcelona before the winter break, followed by a 2-2 draw at Celta Vigo on their return to league action, means last season’s La Liga champions are 16 points behind runaway leaders Barca.

Tuesday saw a “clear the air meeting” before training at Valdebebas, after which Zidane strongly defended his players and his own coaching methods at a feisty news conference, and Pavon told Radio Marca that the Frenchman’s calmness in good and bad times meant he remained the best man for the job.

“The position of the team in the league is delicate, but [Zidane] is the only Madrid coach to have done the La Liga/European Cup double in the modern era,” Pavon said. “He deserves respect even though there are many people waiting to criticise him. He is doing very well, acts normally in good times and bad times, and is still the ideal person for Real Madrid. It is impossible to win everything each year, and I have to admit that things look very difficult in La Liga.”

Pavon played 106 times for the club in the early 2000s, when president Florentino Perez implemented his ultimately unsuccessful “Pavones and Zidanes” policy of youth team players combined with Galacticos. Now retired from the game, Pavon said that the club’s fans in the whole remain supportive of someone who had done an excellent job in his first two years as coach.

“To be united in such a phrase with a legend like Zidane just made me proud,” Pavon said. “As a Madridista I feel very identified with everything he does. And the club really appreciate what he has done in these last years. We saw it as very difficult to do, and he has achieved it. In a short time as coach he has done more than enough to deserve maximum respect. Even knowing that Madrid is a very demanding place to be, he can be there as long as he wants.”

The training ground meeting dominated local media coverage ahead of Wednesday’s Copa del Rey round of 16 second leg at home to Numancia. “All for One — emergency meeting to come out of the crisis” read Marca’s cover, with a report inside the paper saying the mood during the chat had been serious but positive, and all the players are with their coach “to the death.”

Club captain Sergio Ramos and all-time record goalscorer Cristiano Ronaldo also had their say too, although without singling any individual out for criticism, according to El Transistor. Zidane admitted his own culpability for the league position during the conversation, say El Mundo.

Dermot Corrigan is a Madrid-based football writer who covers La Liga and the Spain national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @dermotmcorrigan

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