Ex-Real Madrid defender Michel Salgado says that winning this week’s Club World Cup could be just the boost the team needs ahead of the following weekend’s must-win La Liga clasico at the Bernabeu.
Before flying out to Abu Dhabi for the CWC on Sunday morning, Madrid eased to a 5-0 La Liga win at home to Sevilla, with coach Zinedine Zidane afterwards saying his team were getting back to their best goalscoring form. However the defending La Liga champions remain eight points adrift of current leaders Barcelona, making the Clasico on Dec. 23 a must-win — and a potential distraction for Blancos players in the United Arab Emirates this week.
Dubai-based 2002 Intercontinental Cup winner Salgado told ESPN FC that the best way to prepare for beating Barcelona was to put their inconsistent recent form behind them by celebrating another trophy.
“For Real Madrid, winning and coming first is always the most important,” said Salgado. “I believe that Zidane and all the Madrid players are used to this type of situation. There are always dips over a long season, good moments and bad moments. They have had some poor results in La Liga, but the team are still strong and are getting back important players from injury.
“I believe they will be fully motivated and give everything in this Club World Cup. Winning trophies can bring this extra boost, the extra vitamins that the team needs sometimes during a season. Madrid can come out of it reinforced.”
Salgado, a double Champions League and four-time La Liga winner, is working at the CWC as a tournament ambassador and is also an official La Liga representative in the UAE, where he runs the Spanish Soccer School and employs a number of former Madrid youth team coaches.
— مجلس أبوظبي الرياضي (@AbuDhabiSC) December 9, 2017
“It’s great for this country that a competition of this level comes here,” said the former Spain international. “There’s a lot of expectation to see the teams — above all Real Madrid — but the other teams too. There’s a lot of passion for football. It’s a competition that merits attention: it decides the world champion club. That’s very big for any player, for any club. Bit by bit the competition is gaining the importance that it deserves.”
Salgado himself had mixed fortunes at what was then called the Intercontinental Cup, watching injured from the bench in Tokyo as Madrid were surprised 2-1 by Boca Juniors in 2000, then playing alongside Zidane two years later as the trophy was secured with a 2-0 victory over Olimpia of Paraguay in Yokohama.
“Of course the Champions League is bigger, but to be world champion as a player is also something that maybe does not get the recognition it should,” he said. “It’s something I’ll always remember and a medal every player wants in his collection.”
The rebranded CWC is much more established now and Salgado knows well the commercial benefits of playing an official tournament in the Gulf region.
“Before it was just one game and the whole thing did not have enough support,” he says. “But it is now getting stronger all the time. In the UAE, Madrid will do their marketing work and also look to recruit more fans. Obviously to win a world championship helps the image of the club. They have won the European Supercup, the Spanish Supercopa and now can win a third trophy of the season.”
Salgado recalled from his own playing days that the extra travel and games involved could be a strain on players, although these were overcome last year when Zidane’s side became first team ever to go to the tournament mid-season and still retain the Champions League.
“It’s difficult for many reasons,” he said. “It comes at a tricky moment of the season, when there are a lot of big games in December.
“When we travelled to Japan, it really affected your season, with the jetlag and everything. There is no doubt about that. So there are pros and cons, but it’s still something that everyone wants to win.”
Madrid’s first game in the tournament comes on Wednesday against hosts Al-Jazira, who have surprisingly made it this far by beating Oceania representatives Auckland City and Asian champions Urawa Red Diamonds. Salgado predicted that the majority of the crowd at the Zayed Sports City Stadium in Abu Dhabi will be supporting Cristiano Ronaldo, Sergio Ramos & Co. on Wednesday, and then in Saturday’s final against either Liga MX side Pachuca or Gremio of Brazil.
“I’ve no doubt that the people will be with Real Madrid,” he says. “I don’t know if the other teams will bring so many travelling supporters. Madrid will have many fans behind them, from the UAE, no doubt about that.”
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