Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane says he will do “everything possible” to convince Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema that they remain important for their team’s remaining La Liga and Champions League campaigns.
The Wales and the France internationals were both on the bench for Wednesday’s 2-1 Champions League semifinal first leg win at Bayern Munich, with Bale not even sent out to warm up during the 90 minutes, and Benzema not making a big impression during a late substitute appearance.
Both are expected to come back into the XI for Saturday afternoon’s La Liga game at home to neighbours Leganes, with Zidane likely to rest Cristiano Ronaldo, Luka Modric and Raphael Varane ahead of Tuesday’s return against Bayern at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Bale and Benzema both falling down the Bernabeu pecking order has led to further speculation over their future. On Wednesday Bale said he was “honoured” by the interest Bayern have shown for him.
Zidane told a news conference ahead of the Leganes game that he would be personally looking to guarantee that both big name stars were fully committed to the cause for the rest of 2017-18.
“We need them, and I will do everything possible so that they are convinced they are important, and for what is said outside not to have an effect,” Zidane said. “I know all the players want to play always, but that is not possible. The important thing is the message — not just for Gareth and Karim — but for all of them. We have a month left, and we must all be at our f—ing best.”
Defender Nacho Fernandez is not back yet from his hamstring injury, meaning either youngster Achraf Hakimi or winger Lucas Vazquez will play at right-back.
“It is always bad to lose players, but at the same time we cannot do anything about it,” Zidane said. “We are going to see now day by day, how the players recover. We will not take any risks — not with Isco, nor Nacho, nor Carvajal. If a player is not at 100 percent, they will not be with the group.”
Leganes shocked the Bernabeu by eliminating Real Madrid from the Copa del Rey in front of their own fans back in January.
Three months later Zidane is closing in on a third consecutive Champions League victory, leading to acclaim from the New York Times, which talked of a ‘Zidane era’ at the Santiago Bernabeu.
“I am here just two-and-a-half years — other coaches have been here a long time, done many things,” he said. “We cannot talk of that. I like it here, we are doing well in general, that’s true. But to say a ‘Zidane era’ at Madrid, it’s not been long enough yet. It is over time that you achieve things.”
Zidane was also asked about his thoughts on departing Barcelona captain Andres Iniesta, who made an announcement on Friday confirming his departure from the Blaugrana.
“I do not see him as a Barca player, but as somebody from football,” he replied. “I don’t know him well personally, just met him two or three times, but he is a nice guy, reserved, someone who shows it on the pitch, which I like.
“I admire his football and wish him the best in the future. Iniesta deserved to win the Ballon d’Or — that year  he played really well, won the World Cup, and scored in the final. He should have won it that year.”
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