Luis Figo has refuted suggestions his former team-mate Zinedine Zidane is under pressure at Real Madrid and insists hard work is the only way he and the club will emerge from a testing time that sees them trail runaway leaders Barcelona in La Liga.
The Blaugrana are nine points clear of nearest challengers Atletico Madrid in second place, while Zidane’s reigning champions are stuck in fourth, a gargantuan 16 points separating them and their fierce Spanish rivals.
Los Blancos do have a game in hand on Ernesto Valverde’s rampant side, although they face a stern test when they welcome sixth-placed Villareal – just four points behind them in the table – on Saturday evening.
And despite a testing start to Real’s title defence, Figo claims his friend will not be feeling the pressure.
“To be a coach you are always under pressure, and more when you are in a club like Real Madrid,” said Figo, adding that although retaining their league title seems remote, Real and Zidane will have other targets, like the Champions League – where they face Paris Saint-Germain in a mouthwatering last 16 clash next month.
“Of course the league is more difficult because of the distance in the points between them and Barcelona, it is big. But they have another goal so they have to continue to work.”
This season has seen Los Blancos already lose three times in 17 games – Barca are unbeaten – which has been in stark contrast to a stellar 2017 which saw Madrid sweep up a record five trophies.
La Liga, the Champions League, Spanish Super Cup, UEFA Super Cup and FIFA Club World Cup – the latter hoisted in Abu Dhabi last month – have all been claimed by Madrid under Zidane’s management, but they have failed to recover from a woeful start to the domestic 2017/18 campaign.
Nevertheless, Figo – who famously switched the Camp Nou for the Santiago Bernabeu in 2000 where he played alongside France maestro Zidane for four years – claims his fellow former Galactico has done an “amazing” job in the Spanish capital.
“I think he is doing amazing, even in this last few months,” added the 45-year-old, a winner of La Liga twice each with Real and Barca.
“The club has had some negative results but that doesn’t mean he’s doing bad. I think there are always up and downs throughout the season and I hope Real Madrid continue to fight for the goals they have this season.”
Prosecutors believe the Croatian evaded €870,728 on revenue from his image rights in 2013 and 2014 via a shell company set up in Luxembourg.
On Tuesday, he gave a court in Alcobendas near Madrid, which is in charge of his case, evidence that he paid tax authorities close to €1million euros on January 4 – the sum he allegedly evaded plus interest.
The 32-year-old Croat, who joined Madrid from Tottenham Hotspur for a reported fee of £30 million in 2012, paid the money “voluntarily,” the judicial source, who refused to be named, told AFP.
Judicial authorities are still investing financial holdings belonging to the player in the Isle of Man, on which Modric refused to comment in court.
Modric is just the latest in a series of star players based in Spain to be accused of tax fraud on income related to image rights in the past few years.
In November, Madrid left-back Marcelo admitted to a €490,917 tax fraud via his image rights in 2013.
Real Madrid’s all-time leading scorer Cristiano Ronaldo appeared in court in July over accusations he evaded €14.7 million worth of tax between 2011 and 2014.
Barcelona duo Lionel Messi and Javier Mascherano received 21-month and one-year suspended sentences respectively after being found guilty of tax fraud over their image rights in 2016.
However, five-time World Player of the Year Messi’s sentence was later replaced by a €252,000 fine.
“I want to show that I can also be a good coach in tough circumstances,” Zidane said in an article published on Tuesday in France Football magazine, which gives the award.
Real are going through a bad run. They are fourth in La Liga, 16 points behind leaders Barcelona, and they ended 2017 with a crushing 3-0 defeat at home in the Clasico.
On Sunday, they were held to a 2-2 draw at Celta Vigo.
“Today, yes, the danger is there, but I’m not going to change. I am aware that I have in front of me great players who listen to me. Playing football, I know how to do that. So things will sort themselves out in the end,” Zidane said.
“I have to find the problem.”
Zinedine Zidane says he accepts responsibility for Real Madrid’s poor form in La Liga this season. ⚪️ pic.twitter.com/Uw2uw8yYmg
— Goal (@goal) January 8, 2018
“Some people may think that everything is always easy for me, that I do everything from instinct, but that’s not true! Whether it is as a player or as a coach, I’ve always worked,” said Zidane.
“I’m not protected by what I achieved as a player for this club. Zinedine Zidane is no longer a Real player. That Zidane does not exist any more. Now it is the coach Zinedine Zidane who must create a career,” he concluded.
His side will continue their defence of the Champions League against a French team coached by a Spaniard when Real take on Unai Emery’s Paris Saint-Germain in the first knockout round on February 14 and March 6.