Real fans smile again

MADRID. — Depressed by a disappointing 2015, smiles had returned to the faces of Real Madrid fans yesterday as they cheered their idol Zinedine Zidane during his first training session as coach. On the eve of Epiphany, an important holiday in Spain where people dressed up as the three kings parade in the streets and children receive their long-awaited gifts, the atmosphere was easy-going and festive at the Alfredo Di Stefano stadium at the club’s training ground in Madrid.

Babies in their push-chairs, children, teenagers, young and not so young. It is normal practice for Spanish clubs to open up their training sessions to the public at this time of year and thousands flocked to see the French footballing legend take training for the first time.

A decade after the end of his playing career at Madrid, Zidane was appointed coach on Monday evening, replacing the unpopular Rafael Benitez. His appointment has brought back a strong dose of optimism at Madrid after a year-long slump that has seen them burn through two Champions League-winning coaches, see eternal rivals Barcelona win the treble and suffer from off-field scandals.

“Zidane rhymes with dreams,” said Pablo Alonso, a 37-year-old supporter who came with his son, also called Pablo.

“Football is dreams, magic, and players like Zidane have that.

“I have high hopes. Maybe not for La Liga, but at least to qualify for the final of the Champions League,” he added, promising to take his son to Milan if Madrid reach the final.

All of a sudden, the kingmaker himself appeared – sporting a grey tracksuit and fluorescent boots, Zidane walked onto the pitch to warm applause.

Deeply concentrated, the Frenchman chatted with David Bettoni, who was his deputy when he coached Madrid’s feeder team Castilla and now joins him on his new adventure.

He gave players instructions, applauded good moves and drew cries of “hurray” from supporters when he kicked the ball to start a training exercise. — AFP.

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