Zinedine Zidane: Cristiano Ronaldo is the best player in history
Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane says he agrees with five-time Ballon d'Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo's own view that he is the best player in football history.
A burst of goals as Madrid retained the Champions League and won a first La Liga in five years last season proved decisive as Ronaldo, 32, equalled the record number of Ballon d'Ors held by long-time rival Lionel Messi of Barcelona.
Speaking at the gala ceremony in Paris on Thursday as he won his latest award, the Portugal captain claimed that he now felt he was the greatest footballer ever.
And Zidane told a news conference that he agreed as he could not argue with Ronaldo's 418 goals in 412 games for Madrid along with the 26 team trophies he has won across his career.
"Yes," Zidane said. "There have been many players who have made history at this club. But nobody has done what he has -- the statistics speak for that. What he has done is impressive. So I think yes [he is the best in history]."
Zidane, who won the Ballon d'Or in 1998, smiled when asked if he or Ronaldo was the better player.
"I was clearly better. If I have to choose, I choose myself," Zidane said. "But seriously, you know I think Cristiano is much better, although I had a good career. There are no more words to define him. What he does every day, every game, is phenomenal. He has made history at this club, and keeps doing that, and I hope it will continue until he retires here."
Local media in Spain have pointed to supposed evidence of distance at the ceremony in Paris between Ronaldo and Madrid president Florentino Perez, amid continuing speculation of deadlocked talks over a payrise requested by the player's camp.
"There is always this debate about whether Cristiano is happy and all this," Zidane said. "But we all want to have him here. He is happy here, at the best club in the world. He said this clearly himself yesterday."
When the conversation moved to Saturday's La Liga game against Sevilla -- currently level on points with Madrid in the table and eight behind leaders Barcelona -- Zidane confirmed that young centre-back Jesus Vallejo was available to step in for the suspended Sergio Ramos and injured Raphael Varane.
"Jesus will be with us tomorrow, he is good," he said. "Rafa cannot be with us tomorrow, but the scan showed [the hamstring injury] is not too big, so we will see if he is ready for our next game."
Madrid fly out on Sunday for the Club World Cup in Abu Dhabi, where they will either face hosts Al-Jazira or Japan's Urawa Red Diamonds in Wednesday's semifinal.
Zidane said that Gareth Bale was stepping up his recovery from recent muscle problems and may be ready for a full return soon.
"Gareth has done just a part of the session with us," he said. "He will not be ready tomorrow. The idea is that he travels with us to the Club World Cup and we will see if he can be with us in the first game."
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