Zinedine Zidane to 'respect' Pepe's decision on Real Madrid future
Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane has said he hopes Pepe stays at the club beyond this summer, while also discussing the futures of Alvaro Morata and Isco.
Centre-back Pepe, who turns 34 on Feb. 26, is out of contract this summer and has been linked with a lucrative free transfer to China.
"I would like him to stay, as long as he wants, of course," Zidane said. "He remains an important member of the squad. But we will see in June. With all Pepe has done at this club, we must respect whatever happens with him."
Another Madrid player mentioned in transfer speculation this week was Morata amid reports the striker will push for a move to the Premier League should he not displace Karim Benzema as first choice centre-forward by next summer.
"It is normal that [Morata] wants to play more," Zidane said. "But from here until the end of the season he will get minutes. He is not thinking about leaving here, as this is his home. I must take decisions. But he is here, he trains well, and is committed to this project at the moment."
Isco's future is also said to be uncertain, with the Spain playmaker's contract up in 2018, and reports this week that he could even join Barcelona on a free transfer at that point.
"I am happy with [Isco]," Zidane said. "He is doing well, we know the player he is, can make the difference, although he can always give more. I do not want to talk about the future. He is training well and is committed to this project, this season. The rest does not interest me."
Asked whether Cristiano Ronaldo had been feeling down this week, after he was whistled at the Bernabeu during last Sunday's 3-0 win over Real Sociedad, Zidane dismissed the idea, while adding that the Portugal captain remained first and foremost a left winger not a centre-forward.
"Cristiano is fine, he is very committed, very good," Zidane said. "His best position, his favourite position, is on the wing. Maybe he can play in another position, when we rotate the team, but I believe on the wing is where he will finish his career. And I see him scoring many goals in that position."
Zidane expects a tough test in Sunday's La Liga game at Celta Vigo even though their opponents are likely to play a mostly reserve side.
La Liga leaders Madrid return to Balaidos, where they were eliminated from the Copa del Rey 10 days ago, but with Celta set to rest up to nine first-choice players with their focus on next Wednesday's Copa semifinal second leg at Alaves.
Zidane has no such distractions and could welcome back fit-again Marcelo, James Rodriguez and Pepe, although Luka Modric is still unavailable and Toni Kroos is suspended due to accumulation of yellow cards.
"Maybe we will play against a Celta team with the same idea of play, but with other players," Zidane told his pregame news conference. "That changes nothing. We know it will be difficult, but this is Liga, another competition, we are leaders, and must show that always. Celta's squad is good, just as ours is. I am thinking we will have a tough game, and to see how we can respond to this."
Zidane indicated that James and Pepe would be back in the squad for the game, but that Modric and Bale needed some further recovery time.
"The idea is that next week we have almost everyone, apart from maybe Gareth," he said. "Maybe he will be out another few days. We must go a bit slower with him, we must be very careful with Gareth. But the others are almost all [ready]. We will wait for next week with Luka. Pepe has trained with us, James too, and we will see the squad tomorrow and who is in it."
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