MADRID (AP) — Less than three months into his first head-coaching job, Zinedine Zidane is already having to defuse tensions at Real Madrid.
The coach on Tuesday tried to downplay an off-the-field issue sparked by Cristiano Ronaldo, who said after a weekend loss that the team would be doing better if everyone else was at his level.
Zidane said Ronaldo addressed the squad this week to explain his comments and show he was not minimizing his teammates' talents. He assured the team was behind the Portuguese striker.
"Cristiano has talked to me and he has talked to everybody," the coach said. "The issue is in the past. We all understand his importance and we are all with him. The issue has been resolved."
Ronaldo made his comments after a 1-0 home loss to Atletico Madrid on Saturday that dropped Real Madrid 12 points behind Spanish league leader Barcelona. Ronaldo said "if everyone was at my level, perhaps we would be in first place."
After his words reverberated among football aficionados, Ronaldo quickly tried to downplay them, telling Spanish media he was talking about his "physical level" and the many injuries to his teammates. He reportedly spoke to the other players in a team meeting before practice Monday.
Zidane said no more explaining was needed and that the team was moving forward.
"The most important thing is what's ahead of us and we are going to face it together," he said. "We are united."
With Madrid virtually out of contention in the Spanish league, the coach is under pressure for the first time since taking over the squad in January. His only chance for a title is in the Champions League, where Madrid is playing in the round of 16. Ronaldo scored one of the goals in the team's 2-0 win against Roma in the first leg in Italy.
Saturday's loss was the first for Zidane since he replaced coach Rafa Benitez. The former French star had led the team to six wins and two draws since then but the home defeat to Atletico was enough to prompt criticism.
"We go day-to-day," Zidane said. "When I got here everything was great and now that we lost a game everything is dark. My only interest is to keep working with my group because I know that together we can move forward. Nothing else worries me. I don't know what will happen in three months. At the end of the season there may or may not be changes but we're only thinking about giving our best and we have the obligations to do so for our fans."
Real Madrid plays at last-place Levante on Wednesday, when Zidane will remain without several regular starters because of injuries, including striker Karim Benzema, midfielder Luka Modric and possibly defender Marcelo.
Ronaldo, who had scored nine goals in the team's previous seven matches entering Saturday's derby, said that without most regular starters on the field it will be difficult for Madrid to win anything this season.
The team is only two points ahead of fourth-place Villarreal. The third-place team automatically advances to next year's Champions League without having to play an extra qualifying round.