MADRID: Real Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane has underlined the importance of welcoming back World Player of the Year Cristiano Ronaldo for the holders Champions League opener against APOEL Nicosia on Wednesday.
Ronaldo has been suspended for Real's last four games after pushing a referee in the Spanish Super Cup and has been badly missed as the European champions have been held at home by Valencia and Levante in their last two outings.
"He doesn't just bring goals," said Zidane on Tuesday.
"He is an important player in the squad, he is a leader. He always wants to win and he transmits that to the rest.
"Every time he is with us, I as a coach and the rest of the players are happy."
Ronaldo's absence has been felt even more acutely due to Madrid's surprising shortage of striking options.
Real failed to replace Alvaro Morata following his £70 million ($91 million, 78 million euros) switch to Chelsea as they missed out to Paris Saint-Germain for French wonder kid Kylian Mbappe.
Mariano Diaz has also enjoyed a stunning start in France after being allowed to leave for Lyon.
And with Karim Benzema sidelined for a month, 20-year-old Borja Mayoral is the only natural centre-forward available to Zidane.
"When you look at the players we had like Morata and Mariano and you look now and there is only Mayoral, you could think we lack a number nine," admitted Zidane.
"I would have liked Morata to stay, but you have to understand that he wanted to leave to play more and we respect that."
Zidane will also be able to recall Keylor Navas, Raphael Varane, Casemiro, Luka Modric, Isco and Gareth Bale after they were all rested from the start against Levante at the weekend. — AFP