Zidane tells critics to lay off 'charming' Pepe


The crunching of Lionel Messi's fingers under Pepe's studs remained top of the agenda in Spain with Zinedine Zidane, a great player not averse to occasional acts of violence on the pitch, defending the Real Madrid defender.

“Pepe is a player you almost never hear a squeak from off the pitch,” said Zidane, now Real's sporting director. “He's a charming lad, very polite. But when he goes on the pitch, he is obsessed with winning and this anxiety to win sees him make mistakes. He has apologised for what he has done, but Pepe is a player who gives his all on the field of play, and sometimes he goes to the limit.”

Marca, the newspaper widely regarded as the club's unofficial mouthpiece, was less forgiving. After Real claimed the stamp against Barcelona on Wednesday was unintentional, Marca wrote: “Pepe has distorted reality and made Real Madrid complicit in an action which has shamed the club's fans.” The paper also criticised Real coach Jose Mourinho's tactics, selection, substitutions and post-match analysis.

Real play fifth-placed Athletico Bilbao tomorrow night with Pepe's fate the most intriguing aspect of Mourinho's team selection. Bilbao lost 5-1 on their last two visits to the Bernabeu but are much-improved under Marcelo Bielsa.

A few hours beforehand Barcelona are at Malaga who may give a debut to Carlos Kameni, the goalkeeper signed this week from Espanyol. The big game involves neither Real or Barça but is the Seville derby where Real Betis host Seville whose club president Jose Maria del Nido told his players to play “as if your life were to end after the final whistle.”