Real Madrid: With Zinedine Zidane already back at the helm, who else could be on their way to the Bernabeu?
Things are not going well at the Bernabeu. Real Madrid’s challenge in all competitions - Champions League, La Liga and Copa Del Rey - ended within a matter of a week leading to the re-appointment of the highly successful Zinedine Zidane.
The return of Zidane will bring some calm and renewed hope within the Madrid faithful after what has been a tumultuous 9-10 months, with the departures of Cristiano Ronaldo and Zidane at the start of the season, the appointment (under controversial circumstances) and eventual sacking of Julen Lopetegui and now the sacking of Santiago Solari.
Madrid president Fiorentino Perez and Zidane now have the Herculean task of rebuilding this team. For the next 3-4 months, the footballing world will keep a keen eye on the proceedings in the Spanish capital with one question in mind - who's going to be part of the next Galáctico era at Real Madrid?
Let’s first address the elephant in the room - how do you fill the gap left due to Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure? Ronaldo has played a pivotal role in Madrid’s success over the last few years scoring about 450 goals and winning 16 titles, including 4 Champions Leagues in his 9 years at the Bernabeu.
Over the last few years, he pivoted from being someone who used to create chances via the flanks to someone who is a beast in the penalty box and scores 50 goals every year. It is these goals that Madrid have had a tough time recreating and scoring.
Los Blancos had hoped that Gareth Bale would finally justify his huge price tag and salary but his performances have flattered to deceive yet again. Given his frosty relationship with Zidane, Bale certainly seems to be on his way out this year and Madrid could use this transfer money to bring in their next superstar. Question is - who will that be?
It comes down to the three future Ballon d'Or candidates - Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and Eden Hazard. They would walk into the starting eleven of any team in the world today and Real Madrid would certainly be fighting to get one of them. But, will their clubs let them go, and at what cost?
PSG is going to be a tough nut to crack. Given their poor season, they will try hard to hold on to both Mbappe and Neymar, especially Mbappe because of his current form. While they may let Neymar go, it is certainly going to cost Madrid much more than the £198 million PSG paid for him.
Eden Hazard, on the other hand, may come at a much cheaper price since he has a shorter term left on his contract. Given Chelsea’s transfer ban and the possibility that they may not qualify for Champions League next year, one would expect Hazard to jump ships and join Madrid.
Landing one of the above three is not going to be enough, though. There are many gaps in the current squad which need to be plugged to ensure that the new superstar is ably supported. Up front, Vinicius Jr. and Asensio are exciting talents and would be able to support someone like Hazard on the other wing but Madrid will need a new number 9. Benzema is not getting any younger and while he would be a great asset on the bench, he does not quite possess the same firepower as he did in his younger days.
The two possible options for strikers are Harry Kane and Mauro Icardi. Moving Kane away from Tottenham is going to be a tough ask especially given that he signed a new contract last year. Hence, Icardi looks like a much more realistic option. He’s a great poacher within the box and would certainly give Real the killer instinct that they have been lacking.
The midfield also needs some rejig. While Casemiro has been his usual solid self in the centre of the midfield and has an able deputy in the form of the young Uruguayan Fede Valverde, Toni Kroos and Modric have not been performing at their peak levels.
Toni Kroos has had a very poor year and it may benefit both parties if he moves on to other pastures. The current Ballon d'Or winner Modric still shows glimpses of his attacking talent and amazing footballing vision and might stay on at Madrid, but at 33, his consistency is reducing and he will slowly start playing a diminished role within the team.
Real Madrid does have some amazing midfield talents on their books in the form of Isco, James Rodriguez (on loan at Bayern Munich) and the youngster Dani Ceballos, but none of them currently possess the qualities to lead a midfield (something which Modric has been doing day in and day out).
Isco has been out of the team for most of this year because of his feud with Solari, though he may decide to stay given Zidane is back. James, on the other hand, will probably stay back at Bayern given he’s getting regular playing time there. The Bavarians have an option to make the deal permanent this summer. For Dani Ceballos, this will hopefully be the breakout year but only time will tell whether he will become a future Los Blancos star.
All of this begs the question as to who should be leading Madrid’s midfield over the next few years. The answer could again mean Real picking one of Tottenham Spurs’ gems (Modric and Bale being the previous buys). Christian Eriksen is currently one of the top midfielders in the world and one of the key reasons behind Tottenham finishing in the top 3 of EPL for the last 3 seasons. He has been continuously linked with Madrid and seems to be looking for a newer and bigger challenge. He will surely be on Zidane’s shopping list in May.
Lastly, when it comes to Real’s backline Perez and Zidane will face a big conundrum - what does one do with Sergio Ramos? Ramos has been an inspirational captain and a rock for their defence. Were it not for those timely goals from headers, Madrid would probably not be a three-time consecutive Champions League winner. But he is not getting any younger and is committing mistakes on a more regular basis. Further, he seems to have too huge an influence on the dressing room which is a challenge for any coach.
While Zidane has not had any problems with him in the past, he will certainly need to think about replacing Ramos in the long term. Madrid have just made their first big signing in the form of the upcoming Brazilian defender Eder Militao and that could be an indication of Madrid’s plan to groom Militao to take over from Ramos and form the future back pair with Raphael Varane. This means that Ramos will probably stay on for at least a year.
Los Blancos are flushed with talent in all the other positions in defence. Carvajal, Odriozola and the new find, Reguilon have the wing-back/full-back positions well covered. Given Achraf Hakimi has also had an amazing season in Dortmund (where he is on loan), Real may end up bringing him back and selling Marcelo to fund some of their other buys. Marcelo has been a great servant for Los Blancos but given his age, it may the right time for him to move to the slower Italian League and join his close friend Ronaldo there.
While it is certain that Perez will break the bank to get some of these stars and build the next Galacticos era at Real Madrid, he and Zidane now face the uphill task of convincing these players and their parent clubs to sign a contract. Only time will tell if they succeed but Madrid fans are surely up for an exciting summer in the transfer market.