Zinedine Zidane left Real Madrid with one clear message: The club needed a change and he felt it was time he moved on to allow that change to happen. Whether he knew of Cristiano Ronaldo’s intentions and apparent willingness to leave the club is up for debate, but he got out to let someone else step into the breach. Sergio Ramos said Zidane’s exit was “a bitter dessert” after the successes they had shared, and with Ronaldo reportedly ready to jump ship, we are witnessing the end of a very successful if not strange period for the club.
The winds of change that Zidane cited as necessary are howling around the Santiago Bernabeu at the moment. Whether you choose to believe the Neymar rumours or not, there are still plenty of other interesting names linked in and out of the club. From Thibaut Courtois, who has been harping about a move back to Madrid to be with his kids for years, or Kylian Mbappe, who might make even more sense than Neymar, it looks as if there will be movement in the market this summer.
If Ronaldo does not leave now, this just serves as a reminder that he can’t go on forever. It will also mean the younger players will have to do a whole lot of growing up to fill the space left behind by one of the club’s best ever players.
Real Madrid have long been a club that defined their best eras with Galactico talent and while riding the coattails of one mercurial talent is rarely seen as a sound long-term strategy, Real Madrid seem to get by. But everyone knows it was the structure behind Ronaldo that really allowed him to thrive.
Real Madrid, over the course of their winning spell under Zidane were a team built on solid foundations with the stardust sprinkled, often liberally, by Ronaldo to really separate them. It’s time, however, for Real Madrid to strongly consider an overhaul of their core to keep driving them towards European and domestic success. All of their best players last year are on the wrong side of 30 save for Toni Kroos and Isco. But they do have the talent in their squad to keep growing and along with one or two signings, they could be on the brink of ushering in their next successful generation.
So, who do Real Madrid build around and where are the areas of concern? Many would argue that Luka Modric has been Real Madrid’s best performer for the past five years. Based on consistency and performances in important games, it’s not fable either. If the Croatian does break down at any point next season, at 32 years of age and coming off a World Cup, it could spell disaster for the club. It would be wise for Florentino Perez to put aside some of the cash saved for Ronaldo’s potential contract extension for Modric’s Croatian teammate, Mateo Kovacic. He’s a slightly different player than Modric and says he wants out of Real Madrid, but he could be the vanguard of Real Madrid’s next assault on silverware.
All is quiet on the Dani Ceballos front, which might be good news. If Julen Lopetegui can convince him to stay and he works his way into the rotation at Real Madrid, you could be looking at one of the most dynamic and threatening midfielder duos in world football for the next decade. Kovacic and Ceballos with a defensive midfielder of your choosing would mean cover at the back and creativity to spring the attack.
In defence, the signing of Adrian Odriozola is good news too as he could become what Marcelo has been on the left for years: a wing-back with pace, attacking know-how and a willingness to get forward at every chance. Between himself and Raphael Varane, there is the making of a very good defence for another decade too.
In attack, Real Madrid have options but there is concern that, perhaps, Isco isn’t consistent enough or that he is very dependant on a certain type of game to flourish. Marco Asensio is a future Ballon d’Or contender, but it’s unclear if he is ready for the kind of role Ronaldo filled. If Ronaldo does leave, you expect at least one massive name to arrive and reports in the media suggested that a deal for Kylian Mbappe was close. If PSG want to save face on the Neymar issue, they might just consider offloading the youngster if Real Madrid keep demanding a big-name signing from the capital of France.
It wasn’t that many of the players were incapable of leading the team like Ronaldo, it was just that Ronaldo was always ready and waiting to guide Los Blancos into battle and to accept the praise and whatever criticism came his and their way. Sergio Ramos becomes the de facto leader of the team if Ronaldo goes but there will be plenty of chances for the next generation to stake their claim as the club’s future talisman.
The need for a Galactico might have been lessened as soon as Lopetegui signed the deal to become the next manager given his excellent work with young talent, but someone is going to have to score the important goals. Whether that big-name player is already on the books or not is a question yet to be answered.
Robbie is based in Madrid and is one of ESPN FC’s Real Madrid bloggers. Twitter: @robbiejdunne