Within Real Madrid’s DNA exists a burning desire to lift the Champions League each season. Should you do a survey around the Bernabéu, the majority opinion would reflect this.
The facts don’t lie; in picking up their eleventh title last year, ‘Los Blancos’ rein supreme in Europe, pulling four clear of their nearest rivals AC Milan, and if truth be told, it will more then likely be a long time before this record is under any sort of serious challenge, especially when considering no team has retained the trophy with the modern format. ‘La Unidecima’ however came at the wrong time for the Spanish giants, as obvious cracks will have been papered over, making it impossible for the team to rebuild certain key areas that are needed.
There is currently a massive elephant within the corridors of the Santiago Bernbéu; both Madrid clubs know this could possibly be the last window they are able to buy players before their respective transfer bans are imposed. Whatever Perez is saying on the outside, deep down he knows this has the potential for disaster, especially if the Zidane experiment does not continue it’s current upward trajectory. Considering their mixed pre-season form, admittedly without the considerable attacking threat of Bale and Ronaldo, this is not as far-fetched as many would suggest.
Florentino Perez broke a habit last season, appointing managerial rookie Zidane following the sacking of Rafa Benitez. The ambition is simple; mold a club legend into a Guardiola type figure, pursuing continued success underneath a manager who knows the identity of the club better then anybody else. So far then, the experiment has been a success. They lost out on La Liga to Barcelona, but reduced the deficit from when Benitez left. What better way to bring the biggest prize in European football home though, then beating your nearest rivals in a penalty shootout?
Before anyone believes though that this is a guarantee of prolonged backing from the club president, one has to remember this is Real Madrid we are talking about. In years gone by they have sacked the likes of Del Bosque, Capello and more recently Ancelotti despite recent successes, and they certainly put up little fight in stopping José Mourinho from returning to Stamford Bridge. Zidane then will know he is a run of bad results away from intense scrutiny, whether it be from the world’s most demanding fan base or local press.
The winning of the Champions League in May then has presented a serious dilemma for the powers that be within Real Madrid. It is considerably harder to renovate a winning team then one that fell just short, and you could argue it is more than just minor tweaks that need considering. Zidane has been unwavering in the defense of his players throughout the summer break, not least his faltering strike force that struggled throughout the tour of the United States. Furthermore, whatever much of what the press now say, there is more then likely to be a sense of longing over what could have been had he successfully persuaded compatriot Paul Pogba to join him, rather then Mourinho at Manchester United. The press conference in the days leading up to the finalization on the long-protracted saga by Zidane himself appeared to be one last power play to persuade the board to go all out for a player who could go on to define European football once Messi and Ronaldo have gone.
There may very well be two players in fact who could have been lining up in the all white kit had the intended revamp taken place. Real Madrid had an option on David De Gea at the beginning of the window, though the heroics of Navas made him impossible to displace considering his popularity among both the squad and the fans. The Costa Rican number one though however does not hold the same prestige as David De Gea, and Perez surely would’ve loved to have had Spain’s custodian as his own for the next decade; this will be the first area of concern for the Spanish side going forward, though currently likely to be no more then a minor annoyance.
In the defensive line, there is less a need for a revolution, but more an evolution. Ramos and Pepe were the undisputed first choice pair last season, and will likely be so again in the coming weeks. The trouble for Zidane then is how to keep French protégé Varane happy within a backup role, preventing him from pursuing one of the many offers he seems to have on the table from the Premier League. The Madrid management know that neither Ramos nor Pepe are getting any younger, and should they have lost the final, a changing of the guard would’ve no doubt happened, with the latter seeking pastures new. In the wing-back positions, Marcelo retains the faith of the staff, if not always from the punditry world. The name of David Alaba has never been far away from the rumour mills when discussing Real’s targets, though again it is difficult to justify an €80m purchase for a winning team.
Midfield is an interesting one to analyse. Zidane was part of the Galactico era at the Bernabéu, and will be aware that should they have retained Claude Makélélé, those star studded sides would’ve achieved considerable more success. This is the reason Casemero retains his starting position on a regular basis, leaving more illustrious teammates to watch on from the bench. The playmaking talents of both Kroos and Modric then accompany him, forming a strong midfield three that can pass the majority of opposition teams off the park. It is this trio that made the move for Paul Pogba particularly complicated, as one of the playmaking duo would have more then likely found themselves leaving the club. The truth of the matter is, this example of tough love would have taken Real Madrid to the next level, as many are unconvinced the duo of Kroos and Modric have the physical traits to take on certain opposition on a consistent basis. By winning the Champions League last May however, both players ensured the Frenchman would end up elsewhere, instead looking to make the Old Trafford pitch his playground for the next few years. The likelihood is the truth shall never fully be revealed, but many respectable sources claimed the new United number 6 did hold ambitions to move to La Liga, and should Pogba go on to achieve what he is potentially capable of, their will be lustful looks coming from Perez et al, thinking what could have been.
As we move onto the attack then, this is the area in most need of change. No-one can doubt the contribution of Cristiano Ronaldo since his then record move to Spain in 2009, and the record books will testify to this statement. The Portuguese frontrunner for World Player of the Year is not getting any younger though, and although he ensures his physical fitness better then perhaps any player around the world, Zidane may doubt whether he is able to continue his role as Madrid’s go-to-man into the next three years. This is again where the transfer ban becomes particularly relevant, as Ronaldo will more than likely remain with the club through the period, and more importantly continue to demand the team is built around his talents; again, the question is asked, how could they let their star player leave following the Champions League victory? Had we asked the question twelve months ago, many would have stated the belief CR7 would move on to either Paris or Manchester, and Bale would take the mantle as the Real Madrid matchwinner.
What then of Gareth Bale? When he joined the Madrid side, he would have arrived with the confidence it was only a matter of time before he was the main man. Given the opportunity, the Welsh Winger would thrive with the opportunity of stepping away from the shadow of his Portuguese teammate, and become a major contender once again for major individual honors. With it looking increasingly likely that Ronaldo though will not be leaving for the next couple of years, it would not surprise me to see Bale pushing for a move in the next twelve months, and there would be no shortage of takers promising to build their team round him. Whilst two Champions League titles in three years will keep the former Spurs man happy for the time being, should the squad begin to lag, this may not remain the case for much longer.
The situation with the main striker at Real Madrid again would be under intense scrutiny had the need for the overhaul come to head this window. It is no secret that flirtation between the club and Bayern’s Polish striker Lewandowski is more then just small talk, and he may well have moved from the Bavarian ranks had circumstances allowed it. Benzema, the current incumbent, has never won the admiration he perhaps deserves, and a large part of his continued role in the side is down to his selfless ability to get the best out of Ronaldo. Had events in Milan been different this May, the Frenchman may well have had his place under pressure; coming in though is Morata, returning home following a spell in Turin following Madrid’s willingness to pay the pre-determined amount to bring him back. Question marks hang over the player though, and it will take a prolific season to convince many he has what it takes to spearhead a La Liga winning side.
This is without even considering the trio of number tens who seek a starting role in this side, though there seems to be a distinct lack of possibilities should BBC retain their starting roles. Asensio is the man in form at moment, with the youngster becoming the darling of the Madrid media following an impressive pre-season, and early goal of the season contender in the Super Cup clash with Sevilla. Where this leaves both Isco and James though is anyone’s guess, and one will more then likely leave the club. Real Madrid might have looked at a change of formation were they coming off the back of failure, allowing the playmaking talents of any of this trio to flourish.
While Real Madrid would not have made all these speculated changes in the space of one transfer window, the impending ban approaching means certain changes may well have been accelerated.
Madrid Line up 16/17
Carvajal, Ramos, Pepe, Marcelo
Ronaldo, Benzema, Bale
How they may have looked
Carvajal, Ramos, Varane, Alaba
Much of this is purely hypothetical speculation, though based on rumors relayed by reliable sources over the last couple of years. This window will prove pivotal for any success of Europe’s most famous club for the next few years, as moves will be blocked for the considerable future. Winning in Istanbul has made it just that bit more difficult to move as freely as they may have wished. A seismic shift of power could be imminent.