The Di Stéfano era, the yé-yé team, the ‘Quinta del Buitre’, the Galácticos, and now the Cristiano Ronaldo-era has come to an end at Real Madrid; how do you replace the ultimate goal machine?
Ronaldo at Madrid wasn’t just about his goals, but he did score an awful lot of them; 450 in 438 games across all competitions, to be exact, averaging exactly fifty a season during the nine seasons he spent in the Spanish capital.
So, how do you replace that? Where will the goals come from now?
The way I see it, there are two directions Los Blancos can head in now that Ronaldo has left the club.
The first, more sensible option is for Madrid to do, well, nothing.
They say it takes three weeks to make or break a habit. And for Madrid, a club that loves to throw cash at the world’s best players, it’s been four years since their last galáctico signing in James Rodriguez. Has their expensive habit been broken?
Well, no. It was Zinedine Zidane, a man that was extremely well-respected by both the board and the players, who insisted that the club didn’t need big signings but rather needed to develop the group they already had. He defended his goalkeeper Keylor Navas year after year, even though club president Florentino Pérez desperately wanted to sign David de Gea on several occasions.
What Zidane did instead was create a young Spanish core within the team. Players like Isco, Lucas Vazquez and Nacho Fernandez got a more prominent role in the side. Spanish youth internationals like Dani Ceballos and Marco Asensio were signed for low fees (especially Asensio for just €3.8 million).
Madrid’s academy La Fábrica (The Factory), which provides more La Liga players than any other academy in Spain, got a bigger role in the first team as well. Players like Borja Mayoral, Achraf Hakimi and Marcos Llorente got occasional minutes last season and have played well when called upon.
So, why throw this out the window now? Why not give Marco Asensio, one of the biggest talents in Europe, the starting spot at left wing? Sure, he won’t score fifty a season like Ronaldo did, but there’s only one other man who could do that, and he plays for Barcelona.
What newly appointed manager Julien Lopetegui should do is to spread Ronaldo’s goals around his front line. Karim Benzema, a player who always played second fiddle to Ronaldo and always looked to assist him instead of scoring himself, should amp up his scoring. He’s registered twenty assists over the last two seasons, but his goalscoring has dramatically declined as well.
After netting 24 league goals in 2015/16, it dropped to eleven in 16/17 and just five last season, per Transfermarkt.com. The Frenchman will have to convince Lopetegui that he hasn’t lost his scoring touch, or the Spanish manager will have to shop for a new striker.
Lopetegui’s wait for a goalscorer goes on: @diarioas editor @AS_Relano on #RealMadrid‘s summer transfer businesshttps://t.co/kEaYjZWQo7 pic.twitter.com/hriiCksLu1
— AS English (@English_AS) 28 July 2018
Gareth Bale, who has been craving the star role ever since he arrived in Madrid in 2013, will be the main man now. Just a few months ago, it looked like he wanted out at Madrid. Now, he’ll be handed the keys to the attack.
The Welshman has silently always been a very efficient scorer, averaging a goal every 112 minutes last season while shooting three times per game, per WhoScored. Powerful, both in striking the ball as well as in aerial duels and incredibly quick, Bale’s all-around game is what makes him such a problem for defences. In 15/16, his best season in a Madrid shirt, he scored nineteen and assisted eleven in just 23 league games. He can easily take over Ronaldo’s role of being the main goalscorer. Don’t be surprised if Bale scores more than 30 goals next season.
Yet that 15/16 stat also shows the problem Gareth Bale poses. He only played in 23 league games of the 38 that season. Matter of fact, he’s missed 37 league games over the last three seasons through injury, per Transfermarkt. You can’t rely on a player like that as a club.
That’s where the Spanish core comes in. Asensio, Isco and Vazquez can all operate on the wings, and even the teenager Vinicius Jr. can come in if needed, as the new Brazilian signing has impressed early doors and will be part of the first team.
Asensio, Benzema (if he doesn’t get replaced) and Bale will be a fluid front three, and a scary one at that. They’ll split the goalscoring bill. Even though they probably won’t challenge for the league title or the Champions League without their Portuguese talisman, a fun season could be in store for Real Madrid fans.
The second and the safer direction (from a director’s point of view) Real Madrid could go in would be for them to sign another galáctico to replace Ronaldo. And that’s what Florentino Pérez has been trying to do. After reportedly striking out on Kylian Mbappé, Neymar Jr. and Eden Hazard, it hasn’t been an easy search, and options are running out. Edinson Cavani’s name popped up recently, but it’s unlikely that Pérez will go back to PSG for a third time this summer for one of their players.
It’s a weird look for Real Madrid to see their biggest star leave and for them to not have a replacement lined up. Some fans are not happy with that, perhaps spoiled by the host of stars they’ve seen being presented in the Santiago Bernabéu throughout this century. Many Madrid fans have never seen the club being this vulnerable. Young players getting minutes to develop? The biggest star leaving? Maybe the gálacticos era really is over now that Cristiano left.