Ronaldo and Zidane Gone, Is Real Madrid Still a Force to Reckon?
Real Madrid has won three Champions League title in the last three years. 
Real Madrid has won three Champions League title in the last three years. (Photo: The Quint)

Ronaldo and Zidane Gone, Is Real Madrid Still a Force to Reckon?

After nine years at Real Madrid, Cristiano Ronaldo has finally left the building. The biggest question that stares at Perez and Co is how they will fill a Cristiano Ronaldo-shaped hole.

Ronaldo and Ronaldo’s replacement are not the only headache for the Madrid-based club. Less than a week after leading Real Madrid to their third consecutive Champions League triumph, Real Madrid legend Zinedine Zidane quit as the manager of the side.

Under Zidane the entire Madrid unit was like a well-oiled machine, owning the Champions League year after year. With a major overhaul at the Santiago Bernebeau, life post Zidane and Ronaldo era might end up being a mix of shocks and surprises.

Former Spanish coach Julen Lopetegui, who was sacked one day before the World Cup in Russia, has succeeded Zidane at Real Madrid and has been already been left handicapped in his very first month of appointment.

Ronaldo was the fulcrum around which the team operated. With both Zidane and Ronaldo no more at Bernabeu it looks like ‘Papa Perez’ has some plan in his mind.

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File photo of Cristiano Ronaldo (left) and Zinedine Zidane.
File photo of Cristiano Ronaldo (left) and Zinedine Zidane.
(Photo: Reuters)

It looks like Perez wants to create a new dynasty and is looking for new challenge after winning probably everything out there in the last three years. He might be planning for a new breed of Galaticos – a new generation may be.

“Each season we know that we have to fight for everything, that is what our history demands of us,” the club president told the assembled press at the unveiling of new signing Vinicus.

“The last few years have been wonderful, and our fans always want more. In this stadium are the 13 European Cups, which show us the way. We are aware that challenges are difficult but to conquer what seems impossible is what we want.”

The most immediate job in hand for Perez will be to find a suitable replacement for Ronaldo.

From left: Marco Asensio, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema.
From left: Marco Asensio, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema.
(Photo: The Quint)

Gareth Bale can be a good option, especially after his last match for the ‘Los Blancos’ – the Champions League final in Kiev where he scored a brace, including a stunning overhead kick. In fact, Lopetegui has already assured him that he will play a key role in the next season. Bale might end replacing Ronaldo on the left-wing. With Ronaldo now missing in action, Bale is expected to start more often but his fragile, injury-prone body might end up spoiling the party in the Spanish capital.

Ronaldo’s exit means 21-year-old Marco Asensio will also get more playing time and his super-sub days are over. With his flair and unpredictable nature, Lopetegui made deploy him scheme of things. There are already reports that he will be wearing Ronaldo’s number seven jersey. With Hazard deal looking bleaker with every going day, this might end up being more than a report.

Ronaldo’s departure also means greater responsibility on Modric and Benzema – the two senior pro up-front. After a great outing in Russia, where his side faltered at the last hurdle, Modric looks ready to take up the added responsibility. Benzema, if he at all ends up staying amid all his transfer rumour to AC Milan, will have a lot riding on him. Despite his worst ever goal scoring season in 2017/18, the Frenchman was still influential in the Champions League semi-finals and final and now needs to bounce back to his prolific best.

Vinicius Junior (left) and Andriy Lunin with Real Madrid President Florentino Perez.
Vinicius Junior (left) and Andriy Lunin with Real Madrid President Florentino Perez.
(Photo: The Quint)

With Eden Hazard and Thibaut Courtois both in the pipeline and the uncertainty over Hazard’s deal, the Real Madrid president has preferred to invest in the youth on the sidelines. Madrid paid 45 million Euro for 19-year-old Vinicius Junior from Brazil. The former Flamengo forward became the second most expensive player in the history of Brazilian football, after Neymar.

Real Madrid, who also planning to part ways with their Costa Rican goalkeeper are also eyeing Spurs custodian Hugo Lloris for 60 million pound, apart from Courtois, who is now currently with Chelsea. In the meantime, they have acquired 19-year-old Ukranian goalkeeper Andriy Lunin for 8.5 million Euro from Ukranian club FC Zorya Luhansk.

Uruguayan Federico Valverde and Spain’s Raul de Tomas have also been promoted from the Real Madrid Castilla – which is the junior squad of Real Madrid. So, clearly there is a pattern and soon we might see a new dynasty at Madrid.

Under Lopetegui Spain played 20 games, without recording a single loss.
Under Lopetegui Spain played 20 games, without recording a single loss.
(Photo Courtesy: Twitter/@realmadriden)

As far as Lopetegui is concerned, he will have lot of known faces in the Real Madrid camp, so it will be business as usual for the former Spain national coach. There were around six Real Madrid players in the Spanish squad for the FIFA World Cup 2018. Apart from approachability and familiarity with the Madrid squad, Lopetegui has an impressive record with the national football team. The Spanish side has played 20 games under him, without recording a single loss. Lopetegui led the side to 14 wins and 6 draws. So, we can expect a new golden at Santiago Bernabeu era under Lopetegui.

With less than a fortnight to go before the transfer window closes this season and we are still not sure whether Eden Hazard will move to Bernabeu or Benzema will stay back. But team shouldn’t lose sleep over this. With a world class squad at disposal despite the absence of Ronaldo, Lopetegui and his boys will be confident of a good show.

But a ‘Hazard-ous’ season is more than welcome at Estadio de Santiago Bernabeu.

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