Los Blancos need to fill the void left by the Portuguese superstar, but none of their targets are available and they may have to make do as they are
A year ago on Thursday, Neymar left Barcelona for Paris Saint-Germain and the Blaugrana were left scrambling for overpriced players to replace the brilliant Brazilian in the remainder of the transfer window.
Real Madrid now find themselves in a similar situation. They have had more time than Barca did following the surprise sale of Cristiano Ronaldo to Juventus last month, yet they are no nearer to bringing in a replacement for a player considered one of the best in their history.
Cristiano contributed an amazing 450 goals in 438 games for Los Blancos across nine seasons in Spain and for all the talent in Julen Lopetegui’s squad, there is not a player who can offer such stats. In fact, there are hardly any footballers in the world who could do so.
That is the dilemma for Real and for club chief Florentino Perez. The Madrid president initially earned fame for his Galacticos policy, yet he has not made such a signing since buying James Rodriguez for €80 million after the 2014 World Cup.
These days, the world’s finest footballers are condensed at just a few super clubs, of which Real remain the biggest. With Ronaldo now gone and Lionel Messi off limits at Barcelona, there are only a handful of options for a replacement for the Portuguese – and all represent difficult deals to complete.
Neymar and Kylian Mbappe were the two top targets for Real, but the Spanish side have released statements this summer saying they will not be bringing in either player.
Both the Brazilian and the France forward are not for sale and have spent just one season each at PSG. Right now, signing either is impossible.
Eden Hazard looked like he could be the man to replace Ronaldo. The Belgium attacker impressed at the World Cup and picked up the Silver Ball for the competition’s second-best player.
He also hinted afterwards that he might like to leave Chelsea, and made it pretty clear where he would want to play next.
However, new Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri is desperate to keep Hazard and with Madrid also looking to sign Blues goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, a move for the midfielder now seems improbable.
The west London side are also set to ask for a huge fee and that is likely to deter Real considering he is not even their first choice.
Harry Kane is another player admired by Los Blancos, but the Tottenham striker will not be following Gareth Bale and Luka Modric from Spurs to Madrid this summer.
The north Londoners are an established Champions League club these days, while Kane is a fan, has signed a new deal recently and is not interested in moving at the moment.
Other options include Robert Lewandowski, but the Bayern Munich forward is 30 this month and would not really be considered a Ronaldo replacement anyway, rather more a player who could compete with Karim Benzema for the central striker slot.
Lopetegui is keen to bring in another striker, but it may not be a big name and in terms of a high-profile signing, there are not many alternatives, which is perhaps why Florentino distanced himself from the Galactico policy when he spoke at the presentation of young goalkeeper Andriy Lunin on Monday.
“Little by little we are laying the foundations of our team’s present and future,” he said. “We want to incorporate the young talent that will shape the future, players who aspire to the maximum.”
Lunin is 19, while Madrid have also snapped up 22-year-old Spain right-back Alvaro Odriozola this summer, as well as unveiling Brazilian attacker Vinicius Junior, who was signed last year and will now join Real from Flamengo following his recent 18th birthday.
Vinicius earned some rave reviews in the Madrid media for his performance in the pre-season defeat to Manchester United this week and even though those were exaggerated, he definitely does look like a talent for the future.
Some reports had claimed Vinicius would go out on loan this season, but it was confirmed during his presentation that he will be link up with the first team, while Gareth Bale is also staying put despite his claims after the Champions League final that he wants more minutes.
With Ronaldo out of the picture, his place in the team when fit is virtually guaranteed and Lopetegui has backed the Welsh winger to enjoy a strong season.
“Cristiano Ronaldo is one of the main players in the recent history of Real Madrid,” he said this week. “He expressed a desire to leave and we allowed him to. Gareth Bale is a magnificent player, with so many qualities. He can help fill the void.”
Benzema will also be expected to start frequently, leaving Isco, Marco Asensio, Lucas Vazquez and Vinicius to compete for one of the other positions in attack or in midfield alongside Luka Modric, Toni Kroos and Casemiro.
So, in what was always likely to be a transitional season for Real Madrid and more so following the departures of Zinedine Zidane and Ronaldo, the club now look to have shelved their plans for a marquee signing to replace Ronaldo.
And with no suitable star player available anyway without playing a king’s ransom, it is probably the best decision they could make.