The folly of Florentino Perez’s decision to sell the club’s all-time leading scorer has been exposed, with one coach sacked and another struggling
Perhaps in the end Cristiano Ronaldo was actually underrated. In the corridors of power at Real Madrid there was a lack of urgency and desire to replace the Portuguese star when he left to join Juventus in July.
By the time Madrid’s all-time top goalscorer walked away from the Santiago Bernabeu, it was too late. Over the past few years president Florentino Perez and Ronaldo had not seen eye-to-eye, certainly on the striker’s worth to Madrid.
The relationship deteriorated and Ronaldo eventually decided the time had come to depart, ending a nine-year spell at the club. Now the second top goalscorer in Italy with 10 goals, he is thriving in Serie A.
Madrid, meanwhile, are languishing without him. Since Ronaldo left Los Blancos have sacked a coach, Julen Lopetegui, been hammered 5-1 by rivals Barcelona in La Liga and are fourth in the Spanish top flight.
Even though new coach Santiago Solari has got some wins under his belt, all is not well at Madrid as their latest humiliation indicated on Wednesday, with CSKA Moscow winning 3-0 at a raging Bernabeu.
That was Madrid’s worst home defeat in a European game and supporters were left whistling their own players, with former fan-favourite Isco Alarcon taking the brunt of the criticism.
“Madrid are always in the running, but Ronaldo is gone and the quality of their players is not the same,” said CSKA coach Viktor Goncharenko in a damning comment after his side’s historic victory in the Spanish capital.
With the January transfer window drawing closer, the obvious temptation will be for Madrid to put right the wrong of losing Ronaldo by splashing the cash at the turn of the year.
In the summer they brought back Mariano Diaz from Olympique Lyon.
Chelsea’s Eden Hazard, PSG duo Kylian Mbappe and Neymar, Tottenham’s Harry Kane and even Valencia striker Rodrigo Moreno were all discussed, but Madrid turned their nose up at the asking prices quoted to them.
Mariano has potential but he is not ready to take Ronaldo’s place, despite inheriting the hallowed No 7 shirt. Vinicius Junior arrived too, and has been bright in flashes but also is too raw to lead Madrid to glory.
Now Mauro Icardi, whose goal against PSV Eindhoven nearly sent Inter Milan through into the Champions League knock-out phase at the expense of Tottenham, before the Dutch side equalised late on, is the main target according to Spanish newspaper AS .
The Argentina striker has a €110 million release clause and would help to replace some of the goals that disappeared with Ronaldo.
Karim Benzema is Madrid’s top scorer in La Liga and he has a paltry five, the same as Leganes’s Guido Carrillo, Eibar’s Charles, Real Sociedad’s Mikel Oyarzabal and Levante’s Jose Luis Morales.
Handy players at their respective mid-table clubs, but not the kind of company an elite striker for Real Madrid should be keeping.
Icardi is a penalty box goalscorer who will be in the right place at the right time to make the difference, and could be the type of player Madrid need to put teams to bed, with Benzema and Gareth Bale too wasteful.
But Zinedine Zidane walked away earlier this year before Ronaldo left – the French coach knows the problems at Madrid are extensive, despite his record treble Champions League triumph.
Signing Icardi might just prove to be an expensive band-aid for a cut that runs much deeper.
“You cannot just replace a player who scores 40 to 50 goals per season, and, of course, Real miss Ronaldo,” former Madrid playmaker Rafael van der Vaart told Goal .
“What he did at Real is totally crazy. The quality in the squad is still there. They don’t need any winter signings. It’s always difficult to find suitable players in the winter to really help a team in this class.
“The team has to grow together again to compensate for the departure of Ronaldo. Santiago Solari is doing a very good job, but he needs some time.”
Van der Vaart’s words may prove wise. Madrid have built themselves around the Portuguese forward for the best part of a decade and it takes time to adapt.
Signing new players might just increase the problems in the side as they try to regroup. Instead, perhaps it is time for a new era to begin.
It would require president Perez to accept this might be a transition stage in the club’s history and not be too hasty with the axe if Madrid don’t win anything this season.
But if Vinicius and Mariano are given regular football, they might start to develop and become the forward that Bale would thrive playing off and feeding crosses.
Over the past few weeks Solari has handed midfielder Marcos Llorente chances and he has impressed. There are some green shoots amid the gloom.
Maybe Madrid can grow into a side that doesn’t replace Ronaldo directly but makes up for his absence in other ways. But to do that Solari may need a degree of patience, which president Perez has never shown an abundance of.