A couple of years ago, Real Madrid were being hailed for a shrewd and long-sighted transfer policy.
The Bernabeu club had swept up the cream of young Spanish talent, with promising starlets Dani Ceballos, Theo Hernandez, Marcos Llorente and Jesus Vallejo being snapped up to complement – and eventually replace – the faithful old guard who had just swooped for an impressively-gained Liga and Champions League double.
It appeared that president Florentino Perez had abandoned his Galáctico approach in favour of a more sustainable method, and the rest of Europe could only wonder with concern how they could keep pace with a well-balanced squad boasting the best of Spain’s emerging talent in support of a batch of experienced world-class stars.
Fast forward two summers, though, and that new policy – if it ever was a policy at all – has been abandoned. None of the youngsters signed back then are still at the club, with all of them moving on after barely receiving any chances to develop and grow.
Instead, Zinedine Zidane is presiding over a lop-sided squad containing an abundance of wingers, a new batch of costly imports from overseas and hardly any midfielders.
What is going on? It’s very difficult to make much sense of the ins and outs at the Bernabeu over the past six months. Back in March, remember, Zidane returned to the club and sternly announced that many changes would take place. The long-serving veterans, everyone assumed, were on their way out, with the likes of Isco, Marcelo, Luka Modric, Gareth Bale and James Rodriguez heading for the exit door to be replaced by a new group led by Zidane’s personal pick Paul Pogba and, if he could be lured away from Paris Saint-Germain, Kylian Mbappe.
Somehow, though, the players who were supposed to have departed are still there and the players who were supposed to have joined stayed away, with the exception of Eden Hazard after a long chase finally came to fruition.
This has left Zidane with more or less the same bunch of players who underperformed so badly in the last couple of seasons, with the lack of evolution experienced by the group evident from the fact that Bale – who had supposedly been at the front of the departures queue – rescued the team with two goals to secure a 2-2 draw at Villarreal on Sunday night.
The lack of recruitment in midfield is especially puzzling. The departures of Ceballos, Llorente and Mateo Kovacic over the last couple of years has left Zidane with just four players to patrol the centre of the field: Luka Modric (who turns 34 next week), Toni Kroos, Casemiro and young Uruguayan Fede Valverde.
All four of those players were used during Sunday’s game at Villarreal – Kroos and Casemiro from the start; Modric and Valverde from the bench – which begs the question of what would Zidane have done if one of them had been unavailable? The only answer is that his tactical approach would have been compromised by a simple lack of personnel, which is surely a crazy situation for one of the most powerful sporting organisations in the world.
And it will happen. Modric is too old to play every week, Valverde too inexperienced, and Casemiro is a walking suspension. So Kroos will have to start something like 50 games with others fitting around him, perhaps including more attacking players such as Isco and James and maybe even a return to the occasional (and generally disastrous) experiment of playing Sergio Ramos as a defensive midfielder (and if that sounds outlandish, just try to think of anyone else who could play in that role when Casemiro is absent).
Of course, Zidane’s situation is far from disastrous and there is still plenty of talent at his disposal. The starting eleven, without doubt, possesses sufficient quality to overcome any opposition.
But from a wider perspective, this feels like a Real Madrid squad that has been thrown together rather than planned, leaving eight wide players/attacking midfielders to compete for two or three places in the starting eleven (Hazard, Bale, James, Isco, Vinicius, Lucas Vazquez, Rodrygo and Brahim Diaz) while four are expected to cover the middle of the pitch for the whole season.
Quite how Zidane intends to manage the situation is anyone’s guess, but it’s tempting to conclude he never intended his squad to look anything like this at all.
Know more about Sport360 Application