As Cristiano Ronaldo begins a promising new era with Juventus, a period of uncertainty starts for the team he left behind.
Real Madrid, Europe’s most successful club, will have to find a way to reinvent itself after seeing one of soccer’s greatest players say goodbye.
Ronaldo joined Italian champion Juventus on Tuesday, leaving Madrid without its biggest star - and the more than 50 goals he averaged per season in his nine years in Spain.
“Ronaldo will forever be one of Real Madrid’s biggest icons,” the club said.
Life without Ronaldo certainly won’t be easy for the Spanish powerhouse.
Here’s a closer look at the challenges ahead for Real Madrid:
Replacing the Portugal forward - voted the world’s best player for the last two years - will be practically impossible. The only other player on a similar level is Barcelona’s Lionel Messi, who will not even be considered an option to switch to rival Madrid.
The third-best player in the world last year was Neymar, who last season transferred from Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain for a record fee of 222 million euros (now $260 million). Neymar would give Madrid a high-profile name comparable to Ronaldo’s, but not everyone thinks the 26-year-old Brazilian is capable of delivering the same results on the field.
Also, fans’ unease with Neymar increased during the World Cup as he occasionally made more headlines for play-acting than his performances with Brazil, which was eliminated by Belgium in the quarterfinals.
The fan favorite in Madrid seems to be Kylian Mbappe, the 19-year-old star who has helped France reach the World Cup final in Russia. Mbappe would give Madrid a top name who could attract headlines, and is a promising talent who could thrive for almost a decade at the highest level.
Even before Ronaldo sealed his transfer to Juventus on Tuesday, there were rumors that Madrid was looking at the possibility of signing either Neymar or Mbappe. Last week, though, the club released official statements denying having made any offers to sign either player, calling media reports “completely false” and “absolutely untrue.”
If Neymar and Mbappe are not options, Madrid could look to other players who have done well at the World Cup, including Belgium’s Eden Hazard and England’s Harry Kane.
Kane plays in a similar position as Ronaldo, and would theoretically make more sense than Hazard, who is more of a playmaker and an attacking midfielder. Kane, at 24, is three years younger than Hazard, and his full potential remains largely unknown.
Juventus paid 112 million euros ($131.5 million) for Ronaldo, not an enormously high fee by recent standards, and Madrid club president Florentino Perez has not spent much on high-profile signings in recent seasons.
Madrid is focusing its money on youngsters to try to build a base for the future. It recently signed 22-year-old Spain right back Alvaro Odriozola, and spent a total of 90 million euros ($105 million) for a couple of talented 17-year-old Brazilian players - Rodrygo and Vinicius Junior. Vinicius Junior is joining the club this season, while Rodrygo is expected to arrive sometime next year.
Madrid’s current options for the attack are 28-year-old Gareth Bale and 30-year-old Karim Benzema. Both have spent a lot of time on the bench under coach Zinedine Zidane.
New manager Julen Lopetegui, who arrived amid his stunning dismissal from Spain’s national team on the eve of the World Cup, will also look to 27-year-old Lucas Vazquez and 21-year-old Borja Mayoral, a regular in Spain’s youth squads. Other attacking options for Lopetegui include Francisco “Isco” Alarcon and Marco Asensio, who have played in the false No. 9 position in the past.
The team’s midfield will remain the same, with Casemiro protecting the defense behind Tony Kroos and Luka Modric. The defense also should stay solid with Sergio Ramos playing alongside Raphael Varane, flanked by Dani Carvajal and Marcelo. Keylor Navas will remain in goal, although rumors about the club wanting to replace him will likely continue for another season. Madrid recently signed 19-year-old Ukrainian goalkeeper Andriy Lunin.
No matter who comes to the attack, though, it will be a tough task to even get close to Ronaldo’s success with Madrid. He left as the Spanish club’s all-time leading scorer with 451 goals in 438 matches, helping it win four Champions League titles, including the last three in a row.
Ronaldo said his time with Madrid was probably the happiest of his life. Now it remains to be seen how Madrid and its fans will feel without their greatest star.
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