A Real Madrid without Ronaldo?
The sensational revelation by Cristiano Ronaldo in a post-match press conference last week that he was not entirely happy with life at Real Madrid prompted a media frenzy in Spain and across the world.
Immediately, fans of mega-rich clubs such as Manchester City, Paris St. Germain and Anzhi Makhachkala, were inevitably linked with the 27 year-old forward, as well as former club Manchester United.
Meanwhile Los Blancos fans have been trying to come to terms with his comments, with attention focused on both how they might compensate for losing him and how his issues with the club can be resolved amicably.
Rumour mill in overdrive
After the news broke, the rumour mill about why he was unhappy went into overdrive.
That is until this week’s international qualifiers provided a convenient distraction for the Portuguese star, allowing his employers and the international press to consider the possible repercussions of a rift between the most expensive player in the world and the most successful club side in European football history.
Many inches of newspaper columns and many hours of radio and TV broadcasting, particularly in Spain, have been dedicated to discussing the possible reasons for his recent unhappiness
This was confirmed by the player in a press conference following Real’s 3-0 win over Granada on September 2 and his refusal to celebrate scoring.
It was the La Liga champions first league win of the season but despite bagging a brace that brought his goal scoring record at Real to a staggering 150 goals in 149 games, Ronaldo cut a forlorn figure both on and off the pitch.
Why is he unhappy?
Though he has been at pains to suggest otherwise, the crux of the dispute seems to be money. Or at least money and status.
He made no secret of his desire to extend his contract at the club beyond the three years currently remaining on his present deal.
Moreover, he remains on the same basic wage (approx £8m annually) as Kaka who, although a record-breaking acquisition in the same summer as Ronaldo’s arrival, is no longer central to manager Jose Mourinho’s plans.
Clearly, he wants to be considered in no uncertain terms as the top dog at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Furthermore, he feels that he is not being suitably recognised for the significant contribution he has made to the club since joining for a world record £80m fee in the summer of 2009.
There are suggestions that all is not well in the dressing room too and that his relationship with Brazilian left back Marcelo have deteriorated.
At the same time, he is known to be less than pleased about the tendency for the Madrid-based media to attack close friend and countryman Fabio Coentrao, who incidentally shares the same agent as both Ronaldo and Mourinho.
Will he stay or will he go?
Yet, despite his recent public outburst and the damage it may have done to his relationship with the club, it still seems highly unlikely that he will leave.
Apart from Real being supremely reluctant to lose him, there is the obvious problem of how anybody could possibly afford him right now.
That’s assuming that Ronaldo could even agree terms with another club, knowing that a move away from the iconic Bernabeu will almost certainly be a step down in terms of status, history and potential to win the biggest trophies in the game.
Suffice to say then, that for now at least, Ronaldo will be staying put.
Just as well too for Mourinho’s men, as the prospect of coping with his imminent departure would be a daunting one.
So, while the relationship between player and club is still salvageable, there is reason to wonder how it would play out should he really shock the world and secure a move away from the Spanish capital in January.
Obviously, Mourinho would be sizeably compensated for the loss of his prized asset but who could he expect to buy in as a replacement and how would that potentially alter the balance of the team?
Early indications are that Atletico Madrid striker Falcao will increasingly become a player spied with envy from across the red and white divide in Madrid.
Having settled immediately following his £35m move from FC Porto last summer, the Colombian powerhouse notched an impressive 36 goals and helped his new team win the UEFA Europa League for the second time in three seasons.
He is a forward player who has everything. Great technical ability, pace, power, able to score off both feet and posing an aerial threat.
His versatility and all-round quality was there for all to see in the European Super Cup last month, when he put the Chelsea defence to the sword to complete a marvellous hat-trick.
Looking at the options already available to Mourinho, he could choose to switch things tactically in the absence of Ronaldo, from his preferred 4-2-3-1 to a 4-2-2-2 that emphasises more wing play.
By forsaking the fluidity of an interchangeable front three plus playmaker, he could utilise Karim Benzema alongside Argentine Gonzalo Higuain in attack with support from two wide players.
The balance of power might alter
Alas, both of these run the risk of unsettling an established formula, with Ronaldo at its epicentre.
Quite simply, Real Madrid must realise that no one player can replace him.
His contribution to the team as a goalscorer, creator, winger and number nine all rolled into one cannot be stressed enough.
His departure might alter the balance of power in Spanish football at a time when Catalan dominance of the Pep Guardiola years was beginning to be overcome by Mourinho’s magnificent Madrid. His role is that vital.
Just as Barcelona, while retaining the same style, would never be the same potent force without Lionel Messi, Real have to accept that if Ronaldo leaves, they endanger all the progress they have made in usurping their bitter Catalan rivals since Mourinho came to Spain in 2010.
Hopefully for them, they realise this before the current dispute between player and club becomes intractable and early enough to arrive at a resolution that will keep the Portuguese superstar firing on all cylinders in a white shirt because they certainly need him to.
After a poor start to the league campaign, the last thing Real Madrid need right now is for their main man to be side-tracked by matters off the field.
By Matt Youngs - Follow me on Twitter @whytryharder1
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