Has Real Madrid done enough in the summer transfer window?

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Team celebrating their European Super Cup win against Manchester United

After an extraordinary season and having etched their names into the annals of history, Real Madrid looked a magnificent team that never really needed any additional [big name] signings given their strength in depth. However, based on the wants of players, there were always going to be adjustments. Some of which could either propel the team to the brink of invincibility or see them unravel after a near perfect 2016/17 season.

The team’s goal is to maintain stability and bolster the squad, where necessary. Selling too many [important] players would be a disruptive path to continued stability, which raises a number of questions: how has the club performed in the transfer window so far? Have they done enough to ensure continued success or have they done too little? Are they making reasonable moves?

Before answering those questions, we should ask ourselves: what were Los Blancos’ weaknesses despite a glorious double — winning the Champions League and La Liga, an accomplishment not experienced by the whites for more than 50 years — and making history by becoming the first team to win the continental title back-to-back since the era of the Champions League?

The first answer that comes to mind, is the need for bolstering the defence. Real Madrid would have actually lost quite a few games without the likes of Navas, who was in especially fine form towards the end of the season and their incredible players in attack, who just enjoyed outscoring their opponents in games.

Then there was the problem of keeping everyone happy, including those who played a fringe role — James, Coentrão, Danilo, Nacho, Kovacic, Mariano and Casilla — and those who wanted to be more than just a regular substitute — Isco, Morata, Vazquez and Asensio. Zidane was clearly an excellent motivator and had for the most part convinced the majority of players of their importance to the team, even when they didn’t play as regularly as they’d have liked. He even managed to persuade Ronaldo that he needed to be fresh for the final lap of the season and to achieve that he had to accept that he wouldn’t be able to every game.

That was last season and while he succeeded, some players were not going to be convinced for the upcoming season and wanted to seek opportunities outside of Real Madrid.

Los Blancos has since sold Danilo (ca. €30M), Morata (€65.6M plus add-ons) and Mariano (ca. €8M) to Manchester City, Chelsea and Lyon, respectively. James has been sent to Bayern Munich on a two-year loan deal, Coentrão was loaned to Sporting Lisbon for a season and Pepe wasn’t offered a new deal, thereby making him a free agent.

Fairly good business, as Coentrão was injury-prone; James, though brilliant, apparently had a poor attitude in training  — if the rumours are to be believed — and he obviously wasn’t a favourite of Zidane’s; Danilo never quite unlocked his full potential at Real — partly down to Carvajal’s constant brilliance —, and was especially prone to mistakes in defence. Pepe was an ageing defender, who at some point had to be replaced, granted Real could’ve done a better job of “phasing” him out; Mariano showed flashes of his brilliance when he was given the opportunity to play and if he can fine tune his talent at Lyon, Real will certainly activate his buy-back clause; then there is Morata, a special case. Incredibly talented player, who in his own right had to move on if he wanted to become more than a super sub, as there was no chance of him breaking into the starting line-up as long as the BBC was still active in Madrid. And at 24, it was now or never and he chose now.

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L-R: Ceballos, Mayoral, Asensio, Vallejo, Llorente and Raúl.

Has the club sufficiently replaced the players gone?

Returning to the club is centre back Vallejo, who spent a year on loan at Frankfurt and was a main stay in the starting 11 for the Bundesliga club. The 20-year-old had a solid loan spell at the Eagles and helped his team to the German Cup final. He has extremely good concentration on the park, rarely loses the ball and is a tidy passer. He does need to work on his aggressiveness when trying to win the ball back and his aerial duel —he had a meagre 1.2 tackles per game according to WhoScored and he won on average 2.2 aerial battles per game last season in the Bundesliga. He does have promise and under the tutelage of both Ramos and Varane and with experience overtime he could develop into a defensive super star. His signing is an overall useful and reliable one both for the present and future.

Grade: B+.

Also returning to the club is Marcos Llorente, who had an impressive loan spell at Deportivo Alavés. Llorente comes from footballing royalty — his great uncle is Real Madrid legend Paco Gento and his father is Paco Llorente Gento, a Madrid legend in his own right. Young Llorente seems to be following in their footsteps, as he was a constant in the starting line-up at Alavés and helped lead his club to the Spanish Cup final. He was able to exhibit his quality, while gaining experience with the Basque side. He doesn’t have any explicit weaknesses, has excellent tackling abilities and is great at breaking up the opponents’ play. Per WhoScored he had an average of 3.8 tackles per game, better than Sergio Ramos’ season average.  He’s also a neat passer —he had an average pass quota of 87%  last season. Llorente is without a doubt a rising star and is only 22. He will have the chance to hone his skills under the guidance of players like Ramos, Casemiro, Kroos, Modric, Varane, et al. His return has bolstered los Blancos’ already strong midfield and provides necessary cover for Casemiro.

Grade: A

Borja Mayoral, is one of Madrid’s most promising forwards and has already been compared to club legend Raúl. He had a torrid time on loan at Wolfsburg last season, not because of his lack of quality but rather the perpetual chaos that broke out at the club and the problems that ensued —the club changed coaches several times. However, Zidane has always been a fan of him and the 20-year-old looks set to replace Morata in the squad, even taking over the Chelsea man’s old squad number. His lack of playing time at the Wolves meant he hardly played a role for Spain at the U21 European Championship this summer and made a solitary appearance as a substitute. Considering the scarcity in playing time and inadequate experience, his presence in los Blancos’ squad doesn’t seem all too encouraging but he at least deserves a chance and he’s excelled at the youth level, which may translate into success for him in the first team.

Grade: C+

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Theo on his pre-season debut against Manchester United

With Coentrão gone, Marcelo needed a deputy. The club needed a player who isn’t prone to injury and capable of stepping up to the plate when called upon. Theo Hernández is exactly that player and at just 19 he could develop into a long-term fixture at Real Madrid, especially under the tutelage of the brilliant Brazilian. Theo, like Marcelo, loves to dribble and can deliver lethal crosses into the box. He also has a wicked left foot and can punish teams from dead ball situations— not that he’ll have a chance to put it to use often, if ever, but it is nice to know he has it in his arsenal. And in a team as fluid as Madrid, his runs down the left could see him start cutting into the box more and punishing the net with that left foot of his. Excellent signing.

Grade: A

Replacing James and bringing in ample cover for Kroos and/or Modric was crucial for the club this season. As we saw last season, los Blancos had trouble at times filling the boots of both the German and Croatian. That’s where Spanish football’s newest prodigy comes in. Dani Ceballos, with his nimble feet and stunning dribbles, enjoys breaking ankles and leaving players dead in his wake. The young Spaniard had an outstanding U21 European Championship and was named player of the tournament. He holds the ball well, can deliver scrumptious passes, tends to get fouled a lot because of his sensational dribbling and gets involved defensively with strong tackling. He does however, need to work on his finishing. It must be frustrating for a player with his skill and talent, who can’t finish off one of his menacing runs. He is nevertheless a massive talent and a player capable of filling the boots of Modric and/or Kroos, when they’re injured or when they choose to move on. One for the future.

Grade: A

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L-R: Luca Zidane, Borja Mayoral, Achraf Hakimi and Marcos Llorente

Have they done enough to ensure continued success or have they done too little?

The club has done some good business so far, with the exception of not filling the spot left open by Danilo’s departure and the apparent faith placed in the inexperienced Mayoral.

The open right back position may well be filled by either Álvaro Tejero or Achraf Hakimi, both talented young players, who’ve both been impressive for the youth team and were standouts during the club’s pre-season tour. However, like Mayoral, they could either turn out to be brilliant players, who can handle the weight of wearing the white shirt or they could all crack under the pressure.

Placing confidence in these youngsters is a bold move from Zidane but their performances in pre-season show they may well be ready for the demands that come with the badge.

The fact los Blancos has been able to keep their core team together and replace fringe players sufficiently, they seem set to continue their success. Additionally, all the signings made so far means the club has also made an effort to build for the future —the average age of the squad is 25.6 years.

They’ve thus far performed shrewdly in the market and don’t necessarily need another signing but if they do bring in one, say…Mbappé, it’d be fine. But signing the French man seems to really be a stretch, especially since Monaco wants €180M for the player and he is demanding a net salary of €12M/year.

Overall Grade: A-

 

Transfer rumor mill: The Kaka, Benzema saga

Only six rounds into the new La Liga season and already the rumor mills are spinning.  One could say even spiraling out of control.  Already Kaka is being rumored to be heading back to Milan on a loan deal and Ronaldinho being ousted to welcome back the golden boy.

Rumors are also running amok that Juventus are keen on securing the signature of ace front man Karim Benzema.

I think these rumors are just ridiculous as these are still new signings that are in their transition stages at the club, just settling into life in the city of Madrid but the media insists on always playing their “important” role in the day to day life of football.

Ricardo Izecson dos Santos Leite (Kaká)

Let us take a look at the “unsuccessful” season Kaká was said to have.  The word unsuccessful is a very intense and mildly inaccurate description of the season he had.  Disappointing, is the more suitable word to sum up Kaká’s first season in Madrid.

Before we look at his first campaign in a new team, under a new coach and in a new country and plagued by a nagging groin injury; we will take a look at a few previous seasons at Milan from a statistical point of view.

In his first season as a Rossoneri, Kaká managed to haul 10 goals and 4 assists in 30 appearances in league for the red and blacks going on to make a further 4 appearances in the domestic cup and 10 appearances in the Champion’s League scoring 4 goals and providing 1 assist.  In total he made 44 appearances for the Rossoneri, scoring a total of  14 goals and providing 5 assists.  All in all a fairly good debut season for the 21 year old Brazilian.

In the subsequent season he followed up with a total of 50 appearances, 9 goals and 7 appearances; 36 appearances, 7 goals and 5 assists in league; 13 appearances, 2 goals and 2 assists in Europe and one appearance in the domestic cup.  In large part, another good season for the Brazilian.

Fast forward to his last two seasons with the Rossoneri and we can say he had the same success with the team.  In the 2007-08 season, Ricky made 30 appearances, scored 15 goals and provided 10 assists in league, 9 appearances in Europe scoring 3 goals and providing 2 assists.  Hence, he made a total of 39 appearances, scoring 18 goals and creating 12 goals for his team.  An excellent season from the attacking midfielder.

In his final season Kaka had yet another great season for the Rossoneri making a total of 35 appearances, scoring 16 goals and providing 10 assists.  The breakdown: 31 appearances, 16 goals and 9 assists in league, 1 appearance in the domestic cup and 4 appearances in Europe, providing 1 assist.

On June 8, 2009 it was confirmed by both Real Madrid and AC Milan presidents that Kaká was indeed on his way to Spain’s Capital City.  However, his arrival in the city did not go as well as most had hoped or even as Kaká himself had hoped.  Instead he had a very disappointing season by his usual standards but for the most part a decent season for a player that was constantly plagued by a niggling groin injury that led to the huge debate last season; that Milan knew of his “incurable” ailment and it was the reason they were hasty to off load the player to Real.  Despite the constant niggles, Kaká made 25 appearances in league, scoring 8 goals and providing 6 assists.  He made one appearance in the domestic cup and 7 appearances in the Champion’s League, scoring 1 goal and providing 2 assists.  A total of 33 appearances, 9 goals and 8 assists, similar numbers to his debut season with AC Milan.

Yes, disappointing for an established player such as Kaká but also a decent debut season for a player that was bothered by a persistent groin injury, acclimating to life in a new city, adjusting to new team mates, a new coach and adapting to a new style of play.  Perhaps the media is reading into the situation far too much than needed.  Kaká will be at his best as soon as he is fully recovered and acclimated to the new life.  He should be given time!  I hope Real Madrid will be patient with him and give him the opportunity to regain his best form.

Karim Benzema

Here is another player that was and still is adjusting.  A person should take into account the many inhibitions that stood in Benzema’s way of being a success in his first season at Real Madrid.  Firstly, it was the first time for the kid living outside of his home country on his own.  Secondly, he had difficulty with the language barrier and thirdly, he had to adjust to a new coach, new teammates and a different style of play.

Looking at the statistics one would be inclined to say that Benzema had a largely disappointing season.  However, avid followers of the club and the player would say that Benzema wasn’t given the chance to really shine.  For the most part he was a substitute in most of Madrid’s games rather than a starter, only starting on the occasions when Higuaín was injureda rare opportunity.

In Benzema’s first season at Lyon, the 17 year old made 5 appearances and provided 1 assist in league.  His second season in the first team for the French giants ended with the youngster making 13 appearances, scoring 1 goal and making 1 assist in league, while he made a further 2 appearances in the domestic cup, scoring 2 goals and providing 1 assist.  He also made 1 appearance in Europe scoring 1 goal.  A total of 16 appearances, 5 goals scored and 2 assists made by the teenager.

Fast forward to his final two seasons in France and Benzema had his breakout year in the 2007-08 campaign after he managed 52 appearances, scoring 32 goals and provided 8 assists; the breakdown: 37 appearances, 20 goals and 7 assists in league.  A further 9 appearances in the domestic cup scoring 8 goals and providing an assist.  In Europe he made 7 appearances, scored 4 goals and provided 2 assists.

The subsequent season and his last season with Lyon, Benzema had another successful season.  He made 36 appearances, scoring 17 goals and providing 2 assists in league, while he made 4 appearances in the domestic cup and scored 1 goal.  In Europe he made 8 appearances, scored 5 goals and provided an assist that season.  A total of 48 appearances, 23 goals and 3 assists.

His debut season for Spain’s Capital Club, “Big Benz” (as he’s affectionately called) made 27 appearances, scored 8 goals and made 3 assists in league, 1 appearance in the domestic cup and 8 appearances in Europe, scoring 5 goals and providing an assist.  A total of 33 appearances, 9 goals and 4 assists.

Again, I must state he needs to be given time to adjust to the new life as well as given ample playing time to completely show his abilities.  It is unfair to expect that the player can come in as a substitute with 10 minutes left and turn the game around! Karim Benzema deserves his chance at becoming a key player.  However, I do not expect him to become an automatic starter especially when there is another striker on the field in optimum form.  Had Benzema gone to a Manchester United, he would have had the same trouble breaking into the starting line-up, he would have to work his way in the line-up and make use of his chances when given the opportunity.  It happened to Wayne Rooney, as it did to Cristiano Ronaldo and the same is happening to Javier ‘El Chicharito’ Hernández.  The media, impatient fans and pundits alike are heaping all this unnecessary pressure onto the lad and isn’t giving him the time he needs to adjust.  Benzema has an incredible work rate on his day and he is the type of player that if he isn’t scoring he is providing or trying to provide.  He is still very young and it must be said as big a name he might have had upon being transferred to Madrid, he is still learning his trade.

Both Kaká and especially Benzema will don the white shirt for years to come and will prove to be an integral part of the squad as well they WILL write their names in the history book of Real Madrid.

Time is essential, nothing happens over night and people should remember that!

Let us take a look at the “unsuccessful” season Kaká was said to have.  The word unsuccessful is a very intense and mildly inaccurate description of the season he had maybe disappointing is the more suitable word.