The Portuguese was a truly historic player for Los Blancos, scoring 450 goals in just 438 games. He helped Madrid win two liga titles in nine years, as well as an utterly absurd four Champions Leagues in that same time period – becoming that competition’s most epic performer, smashing nearly every record available.
So while Juventus will be delighted with their new signing who will help them chase down that elusive third Champions League win (their last triumph was in 1996), Real Madrid now find that they have a gaping hole at the head of their attack. Who could they bring in to fill that hole? We here at Squawka have highlighted four main options to be Real Madrid’s Ronaldo replacement.
The dream Ronaldo replacement
Florentino Perez has wanted Neymar at Real Madrid since the Brazilian was a young teenager. Perez has always been obsessed with the commercial viability of players, it’s why he signed Robinho and Marcelo when they were 18, it’s why he nabbed James Rodríguez after the 2014 FIFA World Cup, it’s why he loaned Javier Hernandez when Madrid had no need for him, and it’s why he wants Neymar. Marketing (not shirt sales – but sponsorship deals, commercial deals, faces on posters, etc.).
Well it’s not the only reason, obviously Neymar is stone cold world-class. The second-best player on the planet. Madrid offered him and Santos more money than Barcelona back in 2013 but the lure of playing with Leo Messi was too much for the Brazilian and he chose the Camp Nou. Perez has regretted that move and it’s caused him to spend almost €100m on two teenage Brazilians who are earmarked as “the next Neymar” – Vinicius Jr. and Rodrygo. Will either of them come good? Who knows.
Even with those teens secured, Perez would love to bring Neymar to the Bernabeu as his Ronaldo replacement. He even plays in the same position after all. But PSG don’t need to sell Neymar, and they can’t be tempted by money. The French side’s FFP problems can be solved by offloading some of their expensive squad players, and that’s what will happen. Qatar signed Neymar to be the face of PSG and the 2022 World Cup bid. They won’t let him go before then, so this move will remain a dream.
The realistic Ronaldo replacement
With Neymar unavailable, attention may turn to Europe and a player who could potentially be the third best player in the world if he ever really knuckled down: Eden Hazard. The Belgian has had a good World Cup and has obviously proven himself over and over again in the Premier League, winning two titles with Chelsea (to go with one Ligue 1 as a Lille player). He’s class, but with the Blues playing in the Europa League this season he will surely be looking for an exit to keep playing at the top table of European football.
He’s a different kind of player to Cristiano, more of a creator than scorer, but he plays on the left and is world-class so he could function as a Ronaldo replacement. With Hazard loading the bullets, the likes of Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale would find their scoring opportunities multiply and Madrid as a whole would benefit. It’s not really ideal for new coach Julen Lopetegui as Hazard shares a position with Isco, but Madrid will want to sign a star and Hazard is the most available. You can see it happening.
The wildcard Ronaldo replacement
Harry Kane is a world-class striker who is currently leading the race for the golden boot at the 2018 FIFA World Cup. He’s not really played that well in open play but has managed to show up when needed to pull off excellent finishes, including some sublime penalties, to give England key victories. Does that sound like anyone else you know?
They don’t play the same position but Harry Kane is one of the few players on the planet as singularly focused on scoring goals as Cristiano Ronaldo. He’s obsessed and not afraid to get petty over it (Kane claiming that goal from Eriksen is much like when Cristiano claims his shot that went in because Pepe deflected it was actually his goal) so, mentality-wise, he’s an ideal Ronaldo replacement. Moreover, he’s incredible at actually scoring goals and in 2017/18 proved he can handle performing on the biggest stages of them all.
Kane is a Premier League superstar and would carry enormous commercial value to Florentino Perez as a way into the always lucrative English market. Having Kane and Gareth Bale in the side would give Los Blancos lots of media presence in the UK, which he always likes. The only problem here is that Kane only just signed a new contract, and Daniel Levy is a tough negotiator. You can see Madrid approaching Spurs with a world record bid for Kane (especially if England win the World Cup) only for Levy to turn them down. Wildcard only.
Real Madrid haven’t really brought a Galactico since they signed James Rodríguez, and that’s a strategy that has paid off with three Champions Leagues in a row. Well, it’s not really a strategy they tried to sign plenty of Galacticos only to get gazumped every time. But still, why change what is clearly a winning formula?
With Julen Lopetegui coming in as coach, 4-3-3 will be the dominant formation of the team. And his close relationship with Isco will see the Spaniard take up a prominent position in the side, starting on the left of that front three. He will literally take Cristiano’s spot on the team-sheet, although their roles will be very different, so signing another left-sided wing-forward would make no sense for Madrid and would force Lopetegui to twist his side’s shape or defensively compromise them (because rest assured he will play Isco).
So when it comes to a Ronaldo replacement, Madrid should be targeting a no. 9 – a proper striker to play through the middle with Isco and Gareth Bale (or Marco Asensio) flanking him. And with Kane probably being too pricey, Madrid should look away from the Galactico signings and focus on someone more suitable, like Mauro Icardi.
Mauro Icardi is a world-class striker. A phenomenally rounded forward who only needs better team-mates to begin truly annihilating opponents. He’s been carrying a mediocre Inter for years; playing with an assortment of inconsistent halfwits and fans that hate him half the time. Yet Icardi has 107 goals in 182 games for Inter, and last season had a healthy shot conversion of 29% (29 goals from 101 shots).
Put him in a side where everyone else can actually play, a team made up of world-class creators who are used to supplying a predatory goalscorer (i.e. Real Madrid) and he would easily rack up 40-50 goals, no question about that. And because he’s a no. 9, the side’s shape wouldn’t have to warp itself to cover for him defensively. It would also open them up to being able to sell Karim Benzema and generate even more funds to throw at Brazilian wonderkids to ensure that Barcelona (or anyone) doesn’t beat them to the next Neymar.