No one can replace Cristiano Ronaldo, but Real Madrid could face a summer of restructuring if the Portuguese superstar has truly decided to leave.
Various reports in the Portuguese, English, and Spanish press Friday explained that fresh allegations of tax evasion upset the 32-year-old and set off a mad scramble to calm down the player.
Related – Report: Zidane pleads with Ronaldo after ‘I quit’ bombshell
Although he still has a €1-billion release clause, as well as a contract until June 2021, let’s indulge in some fantasy. Here are five players Madrid should consider for a post-Ronaldo future:
Kylian Mbappe (AS Monaco)
Reportedly the subject of a world-record €120-million bid from Los Blancos, AS Monaco’s 18-year-old phenom, Kylian Mbappe, is a star in the making. He finished the 2016-17 season strong, scoring 18 goals in his last 22 matches across all competitions, and showed incredible maturity in front of stellar opposition in the Champions League.
Investing in Mbappe now would give Madrid a ready starter for the present and future. Although the Monaco product has indicated he will take his time to decide his next step, and has not altogether ruled out staying another year in the principality, Mbappe would offer a long-term solution to life without Ronaldo.
Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich)
Links with Real Madrid dissipated once Robert Lewandowski signed a new four-year contract with Bayern Munich, but that doesn’t necessarily preclude another move for the Polish international. Contracts mean less and less in this sport, with big clubs tempting players to terminate agreements years before they expire.
One of world football’s last true No. 9s, Lewandowski, who recently broke the 30-goal mark for a second consecutive Bundesliga campaign, would guarantee goals and ensure Madrid remains an offensive juggernaut.
It remains to be seen whether Lewandowski can win the Champions League at Bayern, and a move to the two-time defending European champion would improve his odds.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Borussia Dortmund)
Everyone knows by now that Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang pledged to his late grandfather he would play for Madrid at some point. Speculation of a switch from Borussia Dortmund has picked up again, and he could well keep his promise this summer.
Dortmund CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke said in January he would thinking about selling the Gabonese forward if an €80-million offer arrived, and Madrid would certainly have the cash to tempt BVB if the Spanish club must sell Ronaldo.
Though Aubameyang has a tendency to miss wide-open chances, he can still rack up the goals. Finishing ahead of Lewandowski as the Bundesliga’s top scorer, the 28-year-old has the pace to carry out Madrid’s devastating counter-attacks and play off of Karim Benzema.
Eden Hazard (Chelsea)
If club president Florentino Perez wanted more of a wider threat to occupy Ronaldo’s former position on the left wing, Eden Hazard would fit in perfectly.
The Belgian’s dribbling ability and devastating runs would make him an instant attraction at the Santiago Bernabeu. He is weak defensively, but in a stacked starting XI featuring a balanced midfield and strong full-backs – including Marcelo on Hazard’s usual left-hand side – the 26-year-old would have the opportunity to go all-out on the attack.
Paulo Dybala (Juventus)
The most versatile of Madrid’s options is probably Paulo Dybala, who in his first two seasons at Juventus has played as either a striker or trequartista. The 23-year-old can score from virtually anywhere on the pitch, link the midfield with the attack, and play smart passes into the penalty area. He would give manager Zinedine Zidane the chance to play different formations, as he has already done before with Isco at the top of a midfield diamond.
With Juventus teammate Dani Alves suggesting that Dybala must leave the Bianconeri to progress, perhaps the Argentine would consider Madrid as a necessary step up in his career.
(Photos courtesy: Action Images)