Real Madrid should sell Nacho Fernandez in the January window
A week after Real Madrid were slapped with a transfer ban by FIFA, the anticipated run on new players has failed to materialize. The Bernabeu has hardly been a hive of activity since the world governing body announced the sanction, which will run for two windows, preventing the club from making new signings in the summer of 2016 and the winter of 2017.
At least that is the punishment as envisaged by FIFA. As was the case with Barcelona, Real will appeal against the ban, in the first instance to FIFA's Appeals Committee and, if that fails, to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne. Barcelona were able to push back the implementation of the ban placed on their transfer activity in April 2014 until its final resolution at the CAS in December of the same year, allowing the club to sign in the summer transfer window.
Real will take the same course and are confident of either having the ban overturned, or at least stayed so that the club can conduct business over the course of the next few months, rather than the next few days.
That won't stop other cubs pursuing Real's playing staff though, and the latest to be linked with a move is long-serving defender Nacho Fernandez. Napoli have been credited with an interest and Roma reportedly offered €8 million earlier this week for the player's services after Ashley Cole's departure from the Olympic Stadium.
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The Castilla graduate has failed to hold down a first team place after making his debut in 2011 in a 6-3 win over Valencia at the Mestalla. Over the course of two-and-a-half seasons since becoming a full senior squad member at the in the summer of 2013, Nacho has made 71 appearances for the club, with just 36 Liga and Champions League starts.
He has played fewer than 5,000 minutes in total during that period. At the age of 26, it is probably time for Nacho to move on before he allows his career to stagnate at the Bernabeu. There is also a European Championship this summer to consider and Nacho is, at the moment at least, in Vicente del Bosque's mind, having been part of the most recent Roja squad, albeit only when injury ruled out Sergio Ramos and Atletico's Juanfran.
That is essentially Nacho's problem at Real Madrid. He has never been seen as anything other than a stop-gap. Something the Spain manager admires is Nacho's versatility. This season the defender has filled in at left-back and centre-back, and he is equally capable of doing a job on the right when needed.
Unfortunately, Nacho is a defensive jack of all trades, a master of none. He lacks the pace to be an effective full-back in Real's tactical model and suffers from occasional lapses in concentration when deployed in the middle. He is, though, a decent defender and at another club could flourish, if given sufficient pitch time. At Real, Nacho stands no chance of dislodging Ramos, Pepe or Marcelo.
Under Rafa Benitez the defender was used sparingly, with Danilo often preferred in an unfamiliar left-sided role at the expense of the Spain defender when a spate of muscle injuries depleted the squad. Nacho only featured three times at left-back in the first half of the season but played six full Liga matches at the centre of defence with Benitez in charge, due almost exclusively to Ramos' injury problems.
Since Zinedine Zidane took over, Nacho has failed to even make a matchday squad, even with Ramos unavailable for last weekend's 5-1 victory over Sporting. On that occasion, Alvaro Arbeloa and Danilo were on the bench.
Nacho has been a loyal servant to the club since joining the youth ranks from Complutense in 2001 and has never appeared in the press complaining about his lot, or thrown a minor touchline tantrum as a result of being overlooked.
It would be the best thing for both parties to allow Nacho to seek out regular first-team football elsewhere, particularly if he is likely to feature even less frequently under Zidane. That in turn could kick-start Real's winter spending. Zidane stated in his first news conference that he didn't expect much activity in January and club general director Jose Angel Sanchez said in the wake of the FIFA ban that Real "were not thinking about any option other than signing players in the summer," underlining the belief within the Bernabeu that the sanction will be withdrawn entirely, or sufficiently delayed by the appeals process to allow new players to be brought in before the start of next season.
However, with free reign to sign over the next 10 days, the defence could do with a shake-up. Alvaro Arbeloa has played 68 minutes in the league this season and 90 against Malmo, twice, and Cadiz in the Copa del Rey. The veteran's contract expires in June and alongside Nacho he is at the back of the queue for competitive action. Unlike his bench-mate, Arbeloa seems perfectly happy to while away the final months of his contract as a spectator.
Real may not be in the market for anything big during the current window, but perhaps the club should consider the possibility that the ban will be upheld when June arrives. A new left-back to provide competition for Marcelo and another utility defender should be top of Real's shortlist. Nacho has earned the right to move on if he desires and given his status at Real Madrid, the Bernabeu board should not be surprised if he decides to follow Raul Albiol, Gonzalo Higuain and Jose Callejon to the San Paolo.
Rob Train is a freelance writer who lives in Madrid and covers Real Madrid for ESPN. Twitter: @Cafc13Rob.