Real Madrid should resist temptation to go after Betis star Dani Ceballos
Tuesday, the Fourth of July, was a gloriously silly day in 2017's silly season. While Madrid newspapers claimed that Real Betis' young star, Dani Ceballos, was bound to join Real Madrid, Barcelona media had the same player on their covers, apparently dying to play for ... Barcelona. Needless to say, both can't be right. It might well be that neither is.
The fact is the 20-year-old has become one of the biggest sensations of the summer after his outstanding performances in the European Under-21 Championship in Poland. In a star-studded Spanish squad that lost the final to Germany, at first Ceballos did not look like the main name to follow, but the Betis playmaker quickly changed that, stealing the headlines match after match.
We do know a few things about Ceballos. Gifted with the ball, much harder to push around than he looks and with remarkable swagger for his age, the young midfielder has enjoyed an excellent season with Betis. He plays with the aplomb of a veteran, bosses his teammates around and can argue with an opponent and the referee at the same time, something that shows his extrovert personality and usually means trouble from a disciplinary standpoint.
For the U21 Spanish team, he played in a more advanced role than he usually did with Betis, but it's obvious that he needs to be in contact with the ball as much as possible. He can either be the main reference to build his team's play from the back, or he can play closer to the opponent's box, trying to get forwards involved. The fact that his main football idols are Andres Iniesta and Isco speaks volumes about his preferred position on the pitch.
With a release clause of €15 million, Ceballos looks like a steal and, at age 20, should be an excellent long-term investment. However, is he what Real Madrid need at this point in time?
Danilo's exit made it evident that the defensive line requires a new full-back as an alternative to Dani Carvajal. However, Zinedine Zidane has so many midfield options that it is hard to see where Ceballos could fit.
With the trio of usual suspects -- Luka Modric, Casemiro and Toni Kroos -- in top form, plus Isco, Mateo Kovacic and Lucas Vazquez almost as solid as the starters and the young Marcos Llorente back from his loan at Alaves, the squad's midfield looks as solid, young and versatile as one can remember. On top of that, at this date, James Rodriguez is still a member of the squad, and one that, in a subpar season, scored eight times and assisted another six in just 13 La Liga matches played. That isn't a bad option to have coming off the bench.
On the hype of the European U21 Championship, Ceballos looks like a deal that must be done, but the reality is that he has no place in the current squad, and it looks like he won't for at least a couple of seasons.
Signing Ceballos to prevent Barcelona from getting him and then leaving him on the bench at this stage of his career does not look like an honest approach for the player. The most reasonable option seems a sign-and-loan to another team, where the youngster can develop his game and do his best to make the national team's list for Russia 2018.
Spain's coach Julen Lopetegui rates him highly, but surely Ceballos will benefit from a full season of football to strengthen his candidacy for the national team.
In addition to that, it's fair to remember that Real Madrid's loan policy has been extremely successful the past few years, with players such as Carvajal, Casemiro, Marco Asensio and Vazquez benefitting from great experiences in the top flight before coming back to the Santiago Bernabeu.
During the silly season, the temptation to act on impulse is hard for some clubs to avoid. Real Madrid have been much more careful with their moves in recent seasons, and hopefully they will stick to that policy in Ceballos' case as well.
Eduardo Alvarez covers Real Madrid and the Spanish national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @alvarez.