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Real Madrid to swap Ronaldo's 'BBC' for 'NHL' of Neymar, Hazard, Lewandowski?

Cristiano Ronaldo's uncertain future remains the major talking point in Spain, and Wednesday morning's sports papers continued the theme of the week with speculation that Real Madrid will overhaul their entire front line in the summer.

Marca predicts a big shake-up at the Bernabeu in the summer, with the club's feted "BBC" strike force of Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and Cristiano making way for an "NHL" trio of Neymar, Eden Hazard and Robert Lewandowski. It's a story high on speculation but low on quotes to confirm it.

That latest report of a nomenclature-based transfer policy comes midway through what feels like a potentially pivotal week in Ronaldo's career at the Bernabeu.

Monday's AS claimed Ronaldo's "priority" was to return to Manchester United. Then on Tuesday, Record in Portugal reported that club chief Florentino Perez had asked Ronaldo and his agent Jorge Mendes to present proposals for an exit. Both stories have since been confirmed to ESPN FC by a source close to the player.

The latest twist comes from Marca, who say Madrid's stance is "this is not the right moment" for a new deal to be agreed, pointing out the "delicate moment" at the club with Zinedine Zidane's side having won only one of their last five games.

The most read story on Marca's website has more details, arguing that everyone at the Bernabeu should be pulling together to get their season back on track, but if Ronaldo doesn't want to be a part of that "he is free to look for more money elsewhere".

AS' cover Wednesday continues that theme, saying "Cristiano is on the market" and that Madrid will ask for a transfer fee of "at least" €100 million, while he wants €50m a year from whoever will pay it.

Meanwhile, former Madrid president Ramon Calderon, no friend of club chief Perez, told Le Parisien the latest leaks linking Neymar with a move to the Bernabeu next summer were designed both to quieten fan unrest after recent results and to put pressure on Ronaldo to accept he should move on.

"This is a strategy Madrid always have used to distract their fans from the current problems of the team, and sell them a dream for next season," Calderon said. "It is also a way of pressurising Ronaldo into leaving. The president has the idea in his head of using the money freed up to sign Neymar."

Former Madrid defender Manolo Sanchis, now a radio pundit, also suggested Ronaldo's pleas for more money were not well-timed, while recalling how 1950s club legend Alfredo Di Stefano had finished his career elsewhere.

"Madrid do not need to raise his salary," Sanchis said. "If Real Madrid sink this season, he will be on the exit ramp. Di Stefano left. After that, it is no drama if anyone leaves."

Nevertheless, the eight-time La Liga winner said he would keep Ronaldo over Benzema or Bale if there was a summer overhaul.

"If I have to keep just one of the BBC, I would stick with Ronaldo," Sanchis said.

Dermot Corrigan is a Madrid-based football writer who covers La Liga and the Spain national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @dermotmcorrigan


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