Cristiano Ronaldo's Real Madrid exit has repercussions across Spanish football
In this country, new Real Madrid coach Julen Lopetegui is partially famous for having fainted, flat out, on live TV in 2006 while demonstrating Spain's World Cup formation via the new invention of touch-screen graphics. It's to be hoped that Lopetegui's reaction to Cristiano Ronaldo dramatically sealing his move away from the Bernabeu to Juventus didn't result in anything similar Tuesday.
But make no mistake, all eyes are trained on the Basque-born manager once again.
Did Lopetegui knowingly sign up for a Ronaldo-less Madrid? To what extent was he briefed, while setting himself up to lose the Spain job on the eve of the World Cup, that Real Madrid's greatest asset was about to be flogged off -- for a price that might buy Neymar's right leg?
Either he knew, and has been planning for this moment from Day 1, or he was in the dark and is now feeling monumentally betrayed. I'd bet on the former.
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Lopetegui, and the task in front of him, forms just one of the ripples Ronaldo's big splash has set in action in this pond.
Gareth Bale, Lionel Messi, La Liga president Javier Tebas, Karim Benzema, Diego Simeone, Antoine Griezmann, Sergio Ramos, Ernesto Valverde, Jan Oblak, the men in charge of transfer strategies at Valencia and Sevilla, and, oh yes, Real Madrid president Florentino Perez: All of these main players on the Spanish football scene will be directly affected by Ronaldo's departure, never mind the marketeers, sponsors, advertisers and television-rights holders. Absolutely no one who cares about football is untouched by this. It's that significant.
But let's start at home, or at least the "home" he's abandoned.
Lopetegui is a loser in this deal. On the plus side, it rids the 51-year-old of a delicate battle to win the Portugal international's respect, trust and obedience. Not only is Ronaldo marked with the tags "fragile, please handle carefully," he is, contradictorily, tough as nails if he doesn't fancy you.
Lopetegui had always spoken highly of Juve's new striker; in fact, during his presentation at the Bernabeu last month, the outgoing Spain coach said: "Cristiano is the player I want by my side always. The best player in the world is obviously at Real Madrid."
That was precisely four weeks ago. Did he already know that Ronaldo had taken an irrevocable decision to end his nine years with the European champions? Perez certainly did.
Many have focused on Ronaldo's words in the immediate aftermath of the Champions League final when he spoke of his time at Real Madrid in the past tense. Just as important, for me, was Perez's first interview, just minutes after Ronaldo had deliberately dropped a huge clue to my colleague Rodrigo Faez on Kiev's Olympic Stadium turf.
Although immediately huffy when asked about Ronaldo's turn of phrase, the Madrid president admitted: "I'm not sure for how long we can keep on doing this."
He meant, both justifiably and sensibly, that for anyone to expect Madrid to add a fourth straight Champions League title at Atletico's Wanda Metropolitano Stadium next June, given the unique nature of a trophy hat trick in this competition, was fanciful, that there's a natural limit to what one squad can achieve without a dip.
But retrospectively, one can deduce that Perez had already written off Ronaldo being on his salary roll from this summer onward. I think that's reasonable to infer. Written off Ronaldo, but expected to retain Zinedine Zidane -- who would walk away from the club five days after that night in Kiev. What a summer for the Madrid president.
So, back to Los Blancos' new coach.
There are clear positives for him in that it will be easier to enforce his rules, his training style, his match tactics, his "law" without Ronaldo than it would have been if Lopetegui needed, first, to convince his captain and then call the rest of the squad to heel because Ronaldo was now onside.
Still, the negatives pile up. To expect Madrid to easily cope with the loss of a goal per game, given their former icon's scoring average, to suggest that they can simply do without an average of 35 goals a season is madness.
For example, as reigning Spanish and European champions, Madrid sold James Rodriguez and Alvaro Morata last summer, thus kissing goodbye the suppliers of 23 of the goals that had just won them La Liga. The incoming signings didn't come close to matching that. Los Blancos went from a 93-point title win to a 17-point deficit on champions Barcelona this May.
Let's say -- although I still view this as extremely unlikely -- Perez manages to gift Real Madrid his heart's desire, Neymar, the Brazilian would come into the Bernabeu as the most expensive transfer in history and knowing that he's 10 times more valuable (and indispensable) to Madrid than a coach who was, at best, second or third choice to take over. It would be a perilous situation. More, Neymar's greatest number of league goals in a season was 24, coming with Messi and Luis Suarez by his side.
If I were Lopetegui, I'd be coming to terms with the fact that if Madrid stumble without Ronaldo, it won't be Perez or superagent Jorge Mendes who gets sacked.
And what of Perez? One hopes he enjoys his feeling of "Now I've got my club back," "Now everyone knows who's really in charge of Madrid." Because times might be tough for a guy whose Galactico ideal will never again be so fully realised, in his lifetime at least, than by the striker Ramon Calderon signed for Madrid and whom Perez -- the fortunate chap that he is -- inherited.
In fiscal terms, the Madrid president has done well. No footballer, even this phenomenon, increases his elite performance stats from the age of 33 onward. To sell ahead of the decline is smart. To engineer a money-back deal after nine solid years of trophies, revenue and worldwide marketability is very shrewd.
But, once more, to lose Zidane and Ronaldo within the space of a few weeks and to try to replace them without the aid of a well-versed director of football, without a philosophy more advanced than "buy the best, most marketable" players, that's a tough ask.
Had Perez been willing to take an even greater risk and move Ronaldo on last summer, then Kylian Mbappe, now recognised as the most promising player on the planet bar none, would already be playing for Madrid and the club's attacking dilemma would be precisely zero. "Sell one of the front three and Kylian will sign," Mbappe's people told Perez last summer. Not to be.
Bale? Boy, what a summer for him. Refuses to leave and the thorn in his side is removed! Madrid need a leader in the attack, Lopetegui is free to play the Welshman down the left (finally!) if he chooses, and destiny beckons for the 28-year-old if he's able to step forward. Pressure? Massive.
As for Messi, is the absence of Ronaldo a depressant or an accelerant? Established logic is that Ronaldo was driven on by Messi's adored status but the Argentina international cared little for the constructed contest between the two. Will that be proved?
The Madrid training ground will, in player terms, now be Ramos' fiefdom. Previously there were two schools: his and Ronaldo's. Not opposed, just different; two camps. Will Ramos', after an indifferent World Cup, expand to fill the gap? Might he, subconsciously, relax his previously indomitable spirit now that he's the Viscount of Valdebebas?
What of the other opposition? Simeone, Oblak and Griezmann, all of whom opted to stay and try to win an irresistible Liga and Champions League double given that the final is at their stadium, can now dream larger. Ronaldo was the factor, above all others, who consistently kept Madrid as Atletico's bête noire in the Copa del Rey, La Liga and Champions League. Now he's gone. It's an opportunity.
Will Sevilla and Valencia spend differently? Attack Madrid differently? Won't Clasicos be less threatening for Valverde and even the Andres Iniesta-less Barcelona? It's a reasonable bet.
But let one clear truth shine through the maybes. It's been Spain's privilege, Madrid's privilege, our privilege to witness this extraordinary man setting new standards and making history. Of course, things will never be quite the same again.