Where’s Ronaldo’s replacement?

Real Madrid were stunned by the loss of club legend and all-time top scorer Cristiano Ronaldo to Juventus in July, so stunned, in fact, that it appears they have forgotten to sign a replacement.

More than six weeks after the preening Portuguese absconded to Turin in search of greater appreciation, Ronaldo’s throne at the Santiago Bernabeu remains empty. Along with about half the seats.

Fractionally over 48,000 supporters watched Madrid comfortably ease past Getafe on Sunday with 2-0 win, in a performance that lacked sparkle.

That is natural, of course, with new coach Julen Lopetegui yet to get his ideas across to his players fully, and given the presence of talents like Isco and Marco Asensio, at some point we can expect Madrid to play with more pizazz.

It is, however, worrying that so few turned up to watch their season opener, even accounting for the extremely late 2215CEST kick-off time.

Yes, some fans were still on holiday, far away from the choking heat in Spain’s capital and watching the game in breezy open-air bars by the sea along Spanish coastline.

And yet these factors are nothing new. Spanish summers are always hot. La Liga matches always kick off late in August, precisely for that reason.

This was the lowest attendance for a league game the club has recorded in over nine years – precisely before Ronaldo arrived from Manchester United in 2009.

On May 24 that year, Madrid suffered a 3-1 home defeat by Real Mallorca, with 44,270 fans in attendance, with last weekend’s 48,466 the lowest since that date.

Back then, Los Blancos were in a deep depression, after Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona stormed the Bernabeu to record a 6-2 win and take a huge step towards the Spanish title, which they went on to win the day before the Mallorca match.

 

and Marco Asensio, at some point we can expect Madrid to play with more pizazz.

It is, however, worrying that so few turned up to watch their season opener, even accounting for the extremely late 2215CEST kick-off time.

Yes, some fans were still on holiday, far away from the choking heat in Spain’s capital and watching the game in breezy open-air bars by the sea along Spanish coastline.

And yet these factors are nothing new. Spanish summers are always hot. La Liga matches always kick off late in August, precisely for that reason.

This was the lowest attendance for a league game the club has recorded in over nine years – precisely before Ronaldo arrived from Manchester United in 2009.

On May 24 that year, Madrid suffered a 3-1 home defeat by Real Mallorca, with 44,270 fans in attendance, with last weekend’s 48,466 the lowest since that date.

Back then, Los Blancos were in a deep depression, after Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona stormed the Bernabeu to record a 6-2 win and take a huge step towards the Spanish title, which they went on to win the day before the Mallorca match.

Although the mood around Madrid is by no means as dark now, with the club having written their name in the history books yet again by winning a third consecutive Champions League title, there are plenty of worrying signs.

Few can understand how Real hope to wrestle the title back off Barcelona, a team they finished 17 points behind last season, with Ronaldo gone and no replacement signed.

Last season, Ronaldo hit 44 goals in 44 games, with the club’s next top scorer Gareth Bale on 21.

The Welshman is the biggest star left at the club bar Sergio Ramos and he made a good start to the season against Getafe by scoring, and helping to create the opener for Dani Carvajal, showing just why new Real coach Julen Lopetegui believes Bale can help fill the considerable void left by Ronaldo.

We recognise Cristiano as one of the most important players in the recent history of Real Madrid, he vocalised his desire to leave and the club gave him all the facilities to do so.,” the former Spain boss mused in July. “We wish him all the luck in the world.

“But when it comes to our players, Bale and everyone else, we are completely convinced we have the players to move forward.

“Bale is a magnificent player with qualities and we are convinced he and everyone else can fill the void.”

Can Bale really be relied upon, though? The injury-prone winger hasn’t played more than 40 games in a single season since 2014-15, so expecting him to post Ronald-like numbers over the course of an entire campaign would be foolish.

It’s difficult to see Karim Benzema making up the deficit either. The Frenchman has been a fine servant, for both Real and Ronaldo, but last season he managed a paltry five league goals and just 12 in total.

The No.9 may get the chance to be more selfish with Ronaldo gone but, at 30, his best years are behind him.

By contrast, Asensio has a bright future ahead of him, although the 22-year-old would need to improve improbably to fill the huge gap left by Ronaldo.

Although these players are good enough to easily sweep up six points from Real’s next two league games, against Girona and Leganes, the true test of the post-CR7 era begins in September.

Trips to Athletic Bilbao and Sevilla are compounded by the first Madrid derby of the season, with Real hosting rivals Atletico, as well as the Champions League starting again.

That is the competition in which Real will miss Ronaldo the most. The Portuguese forward has a priceless knack for scoring when it matters most in Europe’s premier competition.

The forward’s superhuman athleticism, aided by sparing rotation by former boss Zinedine Zidane, helped him stay fit for all of Madrid’s key games, but Lopetegui has few resources at his disposal, so it is hard to see Bale or Benzema getting any such rest.

Of course, one of the reasons Real have not replaced Ronaldo is the cost of alternatives on the transfer market. To sign any of Chelsea’s Eden Hazard, Tottenham’s Harry Kane or Paris Saint-Germain duo Neymar and Kylian Mbappe, they would have had to pay more than €200 million.

Real Madrid president Florentino Perez was once renowned for signing galacticos regardless of the price but he has tightened his purse strings.

Now it is Barcelona who lavish huge triple-figure fees on signings like Ousmane Dembele and Philippe Coutinho, while the last time Madrid spent big on a player was when they signed James Rodriguez from Monaco in 2014 for €75 million (£68m/$87m).

However, failure to replace Ronaldo can hurt Madrid in the pocket too, starting with the falling attendances. While they will without doubt pick up, Madrid will miss out on income until the fans return.

Equally, potential brand partners will be less keen to join forces with Madrid now Ronaldo isn’t wearing the shirt any more. Players like the Portuguese are huge draws and have their own set of fans, who aren’t loyal to the club but the footballer himself.

That was highlighted by Madrid losing on million followers on Twitter after Ronaldo left, although a club source indicated this was related to the social media network deleting fake accounts.

Ronaldo shirts have been hanging in shop windows for nearly a decade but with no new star to replace him, Madrid are expected to sell less replica kits.

Their biggest summer signing so far was Chelsea’s Thibaut Courtois and goalkeeper kits are rarely seen on the terraces.

And the sporting consequences of Ronaldo’s departure could also have repercussions when it comes to signing big-money deals. If Madrid stop winning trophies, potential marketing arrangements will haul in less money, which will impact club finances.

In turn, that would limit potential spending money, making it harder for the European champions to further exert their dominance on world football.

In short, the lack of a Ronaldo replacement could end up costing Real dearly, on and off the field.

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