by Daniel Roodt
Real Madrid have held onto their ageing stars for too long, and it’s about to become an issue.
Real Madrid currently have six players who are thirty years or older. Three of these are integral players who start every week. Two were the clubs’ top goal scorers last season, despite one being a centre back. And one is, of course, the captain.
The club’s squad planning has been abysmal, as they are still reliant on ageing stars and don’t seem to have a clear plan to replace them. The main issue is that replacements have been purchased at great expense, but they are not getting the necessary game time.
Moving on from some of the best players in the world is understandably an extremely challenging process. When you have a squad that won three UEFA Champions Leagues in a row, with minimal squad turnover, it is difficult to just move on from those players.
Results usually end up taking a dip when young players are phased in, which usually means that the whole process is put on hold to steady the ship. These players are also generally very influential in the dressing room, which means that they cannot be completely frozen out or sold.
Real Madrid have two players who are vital starters that will need phasing out in the next year or two. These are Sergio Ramos and Karim Benzema who are 34 and 33, respectively. Both are still at the top of their game and were the club’s top goalscorers last season.
Their brilliant performances make them almost impossible to replace without suffering a significant dip in performance in the short term. As a result, their supposed replacements have failed to get consistent game time, and usually only play in the odd cup game, or when a starter is injured.
Eder Militao, who was signed from Porto in 2019 for 50 million Euros from Porto and was considered as one of the most exciting centre backs in Europe at the time, has barely played. The young Brazillian defender has only played about 1200 minutes of football since joining the club.
He has also been given a few opportunities in the Champions League, but these have also been limited. Furthermore, one of these games was a crucial knockout tie against Manchester City, where he was essentially forced to start, because of Ramos’s suspension.
Games of this nature are not necessarily helpful for developing a young player, especially if they have not been given consistent opportunities in easier matches in a more settled environment.
As a result of all of this, Militao’s development has stalled, his market value has dropped, and he hasn’t been able to establish a relationship on the field with his teammates. This may soon prove to be a massive problem, as club captain Sergio Ramos will be out of contract at the end of the season, and talks to extend his deal have reportedly stalled.
Even though the club is struggling financially due to the Covid-19 pandemic, big spending is still expected on a ‘galactico’ forward like Kylian Mbappe or Erling Haaland. This means the club likey cannot afford to spend money on a Ramos replacement, especially when they have Militao on their books.
If Ramos does not sign a new contract and leaves at the end of the season, head coach Zinedine Zidane may be rueing the missed opportunity to phase Militao into the squad. This is because Militao will be expected to fill the void left by Ramos, but he hasn’t been given an adequate opportunity to develop as a player and integrate himself into the team.
It is a similar story with Karim Benzema’s replacement, Luka Jovic who was also signed in 2019 from Eintracht Frankfurt for over 60 million Euros. Jovic has only played a combined 580 minutes of league football since he arrived. In that same period, Benzema played over 4000 minutes in La Liga.
While Jovic has been undeniably poor on the rare occasion he did start, he has not been given a proper opportunity to gain his confidence. Even on the odd occasion when the team lined up with two strikers, a natural winger was preferred to partner Benzema.
Real Madrid are now in a situation where he will either be sold at a loss, or he will be thrown in the deep end in a side he has little experience playing with. This will no doubt lead to a period of poor performances, which will be detrimental to the young Serb’s confidence.
This poor squad planning has left the club in a very worrying situation. Key players will either be leaving or retiring in the next few seasons and right now their replacements are wallowing on the bench. They are not being given significant game time to develop, and eventually replace the ageing stars.
In a time where the club will be unable to rip the squad up and replace everyone with massive names, the decision to not properly phase these young players in becomes even more baffling.
Real Madrid and Zinedine Zidane need to act quickly and start playing these young players or be left in an awkward predicament where they need to choose between a period of poor on-field performances, or large debt for the foreseeable future.
*If you want to listen to a more in-depth analysis of the current problems at Real Madrid, then listen to the I Prefer not to Speak podcast. Listen via the links below.