Summer 2012: Addressing Real Madrid's True Needs
Hala Madrid! The La Liga champions excitedly look forward for the oncoming 2013 season and another chance at glory.
Despite world-leading play, countless players have been linked to Real Madrid. That should come as no surprise considering how wealthy the Spanish giants are.
What is surprising though is the players currently being connected for a move to Madrid, players whose necessity, and more importantly, impact, are being called into question.
Although they very well might be the world's best, Madrid do need to sign some players, mostly for depth, to continue their dominance and to produce both domestic and European glory.
Depth Behind Khedira
Sami Khedira pairs up next to Xabi Alonso once more going into the 2012/2013 season, but behind Khedira, the depth is thin.
Nuri Sahin could arguably fill this back-up role, although his abilities are not a perfect fit. Jose Mourinho prefers only one deep-lying playmaker and a true defensive stalwart next to him.
Lassana Diarra, should he remain for another season, is tailor made for this role and honestly is more of defensive talent than Khedira. Diarra has seemed like a surplus in Madrid though, since Mourinho's arrival. He's not quite the passer Madrid want and has seemed inconsistent in his opportunities.
The best replacement for Diarra is undoubtedly Javi Martinez of Athletic Bilbao. He is a gigantic midfielder at 6'3 and averages more tackles and interceptions than Khedira. He's also a better passer than the German and familiar with La Liga having played his career in Spain.
Martinez also possess the ability to play as a center back, which is important considering Raul Albiol and Ricardo Carvalho are likely to see their Madrid careers end soon.
The only problem that comes with obtaining the Spanish star is the price tag. Bilbao don't let their players leave cheaply, so an offer of £20 million is likely the lowest that will be accepted.
Martinez is far and away the best fit for what Madrid need and would definitely provide competition for Khedira for a starting role. He is young at 23 years old and as dominant as many of the well-known veteran holding midfielders. The world is not deep in young, tough players like Martinez, so it should be no surprise that there aren't a variety of options.
Depth Behind Ozil
The Brazilian Kaka, surely an all-time legend, has likely seen his time at Madrid run out. After awe-inspiring performances for AC Milan, Kaka garnered intense interest from Real Madrid and made the then-most expensive transfer of all-time to the Spanish capital. He's played at a good level but never met his expectations, largely due to injury.
Why does his departure matter? Because he's the only player suited to come on for Mesut Ozil.
Ozil, an undeniable talent in midfield, has led Europe's top leagues in assists for two straight years. He is also only 23. While Ozil's spot in the starting line-up is surely a lock, he needs depth behind him in the form of a creative midfielder. Mourinho rarely allows Ozil to play the full 90 minutes, so a signing makes sense.
Personally, I am a big fan of Madrid using their academy for their needs when possible; however, in this case it seems there is really no Castilla suited to cover Ozil.
Rumors are buzzing about what seems to be the imminent signing of Tottenham midfielder Luka Modric. Modric, 26 years old, has been impressive from Tottenham in his time at the London club, revealing himself to be among the world's elite passers.
Questions abound about the transfer, though. As Tottenham's principle midfielder, the cost for Modric must be huge, with the Daily Mail stating Tottenham manager Andre Villas-Boas is demanding £35 million for his star. Madrid undoubtedly have the money, but do fans really want to see them spend that much on a player who seems destined to play second fiddle?
There must also be questions about Modric's talents in comparison to Ozil's. Ozil is a clear creator, making up the passes that lead immediately to the goals, hence his 17 league assists in just 30 games. In contrast, Modric creates for the suppliers in a manner similar to Barcelona's Xavi or Madrid's own Xabi Alonso. Modric, in 36 league starts, assisted just four goals. Is he more suited to play in Alonso's spot?
And, given that question, if he is to be Alonso's back-up, who is Ozil's back-up, and what is to become of Nuri Sahin, the Turkish midfielder who shone brightly for Borussia Dortmund but struggled for playing time due to injury in his debut year for Madrid?
My personal favorite for the attacking midfielder role is Sao Paolo's Lucas Moura. The Brazilian at just 19 years old has already established himself as an intelligent midfielder with world class dribbling and an ability to create and score.
Lucas' transfer would likely be around £35 million, but the money would be well spent for such a young and technically gifted star. He is a perfect replacement for Kaka and could also serve as a winger if needed. For me, this signing makes more sense given how bright a future Lucas will surely have and how well he fills in for Kaka.
Depth Behind Casillas
Iker Casillas is arguably the world's best keeper and has been for several years. He's been a favorite at Madrid and served as the captain for both club and country. He's won every accolade on the planet and, still only 31, has already made his case for being the greatest of all-time.
Behind him is the unheralded Antonio Adan. Adan came through the Castilla ranks, and although not posting overly impressive numbers, he is certainly capable of playing as a starter for a big club. Adan's fate has found him trapped behind the legendary Casillas with no hope of taking a regular first team spot.
Realizing this, the Spanish keeper has opted to not sign an extension and will see his contract expire in 2014. Real Madrid will need to find a young replacement for Adan, perhaps thinking about a player to serve as Casillas' back-up and future replacement. Tomas Mejias of Castilla might be a suitable replacement; although, he lacks the impressiveness to actually replace Casillas.
Borussia Mönchengladbach keeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen, at only 20 years of age, has been incredible in his playing time. The young German recorded a dazzling 103 saves in his 34 starts for his Bundesliga club. Although not rumored to make a switch to Real Madrid (Madrid don't really seem to be in the market for a keeper yet), he is young enough to be in his prime when Casillas retires.
Once Adan actually leaves, Madrid will undoubtedly be scanning the market for a suitable replacement.
A Third Striker
Karim Benzema and Gonzalo Higuain have formed a deadly striking tandem. Whether used together or as subs for each other, the two are dominant and each constantly makes a case to be first choice. Both netted over 20 times in La Liga last season, and, considering the English Premier League had just three strikers total with over 20 goals, it's no surprise that both players are highly coveted by other clubs.
Higuain seems the more likely to depart despite outscoring Benzema. The Argentine started less than his French counterpart and doesn't quite fit into the offense as well as Benzema. That said, both are committed to stay for the 2012/2013 season. Considering both are just 24, the prospect of the pair continuing to play along side each other is mouthwatering.
The fact of the matter, though, is that with so much talent crowded at the striker position, one player will surely want to leave, and the rumors about the players never seem to stop. Regardless of the fact that both are expected to stay this season, if one is injured, Madrid will find themselves with just one striker, in a similar position they found themselves in in 2010.
Jose Callejon, a forward who came through Castilla before being sold to Espanyol and eventually returning to Madrid, is likely that third striker. I personally feel that his 15 goals across all competitions overestimate his abilities.
Callejon has found success as a sub in blow-out matches and has never made a name for himself as any sort of game-changer or impact player. Mourinho likely brought in the Spaniard for depth behind the strikers and winger Angel Di Miara, and while Callejon is okay at being a regular sub, he really lacks the ability one would expect in a Madrid player.
Alvaro Morata should be the third striker. A Castilla member himself, Morata is just 19 and, for Spain's U-19 squad, has netted 11 times in 13 games. For Castilla last season, he scored 17 times in 37 games. Mourinho is a confirmed fan of the Spanish youngster and has seen limited playing time as a sub.
Morata's Castilla compatriot Jose Luis Mato, better known as Joselu, has also been stunning for the youth academy. After scoring 14 times for Castilla in the 2010/2011 season, he upped his play in the 2011/2012 season scoring 26 times in his 36 appearances. His performances have not gone unnoticed by the rest of the world either, as clubs like West Ham of England have submitted offers for the talented starlet.
For this role, Madrid should look towards its youth for promising young players with plenty of potential.
A New Right Back
Say what you will about Alvaro Arbeloa. He's an okay right back, but his team's accomplishments (including World Cups and La Liga titles) far outweigh his own merit, though. His consistency is appreciated but largely overshadowed by his underwhelming defense and lackluster offense.
Just last season Arbeloa wouldn't have found a place for his club or country with phenom Sergio Ramos on the flanks. But as Ramos has begun to establish himself as one of the world's premier center backs, Arbeloa has found a home.
Looking at Real Madrid's starting back-line (Marcelo, Pepe, Ramos, Arbeloa) it is evident who the weakest link is. Pepe and Ramos make up one of the world's best center-half pairs, and Marcelo is likely the world's best young left back. Arbeloa is totally outclassed.
Many have pointed out how important it is for Real Madrid to sign a right back, but not much has come by in the way of rumors.
Inter's own Maicon has recently been connected with his old manager (per Metro), but that signing would still leave plenty to be desired. Maicon is well past his prime, turning 31 this month. His age also counts against him considering how young this Real Madrid team is and how focused the management seems to be on young stars for a sustainable future. Maicon's signing would work well for at most two seasons before age finally overwhelms the Brazilian.
Better signings are out there. Ajax right back Gregory van der Wiel has been brilliant for his club, and at 24 years of age, he still has good years in front of him. He's a pacy right back who could be as vital to the right side of the attack as Marcelo has been on the left.
His consistency has been called into question though, and the competition in the Dutch league is not on par with that of La Liga or the Champions League. How would he fair for the Spanish giants?
Other rumored options include the likes of Branislov Ivanovic, the Chelsea right back who has fared well for the European Champions (per ESPN). Ivanovic has been resistant to the transfer rumors, and with Jose Bosingwa's departure, Chelsea are also against letting their man leave.
Although not many rumors abound about other players, talents like Lukasz Piszczek of Borussia Dortmund and Theodor Gebre Selassie of Werder Bremen are still out there to be had. The talent isn't deep in the world at right back, but an improvement must be made for Madrid to stay on top in Spain.