Real Madrid may have gotten off to a shaky start to the season in La Liga, but in head coach Jose Mourinho and star player Cristiano Ronaldo, they have two men who can engineer a change in their fortunes.
Although they are lagging eight points behind league leaders and Barcelona at this early stage in the season, the 2-2 draw Real secured last Sunday at the Camp Nou was vital to them keeping in touch with their bitter rivals.
Ronaldo scored both goals in the latest installment of the Clasico, while Mourinho had had his team well set up to counter Barca's inevitable hogging of the possession on the break.
But if either of those two men were to leave the club tomorrow, which one would Real miss more?
Ronaldo's contribution is easier to quantify in pure numerical terms. In total, the Portugal international has scored an incredible 160 in 155 official games since joining the club in 2009. This season he already has 14 goals in only 11 appearances. Just for good measure, he has also chipped in with 36 assists since arriving from Manchester United for £80 million, a fee which remains a world record.
However, Real won nothing in his first season at the club. It would be harsh to blame that barren campaign on former boss Manuel Pellegrini, especially considering that year came during an era when Barcelona were at the peak of their powers, but any year without a trophy is a disaster for Los Merengues.
So the club turned to the only manager they could—the one who somehow stopped Barca from retaining the Champions League that season and went on to win it himself for a second different club.
Mourinho left Inter Milan as European champions in 2010 to take over at the Santiago Bernabeu. At the end of his first season in charge, Real beat Barcelona to win the Copa del Rey. The following season, they won the league. Now, in his third term in the Spanish capital, the aim is simple: to win the club their 10th European Cup, and their first for more than a decade.
But neither of the two Portuguese have been complete saints during their time at the club. Mourinho had a tough time winning over the Spanish media who—like the Italian press before—did not fall head over heels for him as the English did during his time at Chelsea. He was often abrasive in front of the cameras—and still is—and behind closed doors he was also fighting battles.
After a year-long power struggle with general manager Jorge Valdano, it was the Argentinian who ended up leaving. Never before under club president Florentino Perez has a head coach at Real Madrid had so much control, but Mourinho has used it to win trophies.
However, always at pains to be seen as his own man, Mourinho will periodically remind everyone that he will one day move on, that he is the master of his destiny and not a full-blown company man.
For Ronaldo it was different. He joined the club which he had loved and admired ever since he was a boy, and upon getting his wish did little else apart from perform on the pitch with almost freakish consistency.
But earlier this season during a 3-0 win over Granada, a problem emerged. Ronaldo scored two goals in that game, but celebrated neither. After the match, he said it was because he was "sad" about his current situation at the club. It's not hard to work out what he means.
Ever since joining Real, Ronaldo has slid down the list of the world's highest paid players to the point where—according to Marca—there are now nine footballers on bigger contracts than him.
Real may have to double his current contract of €10 million a year to keep him happy. That would put him on a par with Samuel Eto'o, and take him way above archrival Lionel Messi.
But then, Ronaldo is worth the investment. His star power is enough to shift shirts and other merchandise in such sheer volume that his world-record transfer fee has almost paid for itself. With the No.7 arguably outperforming reigning World Player of the Year in this calendar year, Real may have to pay up if they want to keep a potential Ballon d'Or happy.
Mourinho may not be such a commercially viable asset, although they can expect to be well compensated if—or rather, when—he decides to move on. That is unlikely to happen until he brings European football's biggest prize back to the club which defines the competition more than any other.
For him to leave the Bernabeu without becoming the first coach ever to win the European cup with three different clubs would be seen as a failure for Mourinho. That was his explicit brief upon taking the job.
While it would be a major disappointment for Ronaldo to not win the Champions League with Real, the responsibility for doing so does not rest so squarely on his shoulders.
Were Real to lose either man, they would not only be weakened significantly, but they would also be strengthening a major rival for that European crown, as any club which could afford them would have to be one of Europe's biggest players.
In that respect, for either to leave Real Madrid at this moment in time is almost unthinkable.
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