Real Madrid's Player Departures: What They Mean for Los Blancos
It's been a summer of upheaval at the Santiago Bernabeu.
This may be surprising given that Real Madrid won the Champions League and Copa Del Rey titles mere months ago. But it's not exactly shocking upon deeper reflection, given Florentino Perez's penchant for disrupting winning teams to make room for glitzy superstar signings.
The departure of key players from the 2013-14 season has caused much consternation among fans and even some players. The team's serial record-breaking goalscorer Cristiano Ronaldo strongly hinted that he was unhappy with Real Madrid's player departures, in comments tweeted by ESPN's Dermot Corrigan. Meanwhile, defensive lynchpin Sergio Ramos was reported by Goal.com as saying he would "keep his opinions to himself."
A couple of players—third-choice goalkeeper Dani Pacheco and two-time loanee Nuri Sahin—have departed without anybody noticing or caring. But the following four major departures all stand to have a big impact on Real Madrid going forward.
Diego Lopez to AC Milan
The Galician giant had been at the center of a firestorm ever since Jose Mourinho made him Real Madrid's first-choice goalkeeper ahead of Iker Casillas in early 2013. The decision caused heaps of controversy and divided much of the club's fanbase and media supporters.
Last season, new coach Carlo Ancelotti took the unique decision of rotating goalkeepers, installing Diego Lopez as first choice in La Liga and Casillas in the Champions League and Copa Del Rey. Lopez went on to have a good individual season while Casillas looked unconvincing before going on to have a blunder-strewn World Cup.
While the logical decision—as I have previously argued on B/R—would have been to part ways with Casillas, Real Madrid instead chose to force out Lopez and replace him with Keylor Navas, despite Lopez wanting to stay, per Marca.
Conclusion: Diego Lopez was sacrificed so Keylor Navas could be brought in and the Casillas-Lopez controversy would be ended. With Casillas short on form and confidence, new signing Navas stands a good chance of claiming the starting goalkeeper spot this season.
Xabi Alonso to Bayern Munich
This was a transfer that took everybody—teammates, coach, club, fans and the media—completely by shock.
Xabi Alonso had been the undisputed fulcrum and orchestrator of Real Madrid's midfield for years. I would go so far as to say that he was often Los Blancos' most indispensable player, even ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo.
The Basque struggled for form and fitness at times last season, but was still a key first-choice player. The arrival of Toni Kroos was not a threat to Alonso, who plays in a deeper position.
However, it appears that having won every major trophy with Real Madrid, Alonso wanted a new challenge to see out his career. The midfield maestro was talked into a move to Bayern Munich by Pep Guardiola, as reported by ESPN FC.
Alonso's decision came at a highly inconvenient time for Real Madrid, who did not have time to secure a replacement.
While Luka Modric and Toni Kroos are both among the best central midfielders in the world, neither of them quite possesses Alonso's "quarter-back" attributes. Meanwhile, Sami Khedira offers work rate and defensive prowess but lacks passing skills.
Conclusion: Alonso's departure to a direct Champions League rival leaves Real Madrid unbalanced and shorn of its midfield leader. Unless the inexperienced Asier Illarramendi steps up in a big way, Real Madrid may have to dip into the transfer-market waters this January to secure a holding midfielder.
Angel Di Maria to Manchester United
Given that Real Madrid had a player who willingly played out of position without a complaint, won them the Champions League, had a fine World Cup and didn't want to leave the club, you would think that club president Florentino Perez would do everything to get him to stay.
Perez often thinks and acts in a parallel universe however, and was loathe to give Angel Di Maria the improved contract and unconditional affection he richly deserved. So when a desperate Manchester United threw €75 million on the table, Perez was only too happy to see the back of the Argentine and balance the books on vanity-signing James Rodriguez.
In a letter to Real Madrid fans published on MARCA, Di Maria rued that he was not valued by the club and was essentially forced out.
Conclusion: At first, the loss of Di Maria didn't seem catastrophic given that central midfield was not his natural position and he was unlikely to continue there this season. However, the departure of Xabi Alonso now makes the loss of Di Maria more concerning.
Real Madrid have lost out on a player capable of unbalancing defenses as well as harassing opposition attackers, while offering uncompromising work rate and running.
Alvaro Morata to Juventus
Alvaro Morata's departure is easily the least controversial of the lot.
The youngster has shown much promise over the last few seasons, and even briefly threatened to usurp Karim Benzema as starting striker early last season when the Frenchman was going through a lean patch.
However, Benzema's return to form consigned Morata to a bench role that didn't do his development any good. The Real Madrid Castilla graduate was overly eager to impress during his limited minutes on the pitch, often over-thinking things rather than playing his natural game.
He did make a substitute appearance in last season's Champions League final, but will largely look upon the 2013-14 season as a disappointment.
I previously argued on B/R that Morata needed to seek a move to pastures new, and both the player and Real Madrid also came to this conclusion. Despite being coveted by teams in Spain and England, Morata ultimately opted for a move to Juventus. Real Madrid inserted a buy-back clause into the deal allowing them to buy back the player before the end of his contract with the Old Lady.
Conclusion: Morata's departure is good for the player and for Real Madrid. If he impresses at Juventus, there is every possibility that Los Blancos could bring him back in a couple of years.