Rumours of a potential summer clear-out at Real Madrid are surfacing, with the latest reports pointing at forward Cristiano Ronaldo and centre-back Sergio Ramos as possible candidates to leave the club during the upcoming transfer window.
That's according to Marca's Jose Felix Diaz, who writes the fates of several big-name players will be up to manager Zinedine Zidane and his willingness to improve the club's fortunes. Much of the optimism surrounding his appointment has evaporated in the last few weeks, and the 1-0 loss against rivals Atletico Madrid has all but killed Los Blancos' chances of winning the Spanish title.
Zidane was never expected to deliver a domestic title in his first season in charge, and some major decisions will be made this summer regarding the direction the club will take. Per Diaz, Ronaldo and Ramos are the two players whose heads could be on the chopping block:
The club knows that Cristiano Ronaldo remains a highly sought after player and he could be the first to leave the Bernabeu. The Portuguese striker appears eager to stay on, but, every so often, he hints at something else. Ramos's case is different. The Spaniard penned a new deal last summer and everything points to him staying at the club. That said, Los Blancos want to see him show more leadership skills out on the pitch.
Of the two, Ronaldo certainly seems the more likely to leave. The Portugal international was linked with a move to French champions Paris Saint-Germain earlier this season, and when he was spotted whispering something in PSG manager Laurent Blanc's ear during their UEFA Champions league clash, the rumour mill went into overdrive, per Sport's Alejandro Alcazar.
Local media were anything but happy with his behaviour at the time, with Marca dedicating their front-page to the rumours (h/t football blogger Jonas Giaever):
"WHAT IS CRISTIANO PLAYING AT?" - Marca tomorrow are not happy about Ronaldo's PSG flirt pic.twitter.com/4gCyComIRJ— Jonas Giæver (@CheGiaevara) November 7, 2015
The rumours have died down a bit in the past few months, but with Real now virtually out of the Spanish title race, they'll likely return in the near future.
Ronaldo remains one of the most physically gifted players around, a prolific forward capable of scoring almost at will. He's one of the most valuable names in all of sports, and even at the age of 31, his production on the pitch is still impressive.
His value will start to drop in the coming years, however, as his skill set will start to erode. If Real are contemplating a sale, now would be the time to ensure a positive return on their investment.
PSG―or another interested club―would be willing to pay top dollar for Ronaldo, who doesn't look like he'll slow down significantly in the next two years. Here's a look at some of his recent highlights:
Ramos' case is a little different. The centre-back ranks as one of the best defenders ever to don the iconic white kit of Real, and he's been with the club for more than a decade. He's still just 29 years old, and most fans likely hope he spends the rest of his career with Los Blancos and retires as a club legend.
But there have been strong rumours of a rift between him and president Florentino Perez in recent years, per Marca's Hugo Cerezo, and the Spain international didn't help matters when he said the players are "pawns" in the hands of "king" Perez in an interview in December, per beIN Sports.
Ramos has spoken for the team as well in recent weeks and even tried to protect Ronaldo when he made seemingly disparaging comments about some of his team-mates after the loss against Atletico, per AS (h/t ESPN FC):
If anyone knows Cristiano, it is me. I don't think he wanted to attack any of his teammates, but perhaps he did not express his opinion in the best way.
As captain, I feel proud of my teammates' work and in difficult times we must emphasise this. But everyone is free to have an opinion.
I think when results go against you there is more negativity, more excuses and more opinions. It is tough, we have lost a derby and the league is now almost impossible
Per Diaz, Ramos was strongly linked with a move to Manchester United last summer, and after an inconsistent season, the Red Devils will likely venture into the transfer market intent on rebuilding their team again next summer.
Perez might be tempted to hear out the Mancunians just to see what Ramos would fetch on the open market, knowing he has two talented defenders ready to start in Pepe and Raphael Varane. But it would take a major offer to convince Los Blancos to sell, and the Spaniard is likely to stay in the capital for the foreseeable future.