Monday, February 29, 2016

Is It Time for Real Madrid to Sell Cristiano Ronaldo?

By Justin Sherman (@JShermOfficial)

Fresh off another comprehensive defeat at the hands of cross-town rivals Atletico Madrid, Cristiano Ronaldo begrudgingly stepped into the mixed zone, armed with some razor sharp commentsfor the unsuspecting reporters.

"It annoys me that they say that Cristiano has dropped his level, and that is why Madrid have dropped their level," Ronaldo said, with third-person usage that would make Floyd Mayweather Jr. proud. "If they were all at my level, we would be first."

Ronaldo later clarified that he had been referring to the side's injury issues this season, and that in singling out Mateo Kovacic, Jese and Lucas Vazquez, he was merely referring to the absence of key players from several games this season.

"I don't know if it is for bad preparation at the start of the season, but we are having many injuries and that is hurting us," Ronaldo said. "I don't want to knock anyone, no teammate, but when the best are missing... I like to play with [Gareth] Bale, [Karim] Benzema and Marcelo. I don't want to say that Jese, Lucas [Vazquez] or [Mateo] Kovacic are not good players -- they are very good -- but ... to win a competition, you need to have your best players."

Making excuses, or refreshing honesty?

That’s for you to decide.

What is not up for debate, is that any sliver of hope for a Real Madrid title suffered a slow and arduous death Saturday.

If Barcelona defeats Sevilla, who have not won away from home in La Liga this season, their lead will mushroom to an astounding 12 points over Los Blancos.

Magazine covers take aim at Real Madrid
In what is becoming somewhat of a routine, the Berabeau faithful again broke out in chants of “Florentino out,” while other scores of fans left the stadium all together before the final whistle was blown. If that wasn’t bad enough, Atletico became the first Liga side to ever win three consecutive games at the Bernabeu.

The environment is toxic, and the project is in shambles.

As Sam Cooke so eloquently once sang “a change is a coming."

But what, exactly, does that entail?

The biggest elephant in the room is Perez, and it just so happened that this game coincided with his resignation 10 years ago, after a defeat to Mallorca, and it is obvious that old lessons were never learned.

Perez's reluctance to employ a sporting director and his penchant for meddling in transfer business is doing irreparable damage to the club.

Real, either out of stupidity or bravado, astonishingly let the only backup to Karim Benzema depart  last summer in Chicharito Hernandez. Forced because of no other options, the richest club in the world brought on 18-year old Borja Mayoral with three minutes of La Liga experience for a derby match with the season on the line.

Danilo ( €31.5 million) has been an absolute disaster at right back, and although Matteo Kovacic is more than serviceable off the bench, Luca Modric and Toni Kroos are the undisputed first-choice midfield pairing, so the €30 million spent on the former Inter man would have been better used to strengthen areas of the squad that are glaringly understaffed like *cough, cough* defense.

Sergio Ramos picked up a yellow card suspension on Saturday and will miss the midweek game against Levante. With Pepe injured, that will leave Raphael Varane and Nacho as the only options for the back line. If one of them gets injured, there is no one left to play.

About the only thing Madrid got right in the summer was hanging on to Keylor Navas, and even that was only possible because of a sh*t fax machine.

Barring a poisoning or the Spanish tax authorities confiscating Florentino’s bank accounts, he will more than likely remain president come next season.

It is evident to everyone that this team's “old guard” needs a face lift, but does that include their most prestigious and highest paid player?

Cristiano Ronaldo is in his 7th season at Real Madrid, and during his tenure he has averaged an insane 52.16 goals per season in all competitions. He is the all-time leading goal scorer at Real with 347 goals, and has averaged 1.04 a game. He is the face of the most popular club in the world, and also the most followed athlete on social media with over 250 million followers.

This season he has scored 22 goals in the league which is good for 2nd place, and 12 in the Champions League -- 6 more than any other player.

"From what the press says, it seems like I am doing sh*t, but the numbers and statistics do not lie," Ronaldo said. "They are there."

While stats do not lie, they also don’t tell the entire story.

This marked the 5th consecutive Derby Madrileno that Ronaldo failed to score in and, for the most part, he has been invisible in other big games this season as well.

Until his recent double against Athletic Bilbao, Ronaldo's goals have been directly responsible for only two points to Madrid's tally in La Liga all season, with virtually all of his strikes coming with Real already in front on the scoreboard.

The days of scoring goals because of individual brilliance are few and far between, as now more than ever before, he relies on his teammates to create chances and set up his goals. Because of this, it is no accident that Real’s dip in form has coincided with the poor play of James Rodriguez, Isco and the injury to Gareth Bale.

Now, at the age of 31, Ronaldo’s influence on matches is waning, and his $388,000 per week wage is tougher to justify.

So the question is, to sell or not to sell?

Because of appeal, Real will be able to conduct transfer business this upcoming summer before a ban comes into effect, restricting the purchase or sale of any players for two consecutive windows.

Waiting that long is a risky proposition, as the transfer fee rival clubs will be willing to pay for the Portuguese will only diminish.

On the flip side, replacing Ronaldo leaves a great unknown.

Who picks up that enormous scoring slack? Can Gareth Bale replace him, or even be trusted to appear given his extensive injury history?

Can Zidane convince a Paul Pogba, Eden Hazard or Robert Lewandowski to join?

Real remain alive in the Champions League, and with a 2-0 aggregate lead over Roma with the 2nd leg to be played in Madrid, it is all but a certainty they will make it to the final 8. Yes, a win in Europe's most prestigious competition could alter plans, but at this point, would anyone even bet their lunch money on this happening?

It’s been a historic marriage between the club and player.

Both have seen their profiles grow exponentially, with records broken and La Decima (10th Champions League title) captured.

But in the end, there is always a fall guy at Madrid. For Cristiano, that time came later than most, and this in itself is an achievement worth bragging about.

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