The transfer rumour-mill was driven into frenzy on Thursday following confirmation that FIFA has banned Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid from registering new signings for the next two transfer windows as punishment for their breaching rules pertaining to the signing of international players under the age of 18.
Paul Pogba, Eden Hazard, Robert Lewandowski and David De Gea are just a handful of star players who have been linked with a move to Real in the time that remains during the January transfer window (the ban, pending appeal, does not kick-in until the summer) while newspaper columns across the world have been filled with speculation regarding the manner in which the registration embargo stands to impact upon the futures of Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo.
The reality, of course, is that FIFA’s ruling dramatically reduces the likelihood of there being any high-profile departures from the Bernabeu over the next 12 months and the ban also makes it far easier for clubs such as Juventus, Bayern Munich and Manchester United to resist Real Madrid’s attempts to sign their key assets when the La Liga club is unlikely to have another opportunity to register players until the summer of 2017.
In this context it appears as though the club identified by its big name signings more than any other will have to “make do” with its standing squad for the next year. But while this circumstance is likely to agonize club president Florentino Perez, the man who pioneered the Galatico strategy at the turn of the millennium, it may stand to benefit new manager, Zinedine Zidane.
After all, the squad that Zidane inherits is hardly in need of wholesale restructuring.
In Sergio Ramos, Raphael Varane, Dani Carvajal, Marcelo, Luka Modric, Bale, Ronaldo and Karim Benzema, the core of the 2014 Champions League winning side remains intact and all are aged either 30 or younger. Keylor Navas, meanwhile, has developed into one of the finest goalkeepers in Europe (ably backed-up by Spain international, Kiko Casilla), Toni Kroos, Casemeiro and Mateo Kovacic have been recruited to add depth to the midfield (Lucas Silva will return from loan with Marseilles at the end of the season) and Isco and James Rodriguez combine with academy-graduates such as Lucas Vazquez, Jese Rodriguez and Denis Cheryshev to provide an exceptional standard of cover in attack.
This is without even mentioning prodigiously talented young players Madrid have out on loan such as Jesus Vallejo, Diego Llorente and Marco Asensio and, as former Castilla boss, Zidane will know better than anybody the potential of academy players such as Austrian centre-back Philipp Lienhart (19), Spanish midfielder Marcos Llorente (20) and Dominican Republic forward Mariano Dias (22).
Such squad depth makes it difficult to imagine a club better equipped to deal with a registration embargo than Real Madrid and Zidane might also benefit for having the chance to work with a settled senior squad scattered with hungry young players through the course of his first year in the job. Although it is difficult to argue that the acquisition of a Pogba or a Hazard would damage Madrid, it seems clear that Perez has hindered the work his coaches in the past by buying and selling players without their approval.
It was difficult to believe, for instance, that Champions League winning coach Carlo Ancelotti wanted to sell Xavi Alonso in the summer of 2014 in order to replace him with a far more attacking player in Kroos. Likewise, the Italian would surely have objected to Perez’s decision to sell Champions League final man-of-the-match winner Angel Di Maria to Manchester United in order to fund the acquisition of James Rodriguez from Monaco.
In the wake of the starring roles that Kroos and James played at the 2014 World Cup, it seemed clear that those signings were motivated by commercial rather than footballing concerns and both served to unbalance what had just been crowned as the best squad in Europe. The registration embargo will enable Zidane to cultivate a coherent playing-style at Madrid safe in the knowledge that Perez will be unable to destabilize his plans by conducting transfer business over his head.
In this sense, FIFA’s ruling might come to be seen as a blessing in disguise for Real Madrid and Zidane alike.
[Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images]