On the pitch, Zinedine Zidane’s reign at Real Madrid could hardly have started much better; two wins from two matches and 10 goals scored have quickly helped dissipate the grey clouds that hung over the Bernabeu during the ill-fated Rafa Benitez era. And there is every reason to expect another emphatic win on Sunday, when they visit a Real Betis side struggling at the wrong end of the table. Off the pitch, though, a state of uncertainty still prevails.
The soap-opera-like storylines surrounding the club took a further bizarre turn this week, with the leaking of documents revealing the financial details of Gareth Bale’s transfer to Real Madrid from Tottenham in 2013. The documents confirm that the fee paid for Bale eclipsed the cost of prizing Cristiano Ronaldo from Manchester United in 2009. And they also show that Madrid insisted that any public discussion of the Bale deal would feature a lower fee, thus maintaining Ronaldo’s status as the world’s most expensive player.
It has long been mooted that Ronaldo has had his nose put out of joint by Bale’s presence, particularly under Benitez when the Welshman was handed a more influential role in the lineup. And with the team struggling to get the best out of their two most expensive players, it has been strongly reported that one of them will be on the move in the summer.
Yet that prospect is complicated further by a transfer ban hanging over Real Madrid, which is currently set to begin in the summer transfer window. Despite that prospect, Madrid continue to be linked with making big-money signings who could replace either Bale, Ronaldo or Karim Benzema, who is facing charges in France over conspiracy to blackmail.
The latest name to be discussed is Barcelona’s Neymar. Indeed, Spanish radio station Onda Cero has claimed that the Brazilian and his father met with Real Madrid officials at the FIFA Ballon d’Or ceremony earlier this month. Meanwhile, Marca states that Madrid would be willing to meet Neymar’s € 190 million release clause and that his arrival would spell the end for the “BBC.”
Neymar has also been linked with Manchester United in recent months, with his future coming under scrutiny as he approaches the final two years of his contract. Yet, there is a sense that Neymar’s camp could be fuelling the interest from other parties to strengthen his bargaining position. When talking to Mundo Deportivo, Neymar’s father has said that no meeting with Real Madrid took place and that the player wants to renew his deal with Barcelona.
The prospect of him leaving the Camp Nou to move to Real Madrid would certainly strike fear into the heart of those connected to Barcelona. And, while difficult to imagine, a similar scenario occurred when Luis Figo moved from Barcelona to their fiercest rivals in 2000.
For Zidane, who joined Figo at the Bernabeu a year later, the task for the rest of the season is to insulate his squad from that background noise and focus on getting results on the pitch. Real Madrid will travel to Real Betis in third place in La Liga, four points behind neighbors Atletico Madrid and two points adrift of Barcelona, who still have a game in hand.
For at least the next three weeks, Real Madrid will have to close that gap without Bale. The in-from Welshman suffered his third calf muscle injury of the season in the 5-1 win over Sporting Gijon last Sunday. Likely also to miss the visit of Espanyol on Jan. 31 and the visit to Granada the following Sunday, Bale’s injury could offer an opportunity for James Rodríguez , who has struggled to establish himself in the lineup this campaign.