Rafa Benitez may only have taken over as Real Madrid manager on Wednesday, but he has immediately been faced with some major decisions in attempting to return the club to glory next season. The first issue on his agenda appears to be determining who will the club’s No.1 goalkeeper going forward.
While a club legend and the current captain, Iker Casillas’ place has been under scrutiny since first being dropped by Jose Mourinho more than two years ago. Although the 34-year-old regained his place over the past season, rumors of Madrid mounting a transfer bid for Manchester United’s David de Gea swirled throughout the campaign. Casillas’ understudy with the Spain national team, the 24-year-old De Gea was the outstanding goalkeeper in the Premier League this past season. Yet, with just a year remaining on his contract and an apparent desire to return to the Spanish capital, where he came through the ranks at Atlético Madrid, Manchester United face a real battle to prevent him from leaving.
According to Madrid-based sports daily Marca, Benitez has given his blessing for his new club to accelerate their pursuit but United are not making it easy for Real Madrid to seal De Gea’s transfer. A deal is still likely to be reached, although that may not necessarily mean the end for Casillas at the Bernabeu. The veteran has previously stated that he would be willing to battle De Gea for a starting place, and on the day of Benitez’s unveiling he spoke of his eagerness to work with the former Madrid coach and player.
“Welcome Rafa Benitez,” he wrote on Twitter. “It’s an honor having you back and looking forward to starting work soon.”
It appears, though, that Benitez may have to make his plans without Paul Pogba. The midfield starlet has been the focus of attention from Real Madrid and a host of Europe’s top clubs over recent months. Yet, while sports outlet AS reports that Real Madrid Castilla coach Zinedine Zidane has spoken with his compatriot over a possible move, it is Manchester City who are thought to be in the box seat. The mega-rich Premier League club are said to be willing to spend €100 million to sign the 22-year-old. Only last week Madrid took the unusual step of releasing a public statement to deny that they had made a bid for Pogba.
And reports elsewhere imply that Real Madrid have been eyeing up an alternative midfield signing. Indeed the club have already made an offer of €60 million for Paris Saint-Germain’s Marco Verratti, according to Barcelona-based publication Sport. The Italy international has been an increasingly impressive presence since joining the French champions from Pescara three years ago. And his appeal to Madrid is likely based heavily on the fact that he has added real tenacity to accompany his excellence on the ball. With Real Madrid’s midfield often lacking balance at key times over the past season, Verratti could be an influential addition.
Persuading PSG to sell, though, promises to be no easy feat. Backed by Qatar Sports Investments, money is no issue for the club. And the proposed relaxing of UEFA’s Financial Fair Play rules means that the need to generate funds in order to splash out elsewhere is likely to be significantly diminished. Much could depend on the will of the player.