Cristiano Ronaldo
Cristiano Ronaldo has struggled to match his previous high standards this season at Real Madrid. Getty Images

Real Madrid’s expulsion from the Copa del Rey on Friday was just the latest in a string negative stories to have streamed out of the world’s richest club in recent months. First there was the embarrassing saga of David de Gea’s proposed transfer from Manchester United, which collapsed at the very last moment due to an administrative error. On the pitch there has been a crushing 4-0 home defeat to rivals Barcelona and continual rumors of discontent between key members of the squad and new manager Rafael Benitez.

And the player most unhappy, Cristiano Ronaldo, has openly flirted with a move away from the Bernabeu. When Real Madrid took on Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League last month, Ronaldo was seen whispering in the ear of PSG manager Laurent Blanc and later having a conversation with owner Nasser Al-Khelaifi.

At the age of 30 and approaching the final two years of his Real Madrid contract, if Ronaldo were to leave the club it would likely be at the end of this season. And it could also be the perfect time for PSG to swoop. Blanc admitted on Friday that the future of the club’s current talisman and highest-paid player, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, is uncertain, with his contract set to expire next summer. The Swede’s exit would open up a void that Ronaldo could fill.

Manchester United have also been linked with a move to bring their former star back to the club, and Louis van Gaal has admitted there is interest in Ronaldo. British tabloid The Sun, though, has claimed that Ronaldo has already given his word to PSG that if he departs it will be to Paris, although he favors remaining at Madrid.

Ronaldo has cut a disenchanted figure on the pitch for much of this season. And it is believed that one of the sources of his discontent is the more integral role being offered to the man who usurped him as the world’s most expensive player, Gareth Bale. With two players who both arguably need to be a team’s talisman, it is increasingly difficult to imagine Bale and Ronaldo thriving in the same lineup.

Like Ronaldo, Bale has been consistently linked with a transfer to Manchester United, most recently by the Independent. Still, the Welsh forward’s exit would mean Madrid president Florentino Perez losing face, given everything he invested in bringing Bale to the Bernabeu just over two years ago.

But reports suggest Perez’s patience may have run out with another player long seen as one of his favorites, Karim Benzema. The France striker has been questioned over an alleged blackmailing plot against international teammate Mathieu Valbuena, and could face up to five years in jail.

According to Spanish publication El Confidencial, Real Madrid are now ready to cut their ties with the 27-year-old, although are anticipating having to accept far less money than this past summer, when there was thought to be interest from Arsenal and Manchester United.

As well as doubt about Real Madrid’s first-choice forward trio, there have been rumors of potential replacements. At the top of the list of targets is thought to be Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski. Talksport, citing stories in Spain, reports that the Poland international would favor a move to the Bernabeu if he were to leave Bayern. However, the striker, who has scored 20 goals already this season, is unsurprisingly believed to be keen to remain at Bayern. Last month, his agent denied there had been any contact with Real Madrid.

One of Lewandowski’s former teammates is also rumored to be on Real Madrid’s radar. Borussia Dortmund’s Marco Reus has long been cited as a target for the Spanish giants, and British publication The Telegraph has reported in recent days that they are still keeping a close eye on him. If Bale or Ronaldo were to leave the German attacking midfielder would appear an obvious replacement.