European soccer expert Chris Lierly details Karim Benzema’s bold statement that his club is better off without Cristiano Ronaldo.
In an interview this week, Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema claimed that the departure of Portuguese superstar Cristiano Ronaldo for Juventus last summer will allow him to “play [his] real football.” Benzema would also say that while in the past he had been focused on helping Ronaldo score, he now considers himself “the leader of the attack”.
Benzema’s comments might sound self-aggrandizing, but what does a team that has primarily relied on one forward since 2009 do when that forward leaves? Coincidentally, Benzema also arrived to Real in 2009, so his guess is as good as anyone’s as to what Los Blancos will do in the next few years to make up for a man who scored 44 goals last season.
One option for Real Madrid is to take Benzema’s advice and make him the focal point of their attack. He spent the better part of a decade playing target-man for Ronaldo. He would get open control of a pass just to put the ball at Ronaldo’s goal-happy feet, so it is safe to assume that most of those skills would translate to being a more scoring-focused 9.
In fact, the French striker has scored eleven La Liga goals and four in Champions League play after a slow start to the season. However, there are two problems with making Benzema the focus of the Real attack.
First, he is not a consistent scorer, and even though attacking involves more than scoring, Real need to make up for a massive goal difference in a post-Ronaldo world. Second, he is now 31 years old, and Real need to look at the future.
That future could rest in the hands of a youngster that Benzema mentioned in the same interview, Vinícius Juníor.
Vinícius has sometimes played in Ronaldo’s old position on the left-wing this season and though he has definitely not scored prolifically, he shows incredible potential and has become beloved by many Los Blancos faithful. He is only 18 years old and has appeared in 14 matches for one of the world’s biggest clubs.
He was characterized by ESPN journalist Dermot Corrigan as a “second striker,” which could play to Real Madrid’s advantage were they to pair him with the aging but experienced Benzema. For all we know, Vinícius could rise to superstardom in the next few years while Real go through a few rebuild-lite seasons. However, that seems unlikely. Vinícius is somewhat of a risk because there is not really a system for him to work within right now at Real. He would have to personally prove to the board that he is worth playing rather than buying a new winger from another club.
The third option will likely be how Real solve their problem on the left-wing and relies on the immense amount the club is willing to spend on transfers. Instead of replacing Ronaldo’s scoring with aging stars like Benzema or Gareth Bale, they will likely make a blockbusting transfer from another super-club. Their options are limitless.
Neymar and Kylian Mbappe of Paris Saint-Germain are two likely candidates to become Galacticos, but other stars could end up playing in the Bernabeu as well. From the Premier League, Eden Hazard will likely flee the sinking ship that is Chelsea, and Real looks like the most likely destination.
Also a possibility Harry Kane could finally win a trophy if he ever left Tottenham Hotspur.
Despite all of these possibilities, Real could also take all three. They could keep Benzema to help work new transfers into their rotation.
They could try to convince Vinícius that it would be worth staying and playing under a star winger while he hones his craft, and they could buy any if not two of the four players mentioned.
It will not be easy for Real to make up for letting Ronaldo go, but when they have that much of the Franco family’s money at their disposal, a solution can be bought.