In football, plugging the hole left behind by a departure can be a difficult task. Having Having a team revolving around a single player can make replacement a tricky job.
And when the hole in question is left by someone the size of Cristiano Ronaldo, the job at hand becomes even trickier.
CR7’s transfer to Serie A giants Juventus leaves Real Madrid floundering. With the likes of Lionel Messi and Neymar unlikely to switch things up and move to the Spanish capital, whoever jets in as the 33-year-old’s boot-filler will undoubtedly be an inferior footballer. Sadly, when the GOAT departs, sheep don’t make for adequate substitutes.
It will surely knock Los Blancos for a long time yet and put a dent into their standing as one of football’s most successful franchises. Ronaldo, it wouldn’t be wrong to argue, may even be bigger than the club itself and the La Liga side will struggle to move on from losing him.
Portugal’s wonderkid is the epitome of success in a modern footballer. Not only does he master the pitches that he dominates, but he leads, inspires and sells, too. Ronaldo is an image, a name, a star. No one can replace him.
However – on the pitch at least – Madrid may have someone more able than they realise.
Gareth Bale – who, yes, won’t sell shampoos, aftershaves and Johnnies in the droves that his former teammate definitely could – is a world class footballer who has been suffocating out in Spain.
The 29-year-old may now have the chance he needs to live up to expectations and fill the boots of his whiter-toothed, bronzer-skinned, shreddeder-stomached ex-colleague.
Last season, under Zinedine Zidane, Bale played an amount of football that was nothing short of criminal for a man of his abilities. Missing 14 games through injury, the Welsh international made only 35 appearances out of a possible 58. Taking his recurrent calf issue into account, Bale featured in 35 of a potential 44 games and didn’t make the starting lineup for every one of those either.
He was therefore consciously left out of action for nine entire games through choice and was kept benched for lengthy periods during the season. He was unused, for example, against PSG for either game in the Champions League knockouts but played for the entire 90 against Getafe – the game sandwiched by the Parisians – whilst Lucas Vazquez did the reverse. The implications were glaring.
Zizou largely favoured the old school 4-4-2 approach, and so Bale was not high on his list for starters under that system. With the French gaffer now out of the door, however, things are looking up for the prolific winger.
New boss Julen Lopetegui has reportedly told Bale that he is a big part of plans for the future and that the Welshman – who excels internationally – will feature far more prominently than under Zidane.
Lopetegui is expected to play wide, expansive, possession-based football in his new role at Madrid and this would suit Bale perfectly. With the likes of Marcelo and Dani Carvajal eager to work the channels, the former Spurs sensation will have support on the wings and enjoy the option to press higher up the field in a more attacking role, filling the gap left by Ronaldo.
His performance in the Champions League final highlights just what the fella can do.
At 29, it’s now or never for him to do it as the focal point of a successful team. Should Gareth Bale remain fit, and should Julen Lopetegui stay true to his word, Real Madrid will find the plug to their hole quicker than they think. Even if that hole is left behind by someone the size of Cristiano Ronaldo.