The Club World Cup final in Morocco was a thrilling 5-3 victory for them over Al Hilal. With Vincius and Fede Valverde each scoring twice to seal another championship for Los Blancos.
A typical final like this one ends with Real Madrid hoisting the trophy. But for one man, this year’s championship means even more: Florentino Pérez has now won as many trophies as Santiago Bernabéu did as Real Madrid’s president. Pérez and Bernabéu have jointly presided over 31 victories for the club, with the current president personally seeing six Club World Cups, six Champions Leagues, five UEFA Super Cups, six La Liga crowns, six Spanish Super Cups, and two Copa del Rey. There’s a lot to cover, and we do so in the sections below.
Real Madrid’s midfield dilemma: Are Modric and Kroos’ successors ready?
Luka Modric, Casemiro, and Toni Kroos – The midfield trio defined an era at Real Madrid, combining experience, talent, and guile to win the Champions League three years in a row in 2016, 2017, and 2018.
However, nothing lasts forever. Casemiro left for Manchester United in the summer, Kroos is apparently considering retirement, and Luka Modric is finally showing his age. Kroos (33) and Modric (37) are currently competing for a position in Madrid’s starting XI against the next generation of midfielders, including Aurelien Tchouameni (23), Eduardo Camavinga (20), Federico Valverde (24) and a rejuvenated Dani Ceballos (26).
Coach Carlo Ancelotti refers to a “transitional period” and asks for “the understanding of the veterans and the patience of the youngsters” to make it work. With the season coming to a finish, he must select a midfield capable of chasing down La Liga rivals Barcelona and defeating Europe’s finest in the Champions League.
The Old Guard
Time waits for no one, but in Modric’s case, it had made an exception. The legs of the 2018 Ballon d’Or winner have held up longer than anybody could have anticipated, but 18 years at the pinnacle of the sport have now begun to show. Modric has started 13 of Madrid’s 20 La Liga games this season and appeared as a substitute in six others; however, he has only played the full 90 minutes in two of those games.
Since December, when he led his nation to the World Cup semifinals, the Croatian has appeared to be way off the pace. He was substituted early in Madrid’s Spanish Supercopa final loss to Barcelona, and thereafter was not included in the starting lineup for league games against Athletic Club, Real Sociedad, and Mallorca. In two of these contests, at San Mames and Son Moix, both Modric and Kroos were benched for the first time in over two years.
Meanwhile, Kroos is at a crossroads. He is still the La Liga leader in both progressive passes and passes into the final third, demonstrating his exceptional talent. He has conquered an issue that led him to play despite pain in 2021, as a consequence of pubalgia (otherwise known as a sports hernia). The defining moments in Madrid’s Champions League comebacks against Paris Saint-Germain, Chelsea, and Manchester City last season occurred when Kroos was substituted by a more energetic player.
Casemiro, who was only 30 years old at the time, was the first player to go last summer, which was unexpected.
Madrid’s track record of understanding when to transfer players inspires confidence — negotiating a €100 million deal with Juventus for Cristiano Ronaldo in 2018 was a wise decision, as was permitting Raphael Varane to join Manchester United in 2021, while the €70 million United offered for Casemiro was too good to refuse. But of the three, he is the one you would want in your squad based on his current performance.
The club does not regret letting him go, especially from a financial standpoint, although it is understood that it has temporarily crippled the team.
The future generation
Madrid’s preparedness for a future without Casemiro, Kroos, and Modric has taken years. Signing Martin Odegaard, then 16 years old, in 2015 as a possible Modric replacement was an early effort. Odegaard emerged as LaLiga’s best midfielder when on loan at Real Sociedad in 2019-20; however, Modric’s fall never materialised, Odegaard ran out of patience, and he joined Arsenal in 2021.
Tchouameni was regarded as the greatest young midfielder in Europe for his position when he was given the arduous task of replacing Casemiro in July of last year. Madrid top scout Juni Calafat rushed to beat Liverpool to his signature, and the timing of the €80 million transfer meant that Tchouameni was already established in this team when Casemiro left. He has adapted swiftly and has impressed thus far, and his impact was highlighted in January when a calf injury ruled him out.
Camavinga’s adaption has been less consistent. After grabbing the attention as a precocious talent with Rennes in Ligue 1, he was bought on deadline day in August 2021. Madrid jumped at the chance to sign him for a cheap price of €31 million. Camavinga’s abilities, which combine explosive physicality with exceptional skill, are apparent, but Ancelotti believes his positioning and tactical intelligence may be improved.
Camavinga is best used off the bench for the time being, as games start opening and his frenetic energy may tip the scales in Madrid’s favour. Camavinga replaced Kroos in the Champions League against PSG and Chelsea, altering the momentum each time. This season, 11 of his 19 La Liga appearances have come as a substitute. When he starts a game, he is frequently withdrawn. Surprisingly, his most impressive performances have recently come in an emergency switch to left-back.
Valverde’s future position in this Madrid squad is also uncertain. As a conventional central midfielder, Ancelotti frequently deploys him on the right wing as a hardworking backup to Rodrygo. When Kroos tweeted on Oct. 16 that “Fede Valverde is top 3 in the world right now,” it was difficult to disagree; Valverde had just scored a spectacular outside-the-box stunner against Barcelona in El Clasico, followed by strikes against Elche and Sevilla the same week. However, he has failed to score in nine consecutive league games since, appearing to be in a post-World Cup slump.
Ceballos is a player who has forced himself into the debate by pure passion. Ceballos, who joined Real Madrid in 2017, failed to impress until recently. A match-winning effort off the bench against Villarreal in the Copa del Rey on January 19 was followed by consistent performances against Athletic Club, Atletico Madrid, Real Sociedad, and Valencia, when the Bernabeu crowd chanted “Ceballos, stay!” as he exited the field. It’s been a career-high; let’s see whether he can keep it going.
Carlo Ancelotti faces a significant obstacle this season in managing a team in transition at a club where transitional seasons are not tolerated and titles today – not yesterday or tomorrow – are the only acceptable currency. Few coaches would sit players like Modric and Kroos, nurture prospects like Tchouameni and Camavinga, and keep outsiders like Ceballos on board, all while preserving team morale and contending on numerous fronts. One of them is Ancelotti.
With the resumption of the Champions League and a Copa del Rey semifinal against Barcelona on the horizon, as well as overcoming an eight-point deficit in La Liga, the magnitude of the challenge at hand is clear. With the season on the line, Real Madrid tickets are in tremendous demand.
In the end, Ancelotti’s ability to smooth the transition from one generation to the next will decide Madrid’s success or failure over the next three months, ahead of what may be a more seismic move this summer.