Had Zinedine Zidane remained at the Santiago Bernabeu over the summer, it’s debatable whether Dani Ceballos would have stayed there with him. The young midfielder was signed as one of Real Madrid’s marquee additions last season following an impressive showing at the 2017 European Under-21 Championships, but failed to make much of an impression last term, only making a handful of appearances.
For whatever reason, Zidane didn’t appear to rate Ceballos, despite the quality he had shown for both Spain’s Under-21 side and Real Betis. Talk started to build towards the end of last season that the midfielder could be loaned out or even sold in the summer. Given the accuracy of the rumours that built regarding the respective futures of Mateo Kovacic and Cristiano Ronaldo, those suggestions likely had some weight.
The surprise exit of Zidane at the end of the 2017/18 campaign gave a number of Real Madrid players a career reprieve, and Ceballos was one of those players (along with Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema). Even better for the 22-year-old was the subsequent appointment of Julen Lopetegui as Zidane’s successor.
He couldn’t have hoped for a better manager. Having worked with Spain’s youth teams all the way through to the senior squad, Lopetegui is a coach who tends to favour young, homegrown talent. We have already started to see that have an impact on the likes of Marco Asensio, Isco and of course Ceballos, with all three installed as first team figures over the early part of the season.
It’s not just for Real Madrid that Ceballos has enjoyed some early success this season. He was handed his competitive debut for Spain on Tuesday night, starting the Nations League game against Croatia. Ceballos excelled as Spain thumped the World Cup finalists 6-0 and put down an early marker under new manager Luis Enrique.
Ceballos is set for a big season for both club and country. His career appeared to have hit the skids last season as first team opportunities became harder to come by at Real Madrid, subsequently locking him out of the national team reckoning. Now, he looks to be back on track, as is Asensio.
He took looked to have struck a period of early stagnation in his career, failing to build on what was a blistering start to the season last year. In time, Asensio found himself a peripheral figure at the Santiago Bernabeu. It was a similar story for Isco too; one of the most talented players in the Real Madrid squad, but restricted to appearances off the bench.
Things are changing at Real Madrid, though, and the likes of Asensio, Ceballos and Isco will be vindicated in their decision to stick it out in the Spanish capital. Lopetegui is turning Real Madrid into a more homegrown, possession-based outfit and the benefits of that are already being felt my many of their squad.
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