Under Zinedine Zidane, a route between the young ranks and the first team was established at Real Madrid. It was a path followed by the likes of Marco Asensio, Jesus Vallejo, Marcos Llorente and Lucas Vazquez, but not Mariano Diaz, who was sold in the summer of 2017.
Now, the striker is back at the Santiago Bernabeu, returning to the Spanish capital after a year at Lyon, where he impressed, scoring 18 goals in 37 games. Real Madrid were desperate for a striker before the close of the summer transfer window and they have got one in the form of a familiar face.
Some will argue that Mariano’s return is an illustration of Real Madrid’s wastefulness. Mariano was always a good squad player for them and arguably should have been kept last summer. The wisdom in allowing both Mariano and Alvaro Morata to leave in the same window was questionable, at best.
But at least Real Madrid have now corrected their initial mistake. Mariano will provide competition in attack for the likes of Karim Benzema and even Gareth Bale. The loss of Cristiano Ronaldo left Real Madrid a little light in the attacking positions, but now they have Mariano, along with Borja Mayoral, to at least ease the burden on Benzema in particular.
Benzema struggled at times last season, scoring just five goals in La Liga all season long. The Frenchman might even have left Real Madrid had Ronaldo not beat him to departing the club, with the club’s notoriously tough-to-please support making a habit of whistling and jeering the 30-year-old.
From Mariano’s perspective, there might be a chance for him to establish himself as a first team figure. This Real Madrid team are in the midst of a transition following the exit of Ronaldo and Zidane at the end of last season. Right the way through the squad, there are youngsters looking to break into the first team over the coming campaign and Mariano is one such name on that list.
On the basis of his performances over the first few games of the new season, Benzema has been revitalised by his break over the summer. The sale of Ronaldo to Juventus has given him more freedom across the frontline. He no longer has to make way for the Portuguese forward. Real Madrid’s formation is now built around Benzema.
Mariano was close to joining Sevilla, with Lyon accepting a bid for the striker before Real Madrid came in with their own offer. But Julen Lopetegui made a personal play to sign Mariano. “Julen called me and told me he would be happy if I came back,” Mariano explained. “A great part of it was when he told me was counting on me.”
Signed as a back-up option, don’t be surprised if Mariano ends up playing an important role at Real Madrid this season. The young striker has proved his doubters, which included Real Madrid wrong at every turn.
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