The very instant news of Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure from Real Madrid was about to become a reality, Madridistas were already compiling their shopping lists for a potential replacement before the words ‘communicado official’ could even be tweeted.
Finding someone to adequately fill the boots of arguably the greatest player in the club’s history would be a tall order, yet the names thought to be in play this summer provided a faint glimmer of hope. Players such as Kylian Mbappe, Neymar, Harry Kane, Mauro Icardi and Robert Lewandowski were just some of the most frequently mentioned, as securing the services of at least one was seen not only as a possibility, but a downright certainty.
Then, the weeks rolled along and nothing happened. Nobody was signed. Florentino Perez’s briefcase of cash rumored to be somewhere around the entire GDP of Malta remained unopened. Defcon five had been initiated by supporters convinced of Madrid’s impending doom. After all, could you really trust a Gareth Bale to stay healthy, or a Karim Benzema: scorer of 16 La Liga goals combined over the past two seasons, to pick up the slack in front of net?
Much to dismay of Madridistas, most of the aforementioned targets failed to become available. This left Madrid with two options: overpay for a player of similar profile to the ones already on the squad, or use a measured approach this window and instead bring back a familiar face to provide depth. Los Blancos ultimately chose the latter, ripping Mariano Diaz from the dead, lifeless fingers of Sevilla.
Having risen through their youth ranks, Mariano showed off his ability for the Real Madrid first team in the 2016-17 season; scoring five goals in 14 appearances. Behind the likes of Benzema and Alvaro Morata, chances appeared to be limited so Mariano opted to join Lyon last July and enjoyed a stellar campaign in Ligue 1, netting 18 times in 34 outings.
As part of their agreement with the French club, Real Madrid retained not only 35 percent of Mariano’s playing rights, but they also included a clause that gave them the right to re-sign the player if they matched any future bid for his services. As a result, the €30 million fee Lyon agreed with Sevilla saw the European champions only have to pay €20m to fortify their depth behind Benzema.
It was a shrewd piece of business by Florentino Perez. Not only is Mariano a bargain in this type of market; he will also require little time to adapt having already spent so much time here. Furthermore, returning to Madrid has always been a goal of the forward, evidenced by comments Mariano made last November.
“I have a five-year contract with Lyon but going back to Madrid would be incredible, even if I decided it was best to leave the club in the summer,” he said. It was the correct decision by Madrid to let me go: for me, for them, for Lyon. But it is true that it would be a dream for me to return in the future.”
Now, the players dream will come true and Madrid are hopeful that Mariano’s return could mirror that of one-time Merengue, Alvaro Morata. Similarly brought through the Castilla youth ranks, Morata would feature sporadically for the first team from 2010-2014. Fed up with his lack of opportunities, Madrid granted his wish and sold him to Juventus for €20m, while still possessing a buy-back option in the future. Morata saw ample game time in Turin, allowing him to build the the type of confidence that was instrumental for him to score 27 goals over two seasons.
Madrid were naturally impressed by his progression, so much so, that they exercised their buy-back option for a reasonable fee of €30 million. Coming back as a player re-born, Morata would have a stellar campaign as Benzema’s primary backup; scoring 20 goals in all comps as Madrid captured the league title and the Champions League. Still, Morata was not pleased at the prospect of going into another campaign stuck behind the shadow of the Frenchman.
Consequently, he made his feelings known to Perez and all parties agreed that a change would be best. Madrid would eventually find a willing partner in Chelsea, agreeing to a whopping transfer fee of €67m for the Spaniard. Combining that with the other business conducted with Juve, Perez had essentially made €57m on a striker who was never realistically going to be a full-time starter for his club, while also getting the best season of his career out of him.
To this point, Mariano’s journey appears to be trending the exact same way Morata’s did. With a full season spent at Lyon, he was able to develop integral parts of his game not only physically, but mentally as well. This bodes nicely for a Madrid side that lacks the profile of a striker who is ruthless in front of goal. Given the hallowed number 7 shirt will only enhance expectations of the forward, but if a Galactico is brought in next summer and Mariano has a career season, all will be forgotten.
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