October 4, 2022


These observations — where I look real MadridThe history of , its players on loan, Castilla, tactical information and other relevant thoughts – are now commonplace. Find all previous editions here.

Since Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure in 2018, Real Madrid have started their quest by signing his replacement in a variety of ways. They sued Eden Hazard in 2018 to no avail, brought back Mariano Diaz from Lyon (hijacking a transfer to Sevilla with their first right of refusal in a disastrous decision for everyone involved), confided Gareth Bale, Marco Asensio and Karim Benzema , then finally brought in Hazard a year later with Luka Jovic.

Here’s what hindsight has taught us: Hazard should have stayed in London the whole time; Mariano should have been allowed to travel to Seville; Gareth Bale should have been sold straight after the final whistle in Kyiv; and finally, Benzema was going to be so good that no back-up striker was ever needed.

But hindsight is easy, as always. The decisions of the moment are more difficult. The point is ultimately this: Real Madrid have signed Luka Jovic for a position (back-up striker) that doesn’t exist. Much like the substitute goalkeeper, or the ’10’, having players for these roles means they won’t see the pitch. In eras past it would be different, but Benzema’s bench doesn’t happen here (and shouldn’t), and when the Frenchman can’t play you ask your striker to come in cold, like a Terminator waking up from a deep freeze, executing goals like pace and fitness is kind of a simple human construct.

“Right now the most important thing for me is to get to my best shape as soon as possible,” Jovic said in March 2021. He went on to point out how hard it is to establish physical fitness. ‘a game without playing: “I’m still not there and I might not be strong enough to play 90 minutes, it’s true. But I always try to change that as soon as possible”,

It’s not uncommon for Real Madrid to sign small sample players like they did with Jovic. They signed Eder Militao, Vinicius Jr and Rodrygo Goes based on their own internal scouting and justified the price tags because they believed in their due diligence. But also the moment really Questions. Militao snuck in just in time for Raphael Varane and Sergio Ramos to leave in one summer; Vinicius has been plugged into one of the most desperate times in recent history; and Rodrygo increased when there was no reliable offensive production from the right wing. (Rodrygo could win again with Kylian Mbappe’s decision.)

Jovic was not so lucky. Benzema has become one of the three best strikers in the history of Real Madrid (in my list he is No. 2, and to place him at No. 1 at the end of his career is quite conceivable). Having to back up a monster like that isn’t easy. Opportunities will be rare. Limited cameos will be even harder – like playing with weights strapped to your ankles. You will be crucified if you don’t play well.

And, as we have seen, the stories were being written every time Jovic played. ‘This is why Ancelotti does not turn.

Off-the-ball movement, bad luck, none of that really mattered to the masses who just wanted goals and cared little about cute tactical things. It has always been so. When Benzema had an abysmal season in front of goal in 2017-18, highlighting his defensive work and link-up play was considered a criminal act.

But calling Jovic a victim is too partisan. Jovic could have done more. In many cameos, he disappeared. Say what you want about Mariano Diaz. He may have lacked footballing IQ and link-up ability, but he made his presence known – dropped to help win the ball, put his body on the line, launch defenders, reach headers and break bones to continue the end of chances. Often the only times you were reminded of Jovic being on the pitch was when you looked at the stat sheet at the end of the game, where you saw his name next to a bunch of zeros and d’s. low key game.

But Jovic is a good player (at least I believe he is, and I know at least one other person who is on this island with me) even if it didn’t work out at Real Madrid. He now has a chance at Fiorentina to prove his worth.

What was initially supposed to be a loan turned into a permanent move to the Italian side, and that comes at a cost to Real Madrid: they lost him for free. If you had told us in 2019 that Jovic’s tenure at Real Madrid would end with 36 appearances and three goals in three years before the club ‘sold’ him for free, that would have been devastating news to digest.

But to flip it from another perspective, Real Madrid will lose around 10m in wages, and it’s always wise to cut costs rather than double down on something that clearly isn’t working, no matter how hard it is.

Real Madrid will retain 50% of their rights to any future sale. Not a bad place to be. Going by Jovic’s form in 2018, he can still become a good player for a good team somewhere. Fiorentina owning him now rather than loaning him out allows them to invest playing time in the Serb – something he desperately needs – and if he improves the club can make some money in subsequent years through its sale.

With Jovic almost officially out the door, the depth chart cut continues. The club will also try to offload Mariano, and there may be a scenario where they don’t bring in a substitute striker – again, a role that only exists on paper – to compensate. Instead, you can see Eden Hazard – remember him? – and Rodrygo play a few false nine minutes in rare events where Benzema cannot play.

“My priority is to be in a quality league and play,” Jovic said last summer. He can get that wish now. “At my age, if I go I want to be somewhere where I can be in the line-up because I’ve already spent more time off the pitch than on it.”