There was a time earlier this season when those in power at Real Madrid were convinced that the club needed to move forward into a new era, and that Neymar was the perfect player to spearhead said era.
This came in the cold winter months when Cristiano Ronaldo had endured his most inauspicious start to a league season since his very early days at Manchester United. Suspensions and injuries ensured he couldn’t build any form of rhythm and he struggled to find the net in domestic matches.
It was this period which ended Los Blancos’ title challenge prematurely, they weren’t able to put any form of credible defence of their crown together, despite having worked so hard to win the title the previous season.
It wasn’t the case that Ronaldo was necessarily blamed for this dip, however the club saw the beginning of a sharp decline within his game and were determined to make a move ahead of it.
Neymar’s father encouraged contact between the two parties and it was all but decided that Real Madrid would make a concerted effort to sign Neymar in the summer with it clear he isn’t comfortable with life in Ligue 1.
At the very same time, Ronaldo’s demands for a new, improved contract fell on deaf ears, there wasn’t a desire to move Ronaldo on, but he wouldn’t be handed a new contract when the former Barcelona forward was set to be such an expensive arrival. It’s certain that this hurt the veteran deeply, he’s never truly felt the affection from Florentino Perez that he craves.
What has happened since has totally shocked those within the Los Blancos hierarchy, but it shows you can never write off legends of the game. Cristiano Ronaldo has returned to his absolute best and has almost single-handedly carried the team to the Champions League semi finals.
He’s broken continental record after record, he’s found the net in every single one of the team’s Champions League fixtures this season and has shown no signs of slowing down.
Lionel Messi looked a certainty to win the Pichichi award this season, yet the Portuguese forward has moved to within five goals of him heading into the final stretch of the campaign.
This upturn in form has propelled the former Manchester United star into contention for yet another Ballon d’Or, especially if he guides Los Blancos to glory in Kiev. How can you possibly relegate a Ballon d’Or winner to make room for Neymar?
The answer is quite simple, you can’t. Ronaldo has worked his way into a situation where his position in the Spanish capital is as strong as it has ever been, he’s a hero to supporters and he’s excelled at a time when all his attacking partners have wilted under the pressure.
Having been denied a new contract in the winter, it now remains to be seen whether he will even want to stay with the club, such was the hurt he felt at the rejection earlier in the campaign. Real Madrid’s season has shown that the club isn’t yet ready to move on from Ronaldo and that they must keep him happy.
Neymar’s injury has curtailed his progress and with his recovery likely to go right up until the World Cup is about to start, he will be starting the next season far from his physical peak. There is also the sense that Paris-Saint Germain would make negotiations so difficult this summer that a transfer wouldn’t be possible.
As such, the mood in Madrid has changed from the winter. It’s now all about making sure Ronaldo feels loved and appreciated, and this may even come in the form of supplying him with talented players to work alongside him, rather than outwardly replacing him as the shining start of the team.
That will come, but now rather more organically when the Portuguese forward begins to age in the coming seasons. Marco Asensio certainly has the talent to take over once he has a little more experience under his belt.
Whether or not the slight of the winter rejection will push Ronaldo to the exit door remains to be seen, however for the moment he knows he’s untouchable in the Spanish capital, he could help push Real Madrid to their third successive Champions League title, cementing their status as dynasty.
Within the hierarchy, there is a feeling of foolishness that they even considered ushering Ronaldo out of the limelight, with the Portuguese star once again silencing critics in the way he has always done.
Written by Chris Winterburn
Follow Chris on Twitter @cmwinterburn
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