As it stands, Los Blancos won’t be able to register new players for the next two transfer windows – but that’s not bad news for everybody, writes Kiyan Sobhani
1. Marcos Llorente
Talented young defensive midfielder Llorente finds himself in a fortuitous position, currently on loan to newly promoted Alaves and occupying a position where Real Madrid find themselves the thinnest. Llorente nearly played himself into the squad this summer after impressing at the tail end of Castilla’s play-off run last season, and continuing his form into this year’s pre-season friendlies against PSG and Inter.
Llorente was talented enough to stay at Real Madrid, particularly given the team’s lack of depth in the position, but Zinedine Zidane decided to send the youngster’s silky-smooth skills to a La Liga team that could guarantee his playing time. It was a sound decision that’s already bearing fruit: Llorente was man of the match in his first two games, and an integral part of the weekend’s shock win at Barcelona. He looks well beyond his age, organising the midfield and playing a pivotal role through the central channel.
The 21-year-old’s return to the Bernabeu next summer seems a sure thing. Zidane can’t go a third straight season with only one pure-bred defensive midfielder in the squad, and Llorente will have accumulated enough La Liga experience by then that he will be ready to feature. There’s even talk of him returning as soon as January.
The Brazilian anchorman broke out of his shell last season long before Zidane came along. Rafa Benitez slotted Casemiro in for the Madrid derby at Atletico, and soon discovered his physical presence could be the Rojiblancos' kryptonite.
Casemiro fought fire with fire, tossing Diego Simeone’s men around and taking no prisoners. The Brazilian’s stability soon became a valued commodity in a star-studded side, and his role in the team has now become deeply rooted in Zidane’s plans.
Casemiro's defensive display was monstrous: his 5 tackles (crosses) and 6 interceptions (diamonds) were both match highs, while he also registered 2 blocks and won 4/6 aerial duels
It’s surprising, though. Casemiro can still be vulnerable, and as refreshing as it’s been to see Zidane bring continuity to the club, there are question marks over his decision to not bring in another defensive midfielder.
Casemiro won’t mind. With the transfer ban, he now has two guaranteed seasons without outside threat or big-name competition coming in. That is, until Llorente almost certainly returns from his loan spell next summer.
3. Zinedine Zidane
The Frenchman almost seems invincible now. It’s likely that even without a transfer ban, Real Madrid would remain relatively stable – and that’s on Zidane.
His continuity will bring something fresh to the club, but if there was ever any concern that the former midfielder’s blueprint looked untenable, Florentino Perez will have no choice now but to succumb to Zidane’s masterplan. Nobody is more familiar with the club’s young loanees and Zidane will likely see out, at very least, the remainder of this transfer ban.
4. Marco Asensio
Asensio is so good that there was no temptation from the board to sign any outside star this summer. No marketing power can trump the 20-year-old’s raw ability to beat defenders, create from either wing, drop deeper in a 4-3-3 and score terrific goals (as he did against Sevilla in the Spanish Super Cup, and then against Real Sociedad, below).
Isco and James Rodriguez have both become afterthoughts, and Asensio – so impressive on loan at Espanyol last season – is now the first attacking midfielder off the bench in the event that Cristiano Ronaldo or Gareth Bale can’t suit up.
The Bernabeu faithful have been itching for a homegrown star to break through since Raul emerged, conquered and left. Asensio might just have the talent to be that generational player. Up until now, players from Castilla have come and gone, with few breaking into the XI given the standards set by the club.
Asensio actually features in a position where there is most competition. Lucas Vasquez, James and Isco will push the academy grad all the way, but the transfer ban could alleviate some of that stress. For once, a homegrown talent won’t be sacrificed to make room for incoming megastars.
It was expected by now that Pepe’s role in the team would become that of sidelined mentor, while Raphael Varane slides in to finally establish himself as the Portuguese’s long-term heir.
But Zidane’s hands are tied. Varane was inconsistent last season and Pepe rose like a phoenix, peaking at the perfect time to close out Real Madrid’s undecima run. He then went on to be the best defender in this summer’s Euros, and is still in tremendous form.
It could be argued that Varane benefits from this transfer ban as much as Pepe does, but one has to consider the latter's age and contract which runs until 2017 – enough to be an important player in the squad until Real Madrid can sign players again. It’s also true that the club can’t bring in experienced centre-backs during the ban, but they can recall two of their promising young central defenders on loan – Diego Llorente and Jesus Vallejo. They could yet make Varane sweat a little.
Mariano, Real Madrid’s third-choice striker, is not the most talented hitman coming through the ranks, considering Borja Mayoral – currently on loan to Wolfsburg – has the inside track on him. But Mariano is still incredibly promising, and is more ready to make an immediate impact given that he's currently at the club. He wins significantly with this transfer ban.
Just weeks ago it was expected that Mariano would be jettisoned to another La Liga club for a loan spell, but Zidane wanted him to stay as insurance for Karim Benzema and Alvaro Morata. Now he has little incentive to shed Mariano from the squad given the ban. Rival Mayoral probably won’t be recalled anytime soon given that he has yet to feature for Wolfsburg in the Bundesliga this season.
Mariano should get plenty of time to impress in the Copa del Rey, and will certainly see minutes off the bench given how unreliable Benzema’s health has been in the past couple of seasons.