When Raul de Tomas hangs up his boots, he wants to be a boxer. He loves the physical aspect of the sport and says he uses it to blow off steam. Before he steps into the ring, though, he has a dream that is more pressing.
“Every night, I go to sleep thinking about being a Real Madrid player,” he told Diario AS.
He has a fighting chance to do just that after signing a five-year deal with the club on the back of a stellar campaign with Rayo Vallecano. He scored 24 goals in 32 games, which saw Real Madrid’s neighbours claim their first Segunda Division title in their history and return to La Liga to do battle with Spain’s biggest teams next year.
That news alone might not make a big splash, but De Tomas’ renewal might give us a clue as to what Real Madrid’s next move is and how they plan to utilise Julen Lopetegui’s skills as a developmental coach in their own redevelopment as a team after Zinedine Zidane’s resignation.
Even for a club such as Real Madrid, there is only so much money you can pump into a squad and so many renewals before you have to ease up and let resources build up again. This might be just what Real Madrid are trying to do as they reconfigure their squad amid controversy over Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo’s futures.
Neymar, never too far away from a headline, has reportedly told Paris Saint-Germain to let him leave Ligue 1, as he is not happy. Real Madrid are seen as front-runners for his signature, but sacrifices will have to be made to have the financial muscle to make that move if and when it becomes a possibility.
One thing constantly bandied about regarding the signing of the Brazilian is that Ronaldo and he won’t be able to play together, and it has merit. Bale is also said to be strongly considering his future, and given Isco’s close relationship with Lopetegui, he might be better off making a move now before his suitors back off and his stock tumbles.
Real Madrid might be thinking the same about Karim Benzema, who was a shadow of himself for much of the season even if he improved at the end of the year. Benzema’s move-on value will plummet from this season onward, and a change is needed up front based on the bulk of the evidence we saw last season.
Winning is all that matters at Real Madrid, and nothing else will ever suffice. But they might be thinking of an overhaul after their three Champions Leagues wins and Zidane saying he had taken the team as far as it could go and that change was needed. They might think Lopetegui is the man to oversee that rebuild with Mauricio Pochettino, or someone of his ilk, lined up to come in and take that redevelopment to the next level when the time comes.
For all of Zidane’s success on the bench at the Bernabeu, one area in which he fell down was the development of the younger talent brought through to replace the aging superstars in the team. Theo Hernandez, Marcos Llorente and Dani Ceballos all struggled through worse than mediocre campaigns last year and are at crossroads.
There is, however, a very real chance that Real Madrid line up with an all-Spanish attack of Lucas Vazquez, Marco Asensio, Isco and Raul de Tomas at some point next season.
“He’s given me confidence when I haven’t been enjoying a central role at my club,” Isco said of Lopetegui recently, “and he’s a great coach.”
Isco and many more from that next generation are about to get a chance for roles in the first team.
In a world of mega-transfers and outrageous fees, re-signing Rayo Vallecano’s player of the year isn’t all that eye-catching. But it signifies something at Real Madrid, and it suggests that every player will be given a chance to fight for a role in the new manager’s plans.
With many of the fully-fledged first-teamers getting an extra week or so of rest after the World Cup, there will be chances for the young talent during the preseason. The only thing left to see is whether any one of the youngsters can take the opportunities on offer.
Robbie is based in Madrid and is one of ESPN FC’s Real Madrid bloggers. Twitter: @robbiejdunne