The arrival of galactico coach Zinedine Zidane on the Real Madrid bench could have varied knock-on effects on the current roster of big name attackers at the club - but we’ll have to wait to see what form the shake-up will take.
Almost as soon as Zidane had been presented at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu last Monday, stories spread that Gareth Bale was upset at his dressing-room ally Rafa Benitez getting the boot, and was ‘considering his future’ at Madrid.
These stories seemed to have more substance than the usual snap 2+2=5 speculation, being well sourced pieces from reporters with access to the player’s camp.
There were also widespread and believable rumours that Manchester United were willing to go well past the €100 million which Madrid spent to take Bale from Tottenham in summer 2013. Chelsea and Manchester City were also thought to be 'monitoring the situation', as they say.
Zidane himself accepted at his first press conference that Bale might be “upset” at Benitez leaving, while stressing that he would offer the same affection and support to the Welshman, who is a known favourite of club president Florentino Perez.
Bale definitely did not seem too troubled while scoring his second hat-trick in four games as Deportivo La Coruna were hammered 5-0 at the Bernabeu in Zidane’s first game in charge last Saturday. And the 26-year-old told reporters in the mixed zone afterwards that he had been sad to see Benitez go, but as a professional he aimed to carry on as before and keep his good form going.
“I had a very good relationship with Rafa, obviously it was a big disappointment to see him go,” Bale said. “But things like this happen in football, you’re professional and you get on with it and carry on. I feel good at the moment, I feel fit and I’m just trying to enjoy my football.”
Speaking an hour after a happy Bernabeu had given him a rare standing ovation, and Ronaldo had grown frustrated after missing a string of chances, Bale was asked about his long-term future.
“I’m happy at the moment,” came the quite careful response. “Obviously you can never predict what happens in the future. But I’m enjoying my football at the moment. So I’ll keep going.”
Bale does appear to be hedging his bets to see what happens over the next few months, and nobody really knows how things will go. Zidane has a relatively easy fixture list to start with, but should the team again get embarrassed by Barcelona or Atletico Madrid domestically, or fail early in the Champions League, further upheaval is more than likely.
The biggest ‘known unknown’ at the Bernabeu is the situation of Ronaldo, who is soon to turn 31. He has had a strange season so far, banging in goals against ‘smaller’ teams like Espanyol and Malmo, but making little impact in Madrid’s more difficult games.
The Portuguese himself appears conflicted - at times suggesting he would be open to leaving in the near future, and openly flirting with Paris Saint Germain, then at others saying he could see himself retiring at the Bernabeu.
From the final years of his own playing career, Zidane knows what it’s like being a fading galactico in an unsuccessful attacker-heavy team, and he offered full support last week.
“[Ronaldo] is non-transferrable,” he said. “He is the soul of this team, of Madridismo. When I am here, he will not leave. What I want is for him to be happy. The rest comes from that.”
This was perhaps a hostage to fortune, as everyone including Zidane knows that transfer policy at the Bernabeu is not decided by the coach. But despite thanking the ‘presi’ at his unveiling, the relationship between the pair is not as harmonious as some might think.
Florentino has kept Zidane close through the last decade, but there have been some strains over the last 18 months. As Castilla coach, the Frenchman upset the Bernabeu hierarchy with his treatment of ‘baby-galactico’ Martin Odegaard. There were also said to be doubts about his coaching ability - with the reserve side missing out on promotion last year. If that had gone better, Zidane would have taken over the first team last summer, not in an emergency situation when Benitez bombed.
For his first game as senior coach, Zidane did make plenty of crowd-pleasing decisions. Young Spanish fans favourites Isco and Jese Rodriguez got their first serious playing time in over a month. While out of favour under Benitez, both were linked with January moves away, but they look happy to stay for now.
Zidane’s first week also saw some pretty silly rumours about his arrival being bad news for Karim Benzema - despite the pair having very similar backgrounds and being very close.
Doubts about Benzema’s long-term future have more to do with the Les Bleus forward’s ongoing legal problems, so it will be the summer before his situation is resolved. Ditto that of Chelsea’s apparently unsettled Eden Hazard, who Zidane has regularly praised in the past. Bayern Munich's Robert Lewandowski, a long-time Perez target, is another with a decision to make over the coming months.
For the moment though, the new coach said last week he was more than happy with his current options and would prefer no ins or outs in January.
"I do not believe anyone will leave, or come in,” Zidane said. “I have a good group, with numbers, am happy with squad I have.”
Stability is not usually something that springs to mind when talking about Madrid. But the change of coach actually means they are less likely to do big business this month.
The real fun will have to wait for the summer.
Read more from Dermot Corrigan