Borja Mayoral and Real Madrid split: What it means for the back-up striker slot

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These observations — where I look at Real Madrid‘s history, its players on loan, Castilla, tactical tidbits, and other relevant thoughts — are now a regular thing. All previous editions can be found TIMES.


It is hard to fathom for many Real Madrid fans, but the depth chart at the center-forward position — a position many feel needs to be bolstered with more quality players — continues to wither. After the club ‘sold’ Luka Jovic — while retaining 50% of his rights and cutting losses — Borja Mayoral is the next in line. Today, Real Madrid confirmed something that was reported for some time in Spain: the Spaniard has officially been sold to Getafe. The fee is reportedly around 10m.

Mayoral’s story is somewhat sad, at least to me anyway. He has worked hard and waited patiently for his turn, but neither time nor luck bounced his way. Zinedine Zidane wanted to keep him over Luka Jovic at the turn of the 2020 – 2021 season; but the Spaniard went to Roma on loan in search of playing time and career development — with the hopes of returning as a more polished player to serve the club.

Mayoral rose at Roma under then-coach Paolo Fonseca. He scored 17 goals and conjured six assists in all competitions. He was fifth in Serie A in non-penalty goals for 90 in the 2020 – 2021 season. He excelled as a link-up striker, modeling his game around his idol, Karim Benzema.

But when the season ended, the manager who believed in him at Real Madrid, Zidane, had left, and the man who took over at Roma, Jose Mourinho, cast him aside. Mayoral’s career stagnated until he went to Getafe on loan mid-season, where he was statistically one of the most efficient strikers in Europe, ranking third (!) in all the top-five European Leagues in goals per shot. Mayoral had the most goals for shots on target of anyone in La Liga in the 2021 – 2022 season. (Small sample size, but he was efficient in his playing time and touches in Spain.)

But there is another twist of the knife, and that is where Mayoral’s career comes to an end: There was some potential, even if marginal, that he could’ve served as Benzema’s understudy this season as he wanted to stay, and even held out on accepting Getafe’s bid, in hopes that Real Madrid would extend their arm. But he was going to have difficulty finding a place in the squad when Mariano Diaz also didn’t want to leave.

Mayoral fits Real Madrid’s profile a bit better than Mariano. Stylistically, he can slot in as Benzema’s back-up more seamlessly out of the two without an overhaul in the scheme.

But the reality is that Real Madrid are having difficulty finding a home for Mariano, who continues to refuse a departure. Furthermore, the club is trying to open roster spots, and quite frankly, and this is an important point: Mayoral does not move the needle much. He is good, but perhaps not good enough to tie up desperately when an offer for him exists.

Real Madrid had back-up strikers, three of them, in fact: Mayoral, Mariano, and Jovic. They have even more if you count false-nine options: Rodrygo Goes, Marco Asensio, Eden Hazard. Two of the three pure strikers are gone. The third, Mariano, the club will continue to try to move before the transfer window concludes.

And that is the reality of having one of the greatest players in Real Madrid history as your starting striker: No one wants to be his back-up, and those who do, probably aren’t good enough.

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And this next point may hurt Real Madrid fans reading this: I don’t think opening up room by selling Mayoral necessarily opens the door to bring in a new striker. It may, it may not. From everything we know at Managing Madrid, it’s been hard for the club to find the player needed, and there is a scenario where they wait until next summer to see what opportunities in the market open up.

There is a real case they should make a move for someone, though, and I do see merit in signing some of the reported names: Edin Dzeko (experienced, may not ask for much playing time, can stay cool in front of goal when needed despite not playing much), Timo Werner (he has link-up ability and may welcome a change in scenery), Raul de Tomas (just a badass striker who can do a lot of good things all over the pitch and is a former player) .

But there has been no indication that Dzeko or Werner would accept such roles in the team. Perhaps Raul de Tomas would, though, it would be risky for him to do so as he enters the peak of his career as a back-up to one of the Real Madrid GOATs. All of these reports have surfaced, but there has been no real interest from the club itself on any of these players.

Real Madrid will treat the back-up striker option as they have treated most of their transfer strategy in the past few years: Pounce on market opportunities they believe in, without shoehorning players in. A couple of the ones they splashed on in the past (like Jovic), have exploded in their faces for reasons we’ve already discussed multiple times, and they don’t want to make that same mistake again.

If a good deal arises in their eyes, they’ll take it, but Real Madrid won’t look at Benzema’s back-up role with desperation as they’ll still have to incorporate players in Hazard and Asensio, who can take up the role of the false-nine when needed.

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