Hassan Chamas

Teams across Europe commonly deliberate during the January transfer window to decide whether or not their squad is good to go for another six months of club football. While some might see the winter transfer period as pointless, the broad sensation when it comes to clubs getting involved in the player bazaar is a positive one, even though some of these might hold cup-tied stipulations.

When word got out that Real Madrid’s Pepe had ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament in the match against Valencia last December, the main gossip topic around the capital club was about the identity of the coming man – if any – that would have to step into the centre-back’s massive boots, and make sure that the Santiago Bernabeu wouldn’t miss the presence of their towering defender.

As his team-mates highlighted recently, Pepe is definitely a key leader in the squad. Ever since his divisive move from Porto two summers ago, the Brazil-born defender has won the hearts of Madridistas worldwide, trying his best to be Real’s new Fernando Hierro, a club legend that Pepe openly commended on many occasions.

Pepe is to Real Madrid what Carles Puyol and John Terry are to Barcelona and Chelsea respectively. Take either Puyol or Terry out of the equation and suddenly the picture looks a lot different. Can such key players really be replaced mid-season? And to what extent?

If the rumour going around the Bernabeu mill that directors Jorge Valdano and Miguel Pardeza informed the squad of their decision not to buy a new defender is true, then Real Madrid’s season might end up taking a dive for the worse. With Pepe spending the next six to nine months in the treatment room, Los Blancos can only call upon three natural centre halves in Ezequiel Garay, Raul Albiol and Christoph Metzelder. Add to that the fact that the latter appears to be nowhere near Manuel Pellegrini’s plans and the coach has a serious migraine to attend to.

Real Madrid do indeed appear to be in need of a new, fresh figure should they want to bolster their chances of collecting silverware at the end of the season. However, buying just for the sake of buying might have less than welcome consequences for Los Merengues, as the club might ask itself after the fog of war has settled just why did they purchase a player whose function in the squad is completely unknown, with recent examples being Julien Faubert, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, and to some extent, Rafael van der Vaart.

But choosing not to be involved in the winter mercado might have serious repercussions for a team around who so much has been built in the pre-season, as guillotines will definitely be set-up should Real’s season end trophy-less.

That being said, what defender should Florentino Perez wave a big cheque at?

Innumerable names have been put muttered around Europe as to who will be Madrid’s buy of the winter, and seeing the way various Spanish tabloids have each sponsored a different player, one would think that the deal is as good as done. Indeed, if the tabloids had their way, then Ricardo Carvalho, Nemanja Vidic, Carlos Cuellar, Thiago Silva and Nicolas Otamendi will all be training under Manuel Pellegrini’s watchful eye.

Nearly any one of these players – even Vidic – could be bought in for a six-month period, asked to partner Albiol in defence, and still be bid farewell at the end of June, such is the Real Madrid way. Yet, and this may come as a shock, none of them would be adequate enough to fill the void left by Pepe’s injury.

Ever since this season began the general obsession around the Bernabeu has been that elusive “Decima” trophy, or tenth Champions League, a feat that would separate Real Madrid from the chasing pack, putting AC Milan and Liverpool especially out of sight. Whenever Pellegrini or any member of his squad has been asked about this term’s main objective, the answer is always the same: The Champions League.

Recent experience has shown that a solid back-line is key should any team have real hopes of going all the way to the showpiece European final. Manchester United had Vidic and Rio Ferdinand in 2008, and Barcelona had Puyol and Gerard Pique in 2009. For Real Madrid to achieve their 2009/10 purpose, a top-class centre-back seems like a necessity, but any deal with a Champions League club would see the incoming defender cup-tied, and with top-notch stoppers a rarity at Europa League level, there is an argument that any defensive buy this January would be a waste of cash from the Bernabeu coffers.

So if the chequebook stays closed then what can be done? An alternative could be calling upon the Castilla, Real Madrid’s youth fabric. After being ridiculed during the first Galacticos era thanks to the “Zidanes y Pavones” policy, where unproven youth-teamers would be drafted into the first-team to fill the positions that were left vacant due to Perez’s massive spending elsewhere, the Castilla has gone on to produce many of today’s young La Liga stars such as Juan Mata, Esteban Granero, Alvaro Negredo, and Roberto Soldado.

And one particular name that stands out in today’s crop is Marcos Alonso Mendoza. The second team’s regular left-back – he has featured in all of Castilla’s games so far this campaign – Marcos Alonso’s elevation to the first-team squad seemed to be all but a certainty this past summer as eyebrows were raised over Marcelo’s ability. With the Brazilian clearly enjoying himself more as a left-sided midfielder, the stage is set for Alonso to make his senior Bernabeu bow.

Furthermore, should Manuel Pellegrini get his hands on Castilla’s star, then he will have the ability to move Alvaro Arbeloa back to his original right-back spot, as the ex-Liverpool man has shown signs of discomfort playing out of position, leaving Sergio Ramos free to switch to centre-back, a position the Andalucian greatly excels at.

This however does not indicate that Marcos Alonso will slot right into the back-four’s left flank. Ever since Pepe’s absence, Ezequiel Garay has filled in with impressive ease. However, Alonso’s promotion to the first-team adds squad depth and versatility to a defence that already looks to be Madrid’s best in recent years. Moreover, it would silence those who still believe the club overlooks its youth products.

Whilst Marcos Alonso may not be the whole answer to covering Pepe’s absence, he can be part of it, and a reason Real Madrid would be right to snub the January transfer madness.


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