Who would've though that this is how Jese's time with Real Madrid would eventually end. His entire stint with the club was one giant rollercoaster - from breaking the single season goalscoring record with Castilla in 2013 and scoring in El Clasico just a season later, to getting struck with an agonizing ligament tear in his knee which battered the rhythm in his upward trajectory as a budding star. And, despite bouncing back from that tormenting injury after missing several months, he's yet to recycle that initial pre-injury form. And so it is - he packs his bags to Paris for a settlement that has Madridistas thoroughly confused.
But this needed to happen. How many debates were had in the past several months about the crowded AM position, and how to keep everyone happy when you start down-climbing the depth chart beyond the starting front three? Morata was always going to eat up any of Benzema's leftover minutes - maybe even getting some burn alongside the Frenchman in any freak schemes that involve a 2nd striker or a shadow on the left wing - while James, Isco, Lucas Vasquez, and even Marco Asensio are the most insurance you'll ever get for those backups slots. In truth, the clutter at that position may require even more trimming, and it could come in the shape of another Asensio loan, or even more dramatic - an Isco sale.
In theory, there's little to be upset about, other than any emotional attachment that one might have to Jese. He's a player fighting for a back-up spot with four other players who are at the very least, just as good as him, if not, further along. If you trust Zidane, you trust the process, and when it comes to evaluating players coming out of Castilla, there isn't anyone better than Zidane to do it - not a soul on the planet more understanding of the nest egg currently overflowing within the club's youth repository.
It's a non-pseudo approach. Zidane has taken a pragmatic step to building the culture he wants by stockpiling and prioritizing players who have come out of Castilla. Morata until now has been the only signing the club has made this season, and Marcos Llorente may end up being Casemiro's insurance by the time September rolls around. Furthermore, this entire preseason has been about building youth capacity. Zidane looks five years ahead, not just one. He's planted seeds in the Bundesliga, injected Castilla with more talent to replace the graduates and has indirectly shown Perez he's here to stay - that he'll be here to water those seeds and plant new ones for the next generation too.
So where does that leave Jese in all this? He's a well-liked player who's suffering during a time where Real Madrid are abnormally well-stocked in the position he plays in - even by their galactico standards. Zidane always had a tough task of curtailing the roster and balancing the team, there was no chance he could keep everyone.
"In any case the squad has depth and I'm happy, because they'll all be needed with a lot of games to come. Jese is in the squad and it's true that last year he didn't play a lot. I'm the Madrid Coach and I want him, because I really like him, but if I was his family I'd tell him to look for more minutes. But I'm the Coach, and maybe he can get them here. We'll see. But I'm happy with him because I know his quality."
It's clear that Zidane does like Jese - but he also likes everyone else on the squad, and not everyone can stay. For Real Madrid, it makes sense that it's Jese who's the one sacrificed - with more sacrifices potentially coming. Of the players fighting for a backup spot behind Bale and Ronaldo, Jese might be the most unknown at this point. Yes, we all know what Jese is and what he might be, but there are no guarantees he'll regain his form from a few seasons ago, and he'll never find it while playing sporadic minutes in a flooded position. At this point, Asensio looks like he's surpassed Jese already, both in his readiness to play at the top flight now, and also in terms of his upside. James Rodriguez remains one of the best bench players on the planet, and both Lucas Vasquez and Isco gained a lot of confidence under Zidane. There's just no room, even with Jese gone.
So now we discuss logistics - it's easy.
It's never ideal letting a young and talented player go without a buyback clause, but given the following realities, selling Jese should be a pill that's easy to swallow:
- Ligue 1 does not allow buy-back clauses in their transfers; hence Real Madrid's inability to have that option with Jese's departure.
- Given that rule, it certainly drove the price up to 25m - a surprising figure (although, at the time this article is being written, it's reported the fee will be closer to 23.5m).
- So why chose Ligue 1 if there is no buy-back option? Because where else are you going to get 25m for Jese Rodriguez? It's a sensible transaction for Real - cashing in on a Castilla player on an offer they probably won't come across again.
- If there's a time to pull the trigger on this sale, it's now - with plenty of talented and youthful insurance to patch his departure.
- Jese's contract ends next season, so a loan is not even possible unless the team inks him to a new guaranteed deal which brings him back after a loan stint - an idea that becomes complicated if that's not what PSG are interested in doing. There's also a risk of losing him for nothing next season if Jese doesn't renew.
On a calculated whim, this is the only way to make room for the surging Marco Asensio who's trajectory looks like it will break all social norms full-force. Zidane has now publicly stated that he wants Asensio to stay with the squad next season, which means we can probably rule out another loan move for him. Asensio's emergence is a fantastic victory of Real Madrid's current youth-grooming model which sees them raise, loan, filter through players as the cream rises to the top, and buy back the ones with a gold star at a higher price - a price well worth the initial investment of letting other clubs guinea pig themselves into testing Madrid's prospects. Asensio was an alum of this ideology, as was Carvajal and Morata - though the later two had slightly different circumstances. Vallejo and Mayoral hope to follow suit, both being players who should rise to the top as well.
Today's @diarioas front page: "Asensio convinces Zidane" - but either James or Isco will have to make way pic.twitter.com/TuHrTDSWRj— AS English (@English_AS) August 1, 2016
Asensio has enough talent laced through him to trump them all, though, and that's not a knock on the other prospects on this list. Vallejo, for example, given his talent and accelerated maturity, might end up having the most stable Real Madrid career when all is said and done given that he's arising in a position that's much thinner than the one Asensio is currently jostling for.
But Asensio is special. His versatility is scary. He can play as a creator and chief assister, sling high-quality set-pieces, is irrationally good in tight spaces, and can pick the ball up from deep. Eventually he might even start scoring goals - a trait that's not urgent given how prolific Bale, Ronaldo, and Benzema currently are. That Zidane sees him as a key player in a time where Real Madrid are thoroughly stacked with players much more expensive than him speaks volumes to Asensio's dynamic growth as a player. I mean he's 20. Sheesh.
Everything about Real Madrid's plan of action this summer has been low-risk and strategic. It's hard to a recount a more versatile team than this in the club's history. There are safety nets being engineered all over the roster to prevent another 2015 collapse where the team was paralyzed when Modric and Benzema went down during key stretches. Long gone are the days where Sergio Ramos has to serve as a band-aid DM, or Isco is thrown into the raging fire of a false 9 role.
Things are different, now.
Heck, Zidane has even tinkered with the idea of unearthing the primitive 4-4-2 which Diego Simeone has been bulldozing opponents with - In a different scheme, to be sure. But with Morata at the helm, it's not a far-fetched idea, and it's something that Mourinho fiddled with not long ago. That borderline-outdated system won't be Real Madrid's ideal formation, and certainly won't be something to count on when everyone is healthy. Yet, it's an option. The most important gratuity that Morata brings though is not the 4-4-2, it's something that Jese never could bring to the table - the ability to hold the scheme when Benzema can't dress.
As is always the case, things will be clearer when the transfer window closes. What is clear though, is that the buffer that Morata brings up front trickles down through to the entire team. If Bale doesn't dress for whatever reason; Asensio, Lucas Vasquez, and James can play in that position - with Isco and Kovacic in much more desperate circumstances filling in if needed. On the left, Bale can switch over to cover for Ronaldo, while any of the aforementioned players shuffle to the right to cover for Bale. Isco on the left has proved menacing last season, as no other player in the squad links as well with Marcelo as him - on both ends of the field to boot. Heck, even as a last resort, Morata is capable of drifting to the left to play alongside Benzema.
Meanwhile, both James and Isco have proved they can play as more traditional central midfielders in any event where Kroos and Modric need a rest, with the most important piece being Mateo Kovacic - a player who, two years ago, was on course to becoming one of the best box-to-box presences in the game. He's not there yet, but he's merely 22, and hasn't regressed as a footballer enough to abandon now. If there is a concern with Zidane it may lie there - that he hasn't invested in players like James or Kovacic enough as he has in Castilla's Very Own.
But again, safety nets - an abundance of safety nets.
The only safety net that might dumbfound fans is the one that Zidane is relying on for the left back position, wherein Fabio Coentrao returns from his La Liga hiatus - fresh off a mortifying stint in France where he was yet again decimated with injuries and struggled to find his form. De facto, his hiatus continues as he currently nurses an injury which will see him out until November. Yet, despite all this, Danilo can cover for both Carvajal on the right as well as Marcelo on the left just fine. Nacho is still with the squad too - he provides security that's ever sound and reliable. And, if Zidane can ever bring to light Coentrao's latent abilities as a footballer, the defensive look he brings to the table provides Zidane's scheme some invaluable elasticity.
Lest we forget
For the most part, Madridistas want nothing to do with Coentrao, who was unfairly and unreasonably loaned out only to regress as a footballer, but if the 28-year-old can arise from the ashes and round out into his form from two years ago, Real Madrid are laughing. It's far-fetched, but it really was just two years ago where Coentrao turned in one of the most special performances of the historic Decima run - putting Arjen Robben in his back pocket in the semi-finals while pragmatically venturing forward and giving Guardiola's men all kinds of problems on the other side of the pitch.
As a whole, despite some semi-obvious blips which every team in the world has somewhere in their roster anyway, Real Madrid look well primed for the next half-a-decade or so, and their biggest signing this season may be continuity. Don't mistake this off-season as timidness from Zidane and the board. Quite contrary, the summer of 2016 is proving to be a courageous one. On the brink of a transfer ban, the club has defied the unwritten rules of pressing the panic button and stockpiling the team with superfluous players. They've shattered the status quo in every sense. In a year they were expected to buy, they stood pat - feeding the gaps with returning players and youth while even offloading, as in the case of Jese. The team now builds from its resurgent success last season, and in most circles, the feeling is this team will improve even more with the vision and identity Zidane is building. He empowers. It's exciting to think where he can take Real Madrid with a whole season under his belt, and beyond that, a few years. If his trajectory continues, Zidane might turn into that stable coach Real Madrid have been searching for. And before you accuse us of jumping the gun, just remember we didn't feel this way about previous coaches.
Zidane is cataloging this team with a long-term vision, and the board has worked with him every step of the way. They have taken a leap with Zidane and trusted the mechanisms the French sophomore coach is implementing. It's incredible - the least exciting off-season in years just may turn out to be the most exciting one.