It's the end of an era at Real Madrid as Karim Benzema departs Madrid for Al-Ittihad in Saudi Arabia. Los Blancos will now need to replace a club legend leading the line as Benzema has won everything that there is to win and has risen to become their second leading scorer all-time behind only Cristiano Ronaldo. Real Madrid has replaced legendary strikers before but the difference now is that unlike when Benzema took over for Ronaldo, there isn't a current like-for-like replacement for his role on the roster right now.
With Carlo Ancelotti set to stay at the Santiago Bernabeu for at least another season and Kylian Mbappe also staying at Paris Saint-Germain, it puts Real Madrid in a tricky situation. Do they look to add a long-term solution or a stopgap until seeing if they can land Mbappe? Heck, after finishing behind Barcelona and getting knocked out of the Champions League at the hands of Manchester City, can the team even afford to wait if it costs them more trophies?
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Replacing a Ballon d'Or winner is an almost impossible task but here are a few ways that Real Madrid can try to do it:
Go after the trophy-hungry Harry Kane of Tottenham
When you're looking at the best strikers in the world, a few names come to mind. Robert Lewandowski, Erling Haaland, and Harry Kane. With one year remaining on his contract at Spurs, Kane would be the most affordable replacement on the market even dealing with a tough negotiator in Daniel Levy. Kane is coming off a season in which he scored 30 goals but his selflessness is what can make him a top option in Madrid. An underrated part of Benzema's game is his passing to link up with Rodrygo and Vinicius Junior and dropping deep to split the lines is something that Kane does quite well to set up Heung-Min Son. Kane can at times drop deep too to receive the ball but there would be no need to do that in Madrid with an actual midfield to feed him.
Kane wants to pass Alan Shearer to become the Premier League's all-time leading goal scorer but if he's considering his legacy, nothing can boost that like a move to Real Madrid to become a treble-winner. The road from Tottenham to Madrid is a well-worn one with Gareth Bale and Luka Modric helping to elevate the team so there's even familiarity there in terms of the clubs talking, but as England's number nine, pressure won't be new to him. It would be the most seamless fit for Los Blancos outside of options currently on their roster.
Work with two up top in Vinicius Jr. and Rodrygo
The term "balling on a budget" may not be one that should be associated with Real Madrid but with high-priced attacking flops like Eden Hazard and Luka Jovic, there is the chance that the team is afraid to wade into the high-priced attacking market instead preferring to develop their own attackers with Endrick Felipe on the way once he turns 18. The duo of Vinicius Jr. and Rodrygo combined for 19 goals and 17 assists in league play this season which is more than fine for a strike partnership especially if Jude Bellingham will be feeding them next season.
They have their finishing woes but with their speed, they are able to create and score enough chances that it usually doesn't matter. But facing top defenses is where the duo can hinder Real Madrid's upside. Making space for a top striker, they're excellent but when space narrows and defenses can sit back, they haven't proven to be able to break down a disciplined defense on their own. For a Real Madrid side where it's a disappointment if they don't win at least two trophies in a season, it's hard to say that Vini Jr. and Rodrygo can offer the best possible chance at both.
Could Roberto Firmino be a short-term answer?
Available on a free transfer from Liverpool, one name that has been directly linked to Real Madrid is Roberto Firmino. While the 31-year-old would up their Brazillian flair, he has only played in 45 league matches for the Reds over the past two seasons. Firmino has been effective when called upon scoring 16 goals in those appearances but it's hard to call him a replacement for Benzema. This feels more like a move that would happen in tandem to others or as an absolute last resort if he's to be the starter.
It's not a slight on Firmino but the best-case scenario at Real Madrid is similar to the usage of Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting at Bayern Munich. Come in when needed in a pinch but realistically play second fiddle to another striker in the side or if Vini Jr. and Rodrygo need to be spelled. Firmino's pressing and passing could be a boon to Madrid just not if he's expected to play the lion's share of minutes.
Other names to watch
Looking at the next tier of strikers, Jonathan David, Randal Kolo-Muani, and Victor Osimhen come to mind. David's numbers with Lille look great until you realize that 10 of his 24 league goals came from the penalty spot. Adding that with his disappearing act at the World Cup, while David is a talented striker, he's best suited for a move a few tiers lower than Real Madrid. A fair comparison can be made to when Jovic was signed from Eintracht Frankfurt following a breakout season there. A team should certainly sign David, but that team shouldn't be Real Madrid.
Moving to Kolo-Muani and Osimhen, both cost and competition come into play. Competition isn't really an issue when you're Real Madrid but each could cost over 100 million dollars at which point it has to come into question if they're truly what Madrid need right now. Both can help bridge the gap for the future but Osimhen comes with growing injury concerns and Kolo-Muani has similar concerns to David although his are smaller due to winning Europa League and playing Champions League soccer. The duo are among the most sought-after strikers in the world for good reason but the risk could outweigh the reward.
Replacing Benzema is a complicated task indeed and no matter how you slice it, if the wrong decision is made, Los Blancos could be looking at another season of disappointment. Things will move quickly since Real Madrid will want a full preseason with their new signing but if there are slowdowns due to negotiations, it's not a move that can be forced.