Real Madrid look to have secured their replacement for star man Luka Modric. On Friday, they announced the signing of versatile midfielder Dani Ceballos. The ex-Real Betis man signed a six-year contract and cost the European champions €17m.
Don’t be frightened Madrid fans… Modric isn’t going anywhere, but the Croatian is 31-years-old. This is a classic move that we’ve seen the club make time and time again. They’re constantly on the hunt for young talent, because they love to look ahead. This is exactly what they’re doing with Ceballos, but there’s a difference between him and some of Madrid’s previous, young, ‘for the future’ flops.
Three center midfielder’s names immediately pop into my head. Sergio Canales, Asier Illarramendi and Lucas Silva were all in the same position Ceballos finds himself in now. Signed to arguably the biggest club in the world, they were meant to play a large part in the club’s future. Illarramendi and Canales both came up extremely short of expectations, while Silva, who is still owned by the club, needs to prove himself quickly before he sees himself following suit.
So, what’s different about Ceballos? Why won’t he be just another flop? At 20-years-old, he’s already better than the three combined. The youngster, fresh off receiving player of the tournament at this summer’s UEFA European Under-21 Championship, is already used to the pressure that comes with stepping onto the Santiago Bernabéu in all white. With a frustrating supporting cast at Betis, Ceballos played a very large role in keeping the club afloat. In addition, he was one of the main cogs in Spain’s run to the final of the UEFA U-21 Euros. His immense skillset is what separates him from the rest.
Like Modric, the Spaniard isn’t known for his goal-scoring capabilities. He’s a playmaker, and a damn good one to say the least. At such a young age, he already possesses great passing abilities. During any point in the game, Ceballos seems to know where his teammates are on the pitch or where they’re going to be. Taking advantage of his
brilliant football IQ, he’ll constantly play the ball into space for a teammate running onto it or split a couple defenders leaving them completely behind the play.
The dribbling and technical side of his play is even more impressive. This part of his game is what I believe could soon be superior to that of the little Croatian genius. He’s a master of baiting defenders into making the first move in order for him to swiftly dribble around them, but most of the time he doesn’t need to do so. His fantastic skill moves tend to leave defenders for dead as he accelerates immediately after pulling them off (thanks to this he won the second most fouls in La Liga last season). On top of all that, Ceballos has astounding control on the ball accompanied by a sublime first touch. He’s not a very easy one to win the ball from.
But wait… there’s more (RIP Billy Mays)! It’s his defensive work-rate that shocks me. He’s hardly standing still when the opposition is in possession of the ball. When he’s not shutting off the pass, he’s pestering the man on the ball. Rather than sticking in a foot or taking a swipe at the ball, Ceballos is usually smart in his tackling and often does well to regain possession himself.
Of course playing for such a club as Madrid is never an easy task. So, as he does need to improve on all of these assets in order to assure Zinedine Zidane he’s ready to replace Modric, there are a few things Ceballos should focus on more than others. He’s got impressive flair on the ball and he knows it. So, when it comes to overcomplicating things, like a simple pass or trying to beat one too many defenders, the young man can get a bit ahead of himself. This should fade away quickly, because the more experienced Madrid players won’t stand for that coming from someone other than Cristiano Ronaldo of course (maybe once he proves himself he can add a bit more of that flair back into his game). Another thing: consistency. If he wants to see time he’s got to play at a high level day in and day out. Those tough Madrid fans will be his harshest critic in this area. They’re never scared to let a player know whether he’s playing to their liking or not.
Ceballos will see the pitch next season. He won’t start many matches, but he’ll get his chances to impress in the midfield. When he does, Madridistas around the world will gawk at the young Spaniard’s gorgeous style of play.