Real began 2007 as they finished 2006 — with a defeat — and already the knives are out for two of the Bernabeu’s biggest, and best-paid, stars.
Coach Fabio Capello met with sporting director Predrag Mijatovic and president Ramon Calderon on Monday and AS claims he demanded the two stars be sold during the January transfer window.
While Beckham, whose contract runs out at the end of the season, continues to stall over signing an extension, Ronaldo’s is a case of time having finally caught up with the three-times world player of the year.
“If you can, sell him during the transfer window,” Capello told his bosses, according to AS, which has close ties to the Madrid club. “In these conditions, he’s not part of my plans.”
Ronaldo’s career has hit the skids over the past two seasons. Once the most dangerous and prolific striker in world football, he is now much derided for his expanded waistline and reduced influence on the pitch.
French newspaper L’Equipe has also claimed that Ronaldo, who has played in just seven league games this season, more than half as substitute, and scored a solitary goal, is a bad influence on other players, notably young Brazilians Robinho and Marcelo.
Rumours abound that Ronaldo leads his impressionable team-mates on inappropriate nights out, while he often turns up to train, according to Capello, “in an unacceptable condition for a professional footballer at Real Madrid”.
But to blame Ronaldo for Real’s malaise would be unfair. In all competitions he has taken to the field just 13 times, including six as a substitute.
The Brazilian superstar’s status at the club has greatly changed. His former president Florentino Perez, whose galacticos policy at the club initially yielded such great success, once said of him: “I would sooner sell the Santiago Bernabeu than let Ronaldo leave.”
But Perez’s successor Calderon apparently does not feel the same way.
It is not just Ronaldo under pressure, though. Capello has been criticised for his signings and their lack of success.
Of his summer recruits, only Ruud van Nistelrooy has been a success. Fifteen goals in 21 games in all competitions has seen to that.
But even Italian World Cup-winning captain and new world and European player of the year Fabio Cannavaro has not overly impressed and defensive midfielders Emerson and Mahamadou Diarra have become deeply unpopular with Real’s attack-hungry support.
Capello’s signing of three South American youngsters (Marcelo, Fernando Gago and Gonzalo Higuain) for a combined €35m in the transfer window does not seem likely to solve their issues either.
The club is also bringing pressure to bear on Beckham to either sign up or ship out in the transfer window.
Mijatovic has warned the former England captain that Real want to sort out his contract by next week, but the player’s representative indicated last week that a decision one way or the other would be made by March.
Beckham’s deal at the Bernabeu is due to expire in June and he has been free to negotiate with other clubs since the start of January, though his representative Simon Oliveira insists Real are the only club he is talking to.
The 31-year-old has found opportunities limited at the Bernabeu this season under Capello, but Real are nevertheless keen to retain his services.
Said Mijatovic: “Several months ago we presented an offer to renew his contract due to his importance not only from a sporting sense but from an image one.
“He wanted time to think about it but we are in a situation where we lack time and we have to react now. Next week, we will deal with this matter.”
Oliveira seemed to suggest last week that he and Beckham were working to a longer time frame.
“There is a significant deal on the table from Real. It’s slightly more than he’s on at the moment ... another meeting is scheduled for the second week of January.”
Beckham has been linked with a move to Major League Soccer in the US following a change in the rules, which allows MLS franchises to self-fund the wages of one player beyond the basic league pay structure.
He has indicated he would only return to England if it was to play for Manchester United.
* Barcelona have denied speculation linking midfielder Xavi with a shock move to Manchester United.
“We do not know about this subject. We have not received any offer for the player,” a club spokesman said. “Xavi is a key man for us and has signed a contract until 2010.”