Real Madrid return from the USA with a record of two victories and a defeat but that is not the important thing. What is important are appearances and these have been generally very good, in the context of a swift tour and the absences of several starting players after the World Cup. The last game of Madrid’s warm-up for 2018-19, against Roma, underlined the encouraging development of pressure from the front after losing the ball, Julen Lopetegui’s trademark, the emergence of Gareth Bale as a leader and the confirmation of Marco Asensio as the main beneficiary of Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure. Lopetegui lined up in a 4-3-3 with Bale, Karim Benzema and Asensio in attack, regularly switching positions, and it worked.
The tour has also served to place the spotlight on Sergio Reguilón, the Castilla left back who has shown enough in pre-season to suggest he can be elevated the senior squad: the 21-year-old covers a lot of ground, defends well and displays good judgement when going forward. Reguilón has been by far the best of the young players in the US, although central defender Javi Sánchez, who was used more than he might have expected due to Jesús Vallejo’s latest injury and Sergio Ramos easing-in period, also exceeded expectations. And Dani Ceballos, who has been reborn after the end of the Zinedine Zidane era, grasped his opportunity with both hands having been little more than an afterthought under the Frenchman. Ceballos started every game and played with verve and style. He will have a greater role this season, now that Mateo Kovacic has departed on loan.
Now it remains to be seen what will happen with Luka Modric. The Croatia captain is not particularly well-paid at the Bernabéu, in as much as a footballer can be poorly remunerated. Modric’s salary of 6.5 million euros a year is considerably less than the 11 million Gareth Bale pockets, for example, and he is below the second rung of the ladder occupied by Sergio Ramos. Inter Milan have offered him a four-year deal worth 10 million euros a year after tax and a further two lucrative seasons in China. That is a huge final pay day for a player who will be 33 next month. Taxation concerns for high-earners are also more favourable in Italy, above all in terms of global image rights, which is where Ronaldo found his fiscal situation in Spain untenable. For Modric, these matters may have become more important after he won the Golden Ball at the World Cup. But he is under contract at Madrid and he cannot simply tear up the paperwork. With Courtois now a Real player, the next item on the agenda is Modric. The right course of action is to improve his terms, and considerably.