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Zidane and Madrid throwing away a potential superstar in Ceballos

6:00 AM MYT 19/06/2019
Dani Ceballos Zinedine Zidane Real Madrid
The midfielder is proving himself a class act at the European Under-21 Championship but the Blancos boss wants him sold this summer

There was only one person who wasn't enthused by Real Madrid's acquisition of Dani Ceballos in the summer of 2017.

Unfortunately for the midfielder, it was his new boss, Zinedine Zidane.

At just €16.5 million (£14.75m/$18.5m), Ceballos should have been one of the signings of the season. Instead, he was one of its most surprising disappointments.

He had illuminated the 2017 European Under-21 Championship with his outrageous skills and fantastic ball control, walking away with the Golden Player award even though Spain were defeated by Germany in the final.

Barcelona made a desperate late bid to sign him – despite the fact that Ceballos had previously landed himself in hot water over a number of vile anti-Catalan comments made on Twitter – but Madrid won the battle for his services.

A delighted Florentino Perez declared at the player's official unveiling, “Dani will be a pillar of the club for the future.

"Through his humility, hard work and sheer talent, he was recently named best player at the Euro Under-21 Championship.

"Now the real challenge starts, and you must succeed at this club for you, your family and for our fans all around the world, who are already fully convinced of your talents. The fans will back you to the hilt."

However, Ceballos never had the full support of the man who mattered most at the Bernabeu, Zidane, who deemed the then 20-year-old an unnecessary addition to an already well-stocked midfield.

Zidane’s stance was surprising. The assumption was that he would see something of himself in Ceballos. Certainly, with his velvet first touch and ingenuity, the Andalusian should have flourished under the Frenchman.   

Instead, he floundered, making just 12 appearances in La Liga, only four of which came as a starter. It was, as Ceballos said himself, "a lost season".

Zidane's summer departure was, thus, a dream for Ceballos; his March return a nightmare.

Indeed, after finally seeing regular game time under Zidane's successors, Julen Lopetegui and Santiago Solari, he was marginalised again by the former Ballon d'Or winner.

Ceballos was given just three outings in La Liga following Zidane's reappointment.

He wasn't surprised either.

Ceballos realised very early on he had little hope of ever winning over Zizou after he was afforded just one minute of action in a Champions League clash against Borussia Dortmund in September 2017 – just three days after scoring both goals in a 2-1 win at Alaves on his first Liga start for Real.

"When the weeks go by and you don't feel important, it is more difficult," he told Radio MARCA last September.

"There was a moment in the season where [Toni] Kroos and [Luka] Modric were injured and he would change the system to play other players [instead of me]."

Kroos and Modric still haven't gone anywhere, of course, and, according to sources at the club, Ceballos will be sold this summer.

He has insisted that he has no issue with Zidane, claiming the coach has “always been very clear with me”, and long claimed that he is determined to succeed in the Spanish capital.

However, at 22, a player of his ability should be playing regular football and he's not going to get it under a coach who once infuriated him by bringing him on for the final 20 seconds of a game at Leganes.

Ceballos deserved, and deserves, better. That was made abundantly clear just nine minutes into Spain’s Under-21 Euros clash with Italy in Bologna on Sunday night.

After taking a pass from Fabian Ruiz on the left-hand side of the Azzurri area, Ceballos shifted the ball on to his right foot, side-stepping the Inter-bound Nicolo Barella in the process, and sent a curling shot spinning into the top-right corner.

It was the highlight of a hugely impressive display from Ceballos, who twice drew gasps of disbelief from the press box with his fantastic footwork.

Ceballos may not have ended up on the winning side – a Federico Chiesa-inspired Italy came storming back to win 3-1 in front of a raucous home crowd – but, technically, he looked a cut above every other midfielder on the pitch, which was no mean feat given Barella, Lorenzo Pellegrini and Fabian Ruiz all started in Bologna.

Indeed, it is no surprise that the likes of Tottenham are tracking the former Betis ace. Zidane may feel that Ceballos takes too many touches on the ball but, as Spain's No.10 has once again underlined at another Under-21 Euros, he is one of the best young players in the world.

His display against Italy will only generate further interest in his services. It should help him get the move he merits, and desperately wants.

"I started well under Lopetegui," he recently told Onda Cero Radio, "but once he was fired, I, unfortunately, became secondary.

"My aim is to play wherever I go and prove that I can compete in any team in Europe. I hope to succeed because nothing is going to defeat me.

"Once the U21 Euros are over, I will decide my future."

He won't be short on offers, particularly if he backs up his Bologna masterclass with another star turn in Wednesday's now must-win meeting with Belgium in Reggio-Emilia.

Ceballos is one of the outstanding talents in a tournament full of potential superstars. Zidane is likely to be the only person enthused by his imminent Madrid departure.