SPECIAL: Who could replace Ronaldo?

As the football world comes to terms with Cristiano Ronaldo’s decision to leave Real Madrid, the onus is now on who will replace him at Real Madrid.

Of course, this is not new territory for the Portuguese, who revealed he was “sad” at the Santiago Bernabeu in 2012, before signing a new contract at the start of the following season.

Critics point to this as another ploy for an improved deal or something more sinister, but he already penned a renewal back in November to become the world’s highest-paid player and his tax affairs don’t look like going away any time soon.

So who has what it takes to fill his boots?

Kylian Mbappe

A long-term target for Madrid, Kylian Mbappe is widely considered to be the most exciting prospect in world football. A breakout 2016-17 campaign yielded 26 goals and 14 assists in just 44 appearances, as well as a Ligue 1 title with Monaco and international recognition for France.

With his electric pace, athletic build and explosive shot, Mbappe looks and plays like a young Ronaldo. It seems only a world-record fee will be enough to whisk the 18-year-old away from the principality, but Madrid certainly look the best placed for his signature – and more so if Ronaldo leaves.

Antoine Griezmann

Antoine Griezmann claimed at the end of last year that there was a pact for both Madrid clubs not to sign players from each other. Furthermore, Atletico’s ban on registering new players prompted the Frenchman to commit himself to Los Rojiblancos for at least one more season. But will any of that still stand if their arch-rivals come calling?

Griezmann has made no secret of his desire to play for a bigger club, and while crossing the divide may never have been an option before, out of his loyalty to Atleti, the prospect of replacing arguably the world’s best player may be too good an opportunity to miss.

Eden Hazard

If there was one player Zinedine Zidane could sign, it would surely be Eden Hazard. The pair have occasionally flirted with one another in the Press, and despite the Chelsea star appearing to close the door on Los Blancos, he may feel compelled to open it again.

Having just enjoyed his best scoring season in League football, Hazard is on his way towards becoming the complete attacker. The argument remains that the Belgian would only be a luxury signing, but as an inverted left winger in Madrid’s 4-3-3 system, he would fit in flawlessly.

Robert Lewandowski

Speculation linking Robert Lewandowski and Real Madrid may have evaporated of late, given he signed a new contract with Bayern Munich midway through last season, but this was probably under the assumption that Cristiano Ronaldo would end his career in the Spanish capital.

The most prolific player in European football that isn’t named Ronaldo or Lionel Messi, the Poland striker has scored 110 goals in just 147 appearances at the Allianz Arena, and his agent has never missed an opportunity to feed the rumour mill. Could we be seeing more leaks like this over the next couple of months?

Gareth Bale

Or do Madrid have an in-house solution? Their decision to sanction the then-world-record, €100m purchase of Gareth Bale in 2013 was not only a statement of intent but also a sign that they were looking to life after Ronaldo.

Injuries and the emergence of cantera such as Marco Asensio curtailed his 16-17 campaign, but the mere suggestion that Bale could be on his way out of the Bernabeu is scandalous. The Welshman’s best football for Los Merengues has come when he has been given a free role, meaning his moment may be about to arrive.