Dani Ceballos has had a tough time since signing for Real Madrid. The 21-year-old reportedly was wanted by a host of Europe’s elite clubs last summer, including Barcelona, but chose to join Los Blancos. So far, however, life in the capital has been difficult.
Despite his obvious talent, the former Betis midfielder has made just 17 appearances for Real in 2017-18 and only seven starts, with five of those coming in the Copa del Rey, just two in La Liga and none in the Champions League.
The controversy over his explosive tweets from the past out of the way after he signed in the summer, Ceballos looked to concentrate on his football and a match-winning double away to Alaves on his full debut in the Primera Division offered real promise.
That was back in September and it looked like the young Spain star would go on to be an important player for coach Zinedine Zidane, but ahead of Madrid’s meeting at home with Alaves again on Saturday, Ceballos has endured his worst week at the club.
Ridiculed as an unused substitute last weekend in the 5-3 win at Betis as fans at the Benito Villamarin called him a “benchwarmer” and “seed muncher” (it is common for Spanish supporters to take bags of sunflower seeds to football games), among other things, he did make it onto the pitch at Leganes on Wednesday — but only for 29 seconds!
But almost as soon as he had ran on the pitch with time running out in the 3-1 win, the match was over and he cut a forlorn figure as he walked through the mixed zone without stopping to talk or even look at anyone.
The Spanish press spoke of “humiliation” on Friday and some said Zidane had done it on purpose to make an example of his player. The Frenchman, however, was quick to play down the controversy later in the day.
“It was bad,” he said in the pre-match press conference ahead of Saturday’s game against Alaves. “I don’t like to play someone for just 30 seconds. At all. I’m sorry and I have told him that.
“He knows that he hasn’t played much this season but he’s still worked a lot, he’s great. I remember his match against Alaves in the first half of the season when he scored two goals. I love what he’s doing and he has to keep fighting.”
With Luka Modric and Toni Kroos now out injured, Saturday’s game against Alaves would be an ideal opportunity for Zidane to show he has real faith in a player who could be extremely useful in the Champions League at Paris Saint-Germain next month if the Croat and the German are not fully fit.
Meanwhile, it was recently revealed that Madrid have utilised their summer signings less than any other club in La Liga and that could, in part, explain their poor form in the Primera Division this term. Zidane has not rotated his pack effectively in the current campaign.
For his part, Ceballos may be young, but he is still among the most exciting talents in European football and he deserves more game time from his coach. Because no player can make much impact in 29 seconds…