Can Mariano Diaz salvage his career at Madrid?
Background image: Roberto, CC BY-SA 4.0
Mariano Diaz’s career came to a standstill at Real Madrid before this past week's El Clasico. Bereft a single La Liga appearance all season, a last-minute cameo in the campaign's most important match appeared as likely as Boris Johnson combing his hair. Apparently, Zinedine Zidane, despite his clean-shaven scalp, carries a comb in his pocket. On came the 26-year-old with instructions to help waste minutes and preserve a 1-0 victory. Frustrated by the lack of opportunity, however, the corner flag was the furthest thing from the Spanish-born Dominican's mind. Instead, he burst past Barcelona's unprepared defence and buried the ball behind Marc-Andre ter Stegen.
The Santiago Bernabeu was just as stunned as the scorer. Not that it mattered. His moment had arrived. If nothing else, Diaz’s name will be remembered by the history books and old Madridistas lingering over a glass in dusty cantinas. Nonetheless, Mariano shouldn’t wait idly for his next opportunity. After attaining cult status, the Spaniard finally earned his manager’s attention. Now, it’s time to reclaim a respectable role in the squad.
Demanding to start over Karim Benzema is wishful thinking but he can do more than mop-up when the match no longer hangs in the balance. Luka Jovic is yet to make his mark. In more than ten substitute appearances, the Croatian netted twice. Clearly unconvinced regarding his skills, Zizou left him out of the Clasico squad. Mariano's inclusion indicates Zizou hasn't lost faith in the Fabrica youth product.
Jovic's presence held Mariano back but Clasico goals change opinions. The erstwhile Lyon star may be upgraded from 'Plan C'. Not as physical as Jovic, he delivers surprising pace. Ask Gerard Pique and Samuel Umtiti. The 5’11 striker can also play in the air.
Hastily re-signing their academy graduate after selling him to Les Gones, the Merengues hoped the player's Ligue 1 scoring form would translate from French to Spanish. Why not, when he scored 18 in his lone season at the Stade de Lyon? Zidane doesn't cut corners, however. Mariano found himself back at square one, needing to prove himself.
He received his first game-time at the Supercopa de Espana. With one official minute in La Liga and one goal, it can't be said he didn't seize his opportunity with both hands. After playing with several Real first-teamers before his transfer, he should be able to develop chemistry with his teammates. That will be important. Equally so, he must continue to show the clinical side seen in El Clasico to succeed as an impact sub.
If he fails to produce on a consistent basis, Zizou won’t hesitate to use other options. Like any top manager, he desires multiple alternatives, all of the top-class variety. Jovic will want another chance and Madrid can sign anyone they like in the market. At 26, Mariano isn't exactly young anymore. Before this opportunity arrived, he pushed for a January move. This may be his only chance with the club. Any destination will be a step down and, this time, a one-way ticket.