Gary Lineker says that Neymar and Harry Kane represent the future and he would prefer either the Paris Saint-Germain star or the Tottenham Hotspur forward over an ageing Cristiano Ronaldo.
Ronaldo won a fifth Ballon d’Or in December, and he also picked up the FIFA Best Player prize and UEFA Player of the Year award during a year in which he was easily the most decisive player as Real Madrid won five trophies — including the Champions League and La Liga titles.
However, the 33-year-old, has not been at his best so far in 2017-18 and, amid uncertainty over his long-term future at Madrid. Club president Florentino Perez has reportedly maintained a long-running interest in Neymar, with rumours of a summer move continuing ahead of his current club’s Champions League round-of-16 first leg at the Santiago Bernabeu on Feb. 14.
Speaking to El Transistor radio show, Lineker, the former Barca striker, said Ronaldo had done a lot in the past, but Neymar, 26, now has a brighter future.
“Neymar is the future, [although] Cristiano has been very, very good,” Lineker said. “Neymar is a great player. I like him a lot.”
Madrid have also been linked with a move for current England captain Kane, who recently became the second-fastest player to score 100 Premier League goals. Asked to choose between Kane or Ronaldo, Lineker chose the 24-year-old Londoner.
“For the future? Harry Kane, for the future,” he said.
Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino has also been linked with a move to Madrid, with the Argentine seen as a potential successor should current coach Zinedine Zidane pay for the team’s dramatic drop in fortunes this season.
“Zidane has won a lot,” Lineker said, when asked to compare the two coaches. “I like Pochettino a lot, but he has still to win something.”
Asked to explain how a team which had looked so dominant last year was now so far behind Barca in the table, Lineker suggested that age might be catching up with some of Madrid’s key players.
“I don’t know what happened with Madrid this season,” he said. “Last year, they won almost everything. It is difficult to understand. Maybe it is because their players are a bit older now. But they are a different team this year.”
Lineker also laughed off a social media storm from last autumn when he had been heavily criticised by Madrid fans and pundits for his comments on Karim Benzema.
“Benzema is a good player,” he said. “I asked what people thought of him. Is he as good as we think? Just that. I understand that he is not a natural goalscorer, but he plays well with Ronaldo. But Madrid fans were a bit nervous. Twitter is always a bit dangerous, but also very entertaining.”
Dermot Corrigan is a Madrid-based football writer who covers La Liga and the Spain national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @dermotmcorrigan