The next three weeks are crucial for Jesé Rodríguez, arguably the most talented Real Madrid youth player to emerge at the club in the past decade. His days in the Spanish capital this season are numbered if he does not play regularly. Zinedine Zidane's debut as manager at the Santiago Bernabeu's dugout was promising for the young winger, as he came off the bench to play over 20 minutes on 9 January.
Not only did he pull off an astonishing nutmeg to bewilder Deportivo's Alejandro Arribas and win praise by fans, journalists, and social media, but he also played a role in Karim Benzema's goal that sealed the 5-0 thrashing. However, the challenge of playing week in week out is likely to remain almost an impossible one, after Zidane admitted last week that the BBC (Gareth Bale, Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo) remains an unbreakable triple act. "I will always play with the three of them, that is definitely the plan," he said. That leaves few minutes for Jesé.
The precocious 22-year-old dealt with a tricky situation under Rafael Benítez's tenure. The former Liverpool and Chelsea manager has had a good reputation with it comes to dealing with young players but, ironically, he was the first manager in the past 50 years to pick a starting line up without a single player from the youth system.
The player's expectations under Benítez were not fulfilled. Now, the player born on the Canary Islands has to decide what is best for him going forward. Arsenal, Liverpool and Real Sociedad are waiting on his decision and are reportedly ready to sign him on loan during the January window.
The Basques have even negotiated with Real Madrid's president Florentino Pérez, according to Diario AS, and the forward's salary will not be a problem for the Txuri urdin. But both Premier League sides are interested as well, according to Don Balon, via the Daily Mirror. So far, these three clubs are Jese's stand out options if he decides on a change of scenery.
The interest of top European clubs is not a big surprise. Speed, power, creativity and a high strike rate are the main features of this rough diamond. He shone especially bright in 2014's Copa Del Rey, helping Los Blancos reach the final. Despite playing as a winger, he scored three goals in that competition. But before cutting his teeth in the first-team, he broke the record of Madrid legend Emilio Butragueño by scoring 22 goals in the Segunda División in a single season with Castilla, Real's B-side.
Ginés Carvajal, Jesé's agent, has been clear about his client's future. He said: "He needs to play more because that is the way to raise his spirit. The club will have to make a decision by the end of January if he does not play regularly, he is training hard, he is fit and he has to make the most of the opportunities if he has the chance to play."
Would Jesé shine at the clubs reportedly ready to sign him on loan? It seems clear that he could get plenty of playing time at Anfield, as Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool are struggling with injuries in their attack after their wild spate of injuries. Jesé's skills would fit well in within Klopp's model because, apart from his technical skill, speed and scoring rate, he has always worked very hard on the pitch in order to recover possession. And that is a big bonus nowadays.
When it comes to Arsenal, it is obvious Arsene Wenger loves speedy wingers and versatility, and he needs more of that if he wants to keep up an assault on both the Premier League and Champions League. Jesé can play anywhere behind Olivier Giroud and even as a false nine. But reports state Arsenal and Liverpool are just waiting so far, aware that Jesé's dream is to succeed at Real Madrid. He will find out shortly whether he is going to have more minutes or not in the upcoming weeks.
Real Sociedad's terrible season and the lack of quality players in their squad will ensure Jesé would play each and every minute as long as he is not injured. If he makes the decision to move on from Real Madrid, he will have to decide: a top European club but with the risk of being benched occasionally? Or a smaller club without big ambitions? Spain's La Liga, or the Premier League and the inevitable risks of dealing with a different language and lifestyle?
But what seems clear is Real Madrid will need to rethink their policy when it comes to prodigious talents. Whereas Barcelona gives plenty of opportunities to young players, Sergi Roberto being a key example this season, Los Blancos are struggling to make the most of their rough diamonds. Alvaro Morata is the most obvious example. He scored goals regularly with Real but that was not enough to secure a role in Los Blancos' attack. Now, he is the most valuable forward at Juventus after scoring vital goals to reach last year's Champions League final.
While young talents at Madrid's academy do not have options to shine, the club spends a fortune on players such as Danilo, Lucas Silva, or Mateo Kovacic. It might be true that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.