There’s a goalkeeper battle going on at the Santiago Bernabéu.
No, not that one.
While rumours swirl around the futures of Keylor Navas and Thibaut Courtois with Real Madrid, debates have also emerged regarding the places of Luca Zidane and Andriy Lunin at the club.
Luca is the son of Zinedine Zidane, the club’s head coach, and was promoted from the youth academy last year. Lunin was signed from FC Zorya Luhansk in the 2018 summer transfer window but has spent the 2018-2019 season on loan with Leganés. Both goalkeepers were considered low in the pecking order going into this season, but with one of Keylor Navas or Thibaut Courtois likely to leave in the off-season, one of Zidane or Lunin will be promoted to the back-up position as a result. This means that one of them will play second fiddle to whoever remains between Navas and Courtois, and the promoted goalkeeper will likely take on the bulk of Copa del Rey action.
The question is, who will that promoted goalkeeper be?
The case for Luca Zidane
If Zinedine Zidane does stick with his son, it’ll be down to a few reasons.
For starters, Luca Zidane has been with the club for the longest time out of Real Madrid’s goalkeepers. Although he only made his first team debut in 2018, Zidane has been involved with the club since he was just six-years-old. He joined the club’s youth academy in 2004 and didn’t officially graduate until 2018. That’s 14 years of academy experience he brings; 14 years of growing up with the team, of getting to know the various coaches and staff, of building a reputation with the Los Blancos faithful, and of learning the Real Madrid way.
None of Keylor Navas (joined Real Madrid in 2014), Thibaut Courtois (joined Real Madrid in 2018), or Andriy Lunin (joined Real Madrid in 2018) can boast of having that close of a connection with the club. In fact, none of those goalkeepers had even made their professional debut when Zidane was admitted into Real Madrid’s youth academy. That’s how long the 21-year-old Frenchman has spent assimilating himself into Real Madrid’s culture, and that relationship is something that is very hard to come by in today’s football.
Zidane’s experience isn’t just limited to Real Madrid’s academy; he also brings international football experience. Zidane has been a part of the French national football program since 2014. He’s earned caps with every French youth team from the U-16s to the U-20s. He was particularly active with the French U-17 team, with whom he won the 2015 UEFA European U-17 Championship. He played a key role in his team’s victory, with his three penalty saves propelling Les Bleuets to a semi-final shootout win over Belgium. In total, Zidane has earned 30 caps across multiple French youth teams, which is more caps than Andriy Lunin has earned as a Ukrainian youth international.
The biggest deciding factor working in Zidane’s case is probably the name on the back of his jersey. As mentioned earlier, Luca’s father is Real Madrid icon and current head coach Zinedine Zidane. The elder Zidane is often regarded as one of the most powerful figures in Los Blancos history, and given that he was granted full control of the Real Madrid squad upon his return as club head coach, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Zidane show some bias towards his son. He has already been accused of making decisions that favour Luca’s career development, so nepotism might certainly play a factor.
The case for Andriy Lunin
Luca Zidane may have a lot of academy experience, but Andriy Lunin boasts something even greater; professional experience.
Despite being nearly a full year younger than Zidane, Lunin has been playing first division football since he was 17-years-old. He made his professional club debut in October 2016 with FC Dnipro; just months after he graduated from their academy. He would make 24 more appearances before joining FC Zorya Luhansk ahead of the 2017-2018 season. That season, he backstopped them to fourth place in the Ukrainian Premier League. He featured in 29 of the team’s 32 league matches.
Lunin was signed by Real Madrid in June 2018, with Los Blancos reportedly sending €8.5 million (plus €5 million in add-ons) FC Zorya Luhansk’s way. Lunin was loaned to Leganés a few months later, and although he hasn’t made many appearances, he has been solid in the minutes he’s played. Lunin conceded just three goals in three league starts this season, and he has kept a clean sheet too. He’s made 10 saves across those three starts, with his best being a free kick stop against Atletico Madrid.
His professional experience also applies to international football. Although Zidane has earned more caps with his youth teams, Lunin has already appeared for the Ukrainian national senior team. After making 23 appearances with various Ukrainian national youth teams, Lunin made his senior team debut in March 2018. He started in Ukraine’s 1-1 draw with Saudi Arabia, playing the full 90 minutes despite being just 19-years-old at the time. He has since earned two more senior team caps, all before his 21st birthday. Lunin is already a regular call-up for the Yellow-Blue, and he’ll likely assume starting duties once the 34-year-old Andriy Pyatov retires.
I would also argue that Lunin has more potential than Zidane. Aside from the fact that he made his professional club and national team debuts as a teenager (a clear sign of his potential), Lunin was chased by other world-class clubs prior to signing with Real Madrid. According to Gazzetta, Juventus and Inter Milan were also keeping tabs on the young Ukrainian, as were Wolfsburg, RB Leipzig, Real Sociedad, and Watford. Lunin’s transfer was a lottery win for Los Blancos given the quantity of competition they were racing against, and it showed that Real Madrid were convinced by Lunin’s potential.
Who wins out?
Current reports lean in favour of Luca Zidane. As alluded to earlier, Marca had reported that Zinedine Zidane was working towards making Luca the club’s second goalkeeper by disposing Keylor Navas in the off-season. It’s definitely a possibility; I don’t think there’s a father in the world who wouldn’t prefer to coach his son or daughter over a player he has no familial relationship with.
Still, there’s hope for Andriy Lunin fans. That same Marca report also suggested that the Real Madrid board prefer Lunin over Luca Zidane. Madrid-based journalist Melchor Ruiz also reported that Lunin will actually be Real Madrid’s number two next season if he’s not loaned out again. Finally, a Marca poll showed that most Madridistas would promote the Ukrainian over the Frenchman.
Personally, I think Lunin is the better option. He has more professional experience at the club and national team levels, he is more likely to develop into a world-class goalkeeper, and he’s committed less highlight-reel errors than Zidane. He’d be a safe option to rely on if Courtois or Navas experienced an injury or another poor run of form, and the Copa del Rey appearances he’d likely make as the club’s back-up is enough for his yearly development.
If we’re betting on the likeliest option though, given his familial relationship with the head coach and his long-time connection with the club, expect Luca Zidane to be promoted to back-up next season.