Photo by Eurasia Sport Images/Getty Images

And, with that, the window of opportunity might just have slammed shut for Mariano Diaz.

As Karim Benzema and Luka Jovic take time to recover from injury and illness, Real Madrid’s seldom-seen striker was included in Zinedine Zidane’s XI for the first time since May 2019 as the La Liga champions travelled to Villarreal on Saturday.

A stooping header, guided into the corner from a Dani Carvajal cross just two minutes into an encounter with Unai Emery’s in-form side represented the perfect start from a man desperate to make his mark.

But that was about as good as it got.

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Corriere dello Sport claims that both Zinedine Zidane and president Florentino Perez have made it clear to Mariano that his future lies away from the Santiago Bernabeu.

A Madrid side counting the cost of an ongoing financial crisis would jump at the chance to get a £70,000-a-week afterthought off their books; especially if the likes of West Ham, Everton or Crystal Palace are willing to pay the £23 million fee required (Sport).

While Mariano seized his chance in Villarreal – quite literally in fact – Wednesday’s Champions League clash with Inter Milan felt like a missed opportunity.

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The 27-year-old failed to strike fear into an Inter side reduced to ten men by Arturo Vidal’s foolishness, looping a tame header into the arms of Samir Handanovic before, on two separate occasions, being caught dallying in possession as a chance to shoot passed him by.

In truth, the whole game passed Mariano by, outshone by fellow fringe players Martin Odegaard and Nacho Fernandez as Real cruised to a 2-0 win.

Just before the hour, Zidane brought a premature end to Mariano’s evening. The fact that his replacement, Rodrygo Goes, scored with his first touch seconds after coming off the bench was not lost on anyone.

Spanish publication Sport, meanwhile, gave the Dominican international a mere 5/10 for his efforts.

If this is the last time Mariano starts in a Real Madrid shirt, he will surely be left wondering if he could have done more.

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