The summer is only just getting started, but Real Madrid have already got plenty of business done.
There have been several departures: Marco Asensio, Karim Benzema, Mariano Diaz and Eden Hazard.
Meanwhile, Nacho, Luka Modric, Toni Kroos and Dani Ceballos will all be staying after agreeing contract extensions.
In terms of new faces, Brahim Diaz is back after three years out on loan, Fran Garcia was re-purchased for €5million (£4.3m; $5.8m) and Jude Bellingham arrived in a €103million deal that will likely reach a club-record fee once variables (worth up to a further 30 per cent) are met.
Madrid’s most recent signing is 33-year-old striker Joselu, on loan from Espanyol with an option to buy. Since his move was made official on June 19, one dominant question has emerged around the capital club: is all of their transfer business done already?
Going off what president Florentino Perez has said in public, and the club’s briefings to select media, that appears to be the suggestion they want to put out there.
The wider picture is a little more complicated — but Madrid’s public messaging has left key figures around the team with major concerns.
The day before Joselu’s signing was announced, Perez was filmed speaking with fans as he signed autographs.
“Is the deal for Joselu already done, Presi?” he was asked.
“Yes, he will come next week,” was Perez’s reply.
“Will anyone else come?”
What Perez said, and what the club has briefed to select media — that no further signings are planned — only represents a half-truth, however.
In conversation with several club sources over recent weeks — all of whom, like others in this piece, spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect their relationships/positions — The Athletic has most often heard a similar but subtly different reply: that it will be “difficult” for any more deals to be done.
But even this sits in stark contrast to the mood around the club just a few weeks ago.
On June 1, Perez, director general Jose Angel Sanchez and manager Carlo Ancelotti met to discuss the summer’s transfer plans. Ancelotti, as he had done a year earlier, called for reinforcements in attack, with one name above the rest: Harry Kane.
Ancelotti was warned that it would be very difficult because of the need to negotiate with Daniel Levy. And since then, the club appear to have decided Kane cannot be obtained at a price they consider reasonable — especially for a player who has one year left on his contract and who turns 30 in July. They expect he would cost well over €100million. Bayern Munich have since made a €70million bid, which Tottenham rejected.
This week, sources close to Ancelotti expressed their disappointment with the notion that no more additions will be made.
They are worried that they will start the season with Joselu as their only summer addition in a role that needs strengthening following the departure of club legend Benzema. He and Asensio contributed a combined 43 goals and 14 assists last season.
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Some voices among Ancelotti’s team even suggested to the Italian that it might be better to pack up and leave, with the Brazil national team still communicating their strong interest in making him their next manager. The point was made that, should Madrid start the season slowly and begin to struggle owing to a lack of quality in attack, the coaching team will be the ones to carry the can.
The opinion of Ancelotti, however, has not changed. It has always been his priority to remain in Madrid.
If Kane is out of the picture, where else might Madrid look?
What the coaching staff have been calling for is a heavyweight replacement for Benzema. Kane was their priority not just because of the goals he would bring but of the way he would help the team’s play to coordinate in attack.
Other names contemplated in recent months have included Inter Milan’s Lautaro Martinez, but Madrid has so far not decided to make a move. Napoli’s Victor Osimhen is also liked, but the Serie A champions are not considering selling him for less than €100million — a figure Madrid would again be reluctant to match.
Madrid are aware of what they expect to be two lower-cost options: Moussa Diaby, from Bayer Leverkusen, and Randal Kolo Muani, from Eintracht Frankfurt. However, the club is not totally convinced by either option. They do not want to make the same mistake they did with Luka Jovic; a player who was unproven at elite level, and ultimately did not live up to his €60million price tag after signing from Frankfurt in 2019.
A new name has recently entered the frame: 18-year-old attacking midfielder Arda Guler. He has a release clause of €17.5million in his contract with Fenerbahce that the Turkish club are asking to be met.
Real Madrid consider signing Guler from Fenerbahce
That Madrid are considering this is another sign that they are not standing still in the market, despite reports to the contrary based on briefings to select media.
But his profile — Guler has been compared to Mesut Ozil in his home nation — would still not solve the problem of who will replace Benzema’s goals.
So, are they just waiting for Mbappe…?
No one is hiding the fact that Mbappe is the big target. That wasn’t the case back in January, when The Athletic reported that contacts between club and player had continued on the quiet, despite Madrid feeling betrayed over the way in which their move for him fell through in May last year when he decided to renew with Paris Saint-Germain instead.
However, Madrid see the chances of Mbappe moving this summer as slim. Club sources believe the most likely outcome is him staying at PSG. There are several factors behind this.
Firstly, the terms of Mbappe’s PSG contract will see him paid handsomely over the next 12 months. On top of his salary, he stands to receive a further €70million (before tax) in loyalty bonuses next year. Sources close to the player say this is a big factor in why he does not want to leave this transfer window.
Further sources with knowledge of the deal Madrid offered Mbappe in 2022 say the Spanish club would likely make the same terms available to him if he were to join on a free transfer next year. Madrid were prepared to pay him a signing bonus of €130million, these same sources added.
If that were to end up happening, Mbappe could stand to earn €200million — extra to his salary — by staying at PSG for 2023-24 and then joining Madrid on the expiry of his contract. Any transfer before then would see him miss out on both the €70million loyalty bonus and the signing-on fee from Madrid. For that reason, those at Valdebebas — and the Mbappe camp — see a move this summer as an unlikely scenario.
Mbappe has already informed PSG that he does not intend to trigger the clause in his contract that would extend his stay in Paris until 2025. He let them know of this decision by letter earlier this month.
A PSG source has told The Athletic that they are determined not to lose him for nothing: “There is no way he would leave on a free in 2024.” At the same time, PSG have not ruled out the possibility that Mbappe’s public stance is designed to strengthen a negotiating position over any potential renewal.
As we have seen several times before with Mbappe, PSG and Real Madrid, we should be braced for further twists and turns in a story where briefing and counter-briefing have made it difficult to establish each party’s true intentions. So let’s see where this chapter takes us.
Madrid are certainly watching closely — and they do believe that, one day, Mbappe will end up playing for them. Their history of ‘mutual admiration’ goes back a decade.
Kylian Mbappe and Real Madrid: A pursuit 10 years in the making
One thing is for sure: the situation around Mbappe, as well as the fact that Brazilian forward Endrick will arrive next summer when he turns 18, complicates Madrid’s pursuit of a big-name striker this summer.
And some voices at the club would prefer to wait and rely this season on a ‘transition’ player in the No 9 role, such as Joselu.
What’s the plan if no more signings are made?
Ancelotti is disappointed with the fact the club’s course appears to have veered from the initial roadmap that was set out earlier this month. But, at the same time, the Italian is ready to reinvent himself to get the most out of his squad.
Jude Bellingham’s Real Madrid transfer: Patience, persistence and powers of persuasion
He is contemplating changing formations to adapt to the circumstances in which they find themselves. He is considering moving from a favoured 4-3-3 to a sort-of 4-4-2 that would see Rodrygo and Vinicius Junior play in tandem up front, with the team’s only recognised No 9, Joselu, expected to play a back-up role from the bench. This system would feature a diamond in midfield. There will be time to try it out during pre-season.
Meanwhile, there could still yet be further departures. Madrid will try to sell Alvaro Odriozola, Jesus Vallejo and Ferland Mendy, although the latter are both keen to stay at the club. In addition, Madrid are receiving many messages related to players available on the market — and they expect to receive many more.
So, with two months to go until the window closes, nothing can be ruled out.
(Top photo: Burak Akbulut/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)