Benzema to Mbappe: Assessing Real Madrid’s transfer plan

Alex Kirkland and Rodrigo FaezJune 19, 2023, 5:05 a.m. ET10 minutes of reading

Bellingham: It’s an honor to wear Zidane’s No.5 at Real Madrid

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That The LaLiga season wasn’t even over when Real Madrid’s summer transfer business began.

Madrid announced on 3 June that Marco Asensio, Mariano Diaz and Eden Hazard would be leaving the club. A day later – hours before Madrid’s final game of the season against Athletic Club – Karim Benzema’s name was added to the list. Then, 72 hours after the end of the season, Borussia Dortmund confirmed that midfielder Jude Bellingham would join Madrid for an initial fee of 103 million euros.

Two days later, Madrid made official the return of the left back Fran Garcia from Rayo Vallecano, followed by Brahim Diaz on his way back after a three-year loan at AC Milan. Last Monday, the club made it clear where the team’s future lies, handing Vinicius Junior the No.7 shirt and Rodrygo Goes the No.11.

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If that wasn’t enough, reports that Kylian Mbappe has no intention of extending his Paris Saint-Germain contract beyond 2024 opened up the prospect of a move this summer and another lengthy transfer saga. Madrid are ready to bid, although the player says he wants to stay at PSG and leave in 12 months. Meanwhile, the club announced on Monday the signing of Spanish striker Joselu.

Ahead of what is sure to be a pivotal transfer window for Real Madrid, here’s a closer look at what’s next for the club – arrivals and departures, the club’s plans and how much money they’ll need – as they look to build a new team capable of challenging once again for LaLiga and the Champions League.

It will always be a summer of change at the Santiago Bernabeu, and not just because the stadium’s ongoing renovations, which began four years ago, are finally nearing completion.

Manager Carlo Ancelotti and his staff are staying – even if the Brazilian federation still hasn’t completely given up on recruiting him as their new national team coach. But the team’s transition on the pitch, which started when Cristiano Ronaldo left in 2018 – and accelerated with the exits of Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane in 2021 and Marcelo and Casemiro in 2022 – will step up a gear.

The departures of the inconsistent Asensio, the unwanted Mariano and the anonymous Hazard will be net positives. Their absence will free up around €40 million. on the salary to go to new contracts. Hazard, who started just two league games last season, was the team’s top earner.

Real Madrid have lost striker Karim Benzema, for whom they never really had a backup anyway. Now they have to focus on replacing him.Denis Doyle/Getty Images

The most significant and premature loss is Benzema. The 35-year-old Ballon d’Or winner was expected to stay for another season until an injury-hit season and an eye-watering two-year contract offer worth up to €400m. from Saudi Arabia Al Ittihad convinced him to change his mind.

Benzema has been central to Madrid’s frontline for over a decade, and even in an underwhelming 2022-23 season, scored 31 goals in all competitions. The exodus of four attacking players meant that Vinicius and Rodrygo were the only two first-team strikers listed on the club’s website until the addition of Diaz.

Diaz effectively replaces Asensio in competing with Rodrygo on the right wing, although he will do well to match Asensio’s 19 league goals over the past two seasons. But that still leaves Madrid without a recognized center forward. There was already an acceptance that the club lacked a suitable backup for Benzema. With Benzema gone, they also need a full replacement.

ESPN have reported that the club identified Harry Kane as possessing the necessary attributes – top-level experience, technical quality and consistent goal threat – to step in for Benzema. But Kane turns 30 next month and Madrid are reluctant to spend a significant fee on a player with no future transfer value and his best years may be behind him.

Another intriguing possibility emerged this week with the news that Mbappe had formally informed PSG that he would not extend his deal there by an extra year until 2025. Mbappe later disputed the reports, writing on social media that he was “very happy” at PSG and reiterated that he would remain in Paris next season – but his club may be reluctant to allow him to terminate his contract for the second time in two years.

Sources have told ESPN that Madrid would be prepared to move for Mbappe this summer if there was a real prospect that PSG would oppose such a deal. Mbappe would prioritize Madrid over other potential suitors, sources said. President Florentino Perez has remained in touch with Mbappe, despite being hurt by the striker’s last-minute change of heart when he snapped up Madrid last year. If PSG were to accept that a transfer this summer was in everyone’s best interests, Madrid’s finances are sound enough to make it happen.

Although Kylian Mbappe has been heavily linked with Real Madrid, the Spanish club have also been eyeing Tottenham Hotspur’s Harry Kane.Chloe Knott/Danehouse/Getty Images

Real Madrid were not expected to spend big on a forward this summer – especially after committing to an initial €103m. plus a potential €30m. in variables to sign Bellingham – but last year’s accounts showed liquidity of €425m.

With the savings on Hazard and Benzema, and new revenue streams imminent from the rebuilt Bernabeu, Madrid could afford to sign Mbappe or Kane if they wanted. After all, they were willing to spend up to €200m. to sign Mbappe in 2021, at a time when other clubs were on the brink due to the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The plan this summer was a much more modest investment in attack. Spain and Espanyol striker Joselu, who scored 16 LaLiga goals last season – behind only Robert Lewandowski and Benzema – has come on loan. The 33-year-old, who was a former Madrid player between 2009 and 2012 and is Dani Carvajal’s brother-in-law, is in the form of his life. It’s a sensible, low-risk move for a player who could adapt quickly and offer something different as a no-nonsense goalscorer.

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But it’s hard to imagine Madrid going into the new season with Joselu as their first and only choice at centre-forward. Chelsea’s versatile Kai Havertz, 24, has been watched, with his contract at Stamford Bridge expiring in 2025. Earlier this season, Madrid tracked a number of other candidates, including Juventus’ Dusan Vlahovic and Tottenham Hotspur’s Richarlison.

In defense and midfield, it will be a less dramatic summer than it could have been. The future of Nacho Fernandez, Toni Kroos and Luka Modric – three of the squad’s most senior players – have all been in doubt to varying degrees. So far, all three appear to be staying put.

Nacho has only recently confirmed that he had overcome unhappiness at his place in Ancelotti’s defensive hierarchy. Nacho has previously said he “didn’t feel valued” after falling behind Eder Militao, David Alaba and Antonio Rudiger earlier in the season, but last week penned a new one-year deal. It helps that he will succeed Benzema as club captain.

Kroos was openly considering an early retirement before his improved form and physical condition persuaded him to continue. His one-year renewal has yet to be made official.

Modric, meanwhile, has said publicly and privately that he wants to stay and has agreed to terms on a new deal. But there is also serious interest from Saudi Arabia, which he has so far managed to resist.

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But there are still greater doubts, including around Dani Ceballos. The midfielder grew in importance as the season went on and of his 19 league starts, 16 came in the second half of the campaign. He is now considering whether the increased playing time is enough to see him accept the club’s contract offer.

The possibility of a surprise departure – think Varane in 2021 or Casemiro last year – can never be completely ruled out in Madrid. If an attractive offer comes in for a player deemed unimportant, the club has a track record of knowing when to extract maximum value and come out stronger.

Three other team members, Andriy Lunin, Jesus Vallejo and Alvaro Odriozola, would also be allowed to leave if suitable destinations were found. If the squad places are to be filled, a number of talented academy players have already shown enough to suggest that they could contribute to the first team.

Central defender Rafa Marin21, is highly rated even though his contract expires in 2024. Midfielder Sergio Arribas, also 21, has already performed at this level while a striker Alvaro Rodríguez18, looked like a useful goalkeeper last season and playmaker Nico Paz18, may be the academy’s brightest star.

However, Ancelotti has tended to be reluctant to turn to home-grown youngsters – one of the criticisms he has faced from within the club – unless circumstances leave him with no choice.

With the signing of Bellingham, the regeneration of the core of this Real Madrid team is now complete.

The 19-year-old plays alongside Eduardo Camavinga (20), Aurelien Tchouameni (23) and Federico Valverde (24) in midfield. Add forwards Vinicius and Rodrygo (both 22) and Brahim (23), plus defenders Militao (25) and Garcia (23), and Madrid’s age profile looks ever healthier.

The final piece of the puzzle will be the new striker, as Benzema’s departure leaves the club with a major piece of the transfer business outstanding – if Joselu is not to be the only addition to the front line – and 2½ months to find their man.

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