After finishing the season with three titles – the European Super Cup, Club World Cup and Copa del Rey – Real Madrid have already embarked on a summer of change.
Senior figures at the club have concluded that they need to speed up the famous “transition” that manager Carlo Ancelotti has referred to on many occasions. Yes, Madrid won three trophies, but they finished 10 points behind La Liga winners Barcelona and were totally outclassed by Manchester City in the Champions League semi-finals.
This desire for change was made abundantly clear at a key meeting between president Florentino Perez, chief executive Jose Angel Sanchez and Ancelotti on June 1 in Valdebebas. The first point of order was confirmation of full support for Ancelotti to stay – a gesture the Italian had been waiting for amid some uncertainty over his future. Afterwards they discussed how to reshape the squad.
In the negotiations, Ancelotti was told that for next season he could count on three players, whose arrivals have all since been confirmed: Jude Bellingham has signed from Borussia Dortmund, Fran Garcia has been bought back from Rayo Vallecano and Brahim Diaz has returned back after three seasons on loan to AC Milan.
They also spoke positively of the chances of signing 33-year-old striker Joselu, who scored 16 goals for Espanyol in La Liga during 2022-23, but talks are still ongoing.
Karim Benzema had already by then announced his decision to leave for Al Ittihad and his departure to Saudi Arabia was taken for granted. Marco Asensio has also decided to leave and join Paris Saint-Germain, while Mariano Diaz was not offered an extension to his contract, which expires at the end of June. Eden Hazard agreed to leave a year before the end of his deal, with the Belgian to receive around half the salary he would have earned, according to sources close to the player. These sources, like others quoted in this piece, spoke on condition of anonymity to protect their positions/relationships.
Those departures have freed up over €55m (£47m; $59.5m) of the wage bill, a big help for the rebuild Madrid aim to achieve.
At that meeting on June 1, it was clear to all that Madrid needed to strengthen in attack – and that the means would be available to do so. Targets for Benzema’s replacement were discussed in full knowledge that Bellingham was about to join.
Ancelotti made it known that his first option for a striker would be Harry Kane. But from the beginning there was a recognition of the difficulties in signing him. Daniel Levy is a tough negotiator and Kane, who turns 30 at the end of next month, is Tottenham’s talisman. Madrid expect a starting price of well over €100 million and the club do not want to invest that much in a player of that age – and with only one year left on his contract.
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Other names that have been mentioned include Lautaro Martinez (last summer Inter Milan valued him at over €100 million), Victor Osimhen (Napoli would ask for around €120 million) and Randal Kolo Muani. The French striker is liked by Madrid’s chief scout Juni Calafat, but Eintracht Frankfurt have priced him at around €90 million and Madrid do not want to commit such a large outlay for a player with relatively little experience at the elite level; they look at Bayer Leverkusen’s Moussa Diaby the same way. They don’t want to make the same mistake they did with Luka Jovic.
Roberto Firmino is a free agent after leaving Liverpool and has been tracked, while Chelsea’s Kai Havertz has also been mentioned in the media – but he has never been a priority. The German would only arrive if a very advantageous opportunity financially presented itself, something the club does not expect to happen. Leeds striker Rodrigo has also been considered.
This week another name entered the frame – and a familiar one too.
Since Kylian Mbappe announced earlier this week his intention not to renew his PSG contract beyond 2024, his potential availability has been much debated.
This is what PSG sources say the athletics’s Adam Crafton that they will try to sell Mbappe to the highest bidder this transfer window if his attitude does not change.
On Tuesday, Mbappe described reports that he wanted to sign for Madrid in the coming months as “lies” and said he was happy to stay at PSG. The French champions wonder if this is a negotiating position to secure advantages in any further contract negotiations.
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There is well-documented mutual attraction between Mbappe and Madrid, but as last year’s transfer saga proves, nothing will be taken for granted in the Spanish capital. Currently, the picture is muddled by claims and counterclaims. So get ready for another summer of high-stakes poker involving the best player in the world.
But as Athletics reported in January that Madrid have not forgotten Mbappe, and neither has he forgotten Madrid. This is despite a potential move last year collapsing dramatically. It has been Madrid’s intention to have a financial plan in place to sign him should the opportunity really arise. That’s how it still is.
Meanwhile, they have other things to do…
Across the team’s other positions, Ancelotti wants a back-up goalkeeper to replace Andriy Lunin, with the coaching staff unconvinced of his performances this season, particularly at the Club World Cup. The manager has provided a list of candidates; some were chosen by him and others by Luis Llopis, Madrid’s goalkeeping coach.
Lunin has told staff he prefers to stay, with his contract set to run until 2024, but the board have floated various candidates and met with representatives of Getafe goalkeeper David Soria last week in Valdebebas, as Marca first reported. “Nothing has been done,” said a source familiar with the talks Athletics. Soria, 30, would be available on a free transfer.
Ancelotti also wants a back who can play on both flanks. Two profiles of interest are Joao Cancelo and Achraf Hakimi, but neither is likely to come to anything.
Cancelo was offered to Madrid by agent Jorge Mendes in January before the Manchester City player joined Bayern Munich on loan, but the move was ruled out due to concerns over his wages, age and future value. Hakimi, meanwhile, would be highly unlikely to leave PSG. Ancelotti knows that the reinforcements he would like in this position are not realistic options at the moment.
Still, Perez and his board are combing the market. At left-back, Alphonso Davies is admired, but Madrid would only see his arrival as viable if Ferland Mendy were to be sold. The Frenchman has a contract until 2025 and wants to stay, but Madrid have concerns over the number of games he has missed through injury. He played just 18 La Liga games this season.
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At right-back, with Dani Carvajal under contract until 2025 and Lucas Vazquez until 2024, there is little room for movement. Alvaro Odriozola, the third player in the race for a starting spot, is more open to leaving this summer than in previous markets. He played just 39 La Liga minutes over 2022-23.
In the midfield, there are a few weak points. Ancelotti, like the club, wants Dani Ceballos to renew – something that both Toni Kroos and Luka Modric have already committed to, although the Croatian’s situation is a bit more complex. Modric has attracted strong rival interest from Saudi Arabia.
Perez does not want Modric and Kroos to be permanent starters and has reiterated that Eduardo Camavinga will play in midfield rather than at left-back, where he was often used to great effect this term. As for Ceballos, the Andalusian is happy with the new three-year deal the club have offered him, but is yet to decide whether he will accept it as he wants to play a more important role in the team.
Bellingham has arrived for €103 million, with a further 30 per cent dependent on future variables. Ancelotti does not want this big transfer to limit opportunities elsewhere, but should feel confident that this will not be the case. It marks something of a break from recent history in Madrid.
Long gone are the days when Madrid would sign a Galactico every summer. The club has focused on young stars in recent windows, combined with smart free transfers for players such as David Alaba, who signed from Bayern Munich in 2021, and Antonio Rudiger, who joined from Chelsea last year.
In 2020, Madrid made no signings for the first summer in 40 years. In the two windows after that, they only spent on 18-year-old Camavinga from Rennes in 2021 and 22-year-old Aurelien Tchouameni from Monaco last year – although in December they agreed a deal for Brazilian youngster Endrick, who will complete his move when he turns 18 in July 2024.
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Bellingham fits into the overall strategy of recruiting young players for the future, although the fee to sign him is considerably more than those spent on Camavinga and Tchouameni.
Ancelotti and his coaching staff, along with the players, are already on holiday, with a return date to Valdebebas for pre-season training scheduled for July 10.
Meanwhile, the three main figures responsible for signings and sales will be Perez, Sanchez and Calafat – although the Italian will be informed and consulted on decision-making.
Bellingham is a great way to start – but there’s a busy summer ahead.
(Top photo: Rob Newell/CameraSport via Getty Images, Pedro Castillo/Real Madrid via Getty Images, Sebastian Frej/MB Media/Getty Images)