The summer has only just begun, but Real Madrid have already done a lot of business.
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 stay after agreeing contract extensions.
In terms of new faces, Brahim Diaz is back after three years out on loan, Fran Garcia was bought back for €5m (£4.3m; $5.8m) and Jude Bellingham arrived in a €103m deal that likely to reach a club registration fee when variables (worth up to a further 30 per cent) are met.
Madrid’s latest signing is 33-year-old striker Joselu, who is on loan from Espanyol with an option to buy. Since his move was made official on June 19, a dominant question has emerged surrounding the capital club: Is all their transfer business already done?
From what president Florentino Perez has said publicly and the club’s briefings to select media, that appears to be the proposal they want to make.
The wider picture is slightly more complicated – but Madrid’s public messages have left key figures around the team with major concerns.
The day before Joselu’s signing was announced, Perez was filmed talking to fans while signing autographs.
“Is the deal for Joselu already done, Presi?” he was asked.
“Yeah, he’s coming next week,” was Perez’s reply.
“Is anyone else coming?”
However, what Perez said and what the club has briefed select media outlets – that no further signings are planned – represents only a half-truth.
In conversation with several club sources over the past few weeks – all of whom, like others in this piece, spoke on condition of anonymity to protect their relationships/positions – Athletics have most often heard a similar but subtly different answer: that it will be “difficult” to make more deals.
But even this is in stark contrast to the atmosphere around the club just a few weeks ago.
On 1 June, Perez, general manager Jose Angel Sanchez and manager Carlo Ancelotti met to discuss summer 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 have apparently decided Kane cannot be had at a price they consider reasonable – especially for a player who has a year left on his contract and turns 30 in July. They expect him to cost well over €100 million. Bayern Munich have since made a bid of €70 million, which Tottenham rejected.
This week, sources close to Ancelotti expressed their disappointment at the idea that no more additions will be made.
They are concerned 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 squad even suggested to the Italian that it might be better to pack up and leave, with the Brazilian national team still communicating their strong interest in making him their next manager. The point was made that if Madrid start the season slowly and start to struggle due to a lack of quality in attack, the coaching staff will be the ones to carry the can.
However, Ancelotti’s attitude has not changed. It has always been his priority to stay in Madrid.
If Kane is out of the picture, where else can Madrid look?
What the coaching staff have been calling for is a heavyweight replacement for Benzema. Kane was their priority, not only because of the goals he would bring, but because of the way he would help the team’s play coordinate in attack.
Other names mooted in recent months have included Inter Milan’s Lautaro Martinez, but Madrid have so far not decided to make a move. Napoli’s Victor Osimhen is also well-liked, but the Serie A champions are not considering selling him for less than €100m – a figure Madrid would again be reluctant to match.
Madrid are aware of what they expect to be two cheaper options: Bayer Leverkusen’s Moussa Diaby and Eintracht Frankfurt’s Randal Kolo Muani. However, the club is not completely convinced of any of the options. They don’t want to make the same mistake they did with Luka Jovic; a player who was unproven at elite level and ultimately failed to live up to his €60m price tag after signing from Frankfurt in 2019.
A new name has recently entered the frame: the 18-year-old attacking midfielder Arda Guler. He has a €17.5m release clause in his contract with Fenerbahce, which the Turkish club are asking to be met.
Real Madrid are considering 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 homeland – would still not solve the problem of who should replace Benzema’s goal.
So are they just waiting for Mbappe…?
No one hides that Mbappe is the big target. That was not the case then in January Athletics reported that contacts between club and player remained quiet, despite Madrid feeling betrayed by the way their move for him fell through last May when he decided to renew with Paris Saint-Germain instead .
However, Madrid sees the chances of Mbappe moving this summer as slim. Club sources believe the most likely outcome is for him to stay at PSG. There are several factors behind this.
Firstly, the terms of Mbappe’s PSG contract will see him pay handsomely over the next 12 months. In addition to his salary, he stands to receive another €70 million (before tax) in loyalty bonuses next year. Sources close to the player say this is a big factor in why he doesn’t want to leave this transfer window.
Additional sources familiar with 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 €130 million signing bonus, the same sources added.
If that ends up happening, Mbappe could stand to earn €200m – extra to his wages – by staying at PSG in 2023-24 and then joining Madrid at the end of his contract. Any transfer before then would see him miss out on both the €70 million loyalty bonus and the signing fee from Madrid. For that reason, those in 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 informed them of this decision by letter earlier this month.
A PSG source has told that Athletics that they are determined not to lose him for nothing: “There’s no way he’d be leaving on a day off 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 has made it difficult to determine the true intentions of each side. So let’s see where this chapter takes us.
Madrid are certainly watching – and they believe Mbappe will one day 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 certain: the situation surrounding Mbappe, as well as the fact that Brazilian striker Endrick will arrive next summer when he turns 18, complicates Madrid’s pursuit of a big striker this summer.
And some voices at the club would prefer to wait and rely this season on a ‘transitional’ player in the No.9 role, such as Joselu.
What is the plan if no more signatures come?
Ancelotti is disappointed by the fact that the club’s course appears to have deviated from the original roadmap 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 persuasiveness
He is considering changing formations to adapt to the circumstances they are in. He is considering switching from a favored 4-3-3 to a sort of 4-4-2 that would see Rodrygo and Vinicius Junior play together up front, where the team’s only recognized No. 9, Joselu, is expected to play fullback. -up-role from the bench. This system would have a diamond in the midfield. There will be time to try it out in the pre-season.
In the meantime, there may still be additional 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 receive many messages related to players available on the market – and they expect to receive many more.
So with two months until the window closes, nothing can be ruled out.
(Top photo: Burak Akbulut/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)