Florentino Perez is no stranger to luring world-class talent to the Spanish capital.
The Real Madrid president’s tenure with the 33-time league winner has always been synonymous with a pair of galacticos eras, and with the cornerstone of the second age of Los Blancos world beaters off to Serie A, Perez will again have to splash the cash to fill a hole at the Santiago Bernabeu.
More than simply replacing Cristiano Ronaldo’s 44 goals in 44 appearances in all competitions, the summer of 2018 marks a transitional phase for Madrid.
The bronzed Champions League savant’s exit paves the way for a youthful shift at Madrid, where the likes of Isco and Marco Asensio will be looked upon to become the faces of a squad littered with players eyeing the denouements of celebrated careers. It will take more than the talented Spanish duo to fill the void left by Ronaldo’s absence, and with the two prior galacticos recruitment drives providing a template, here’s a look at some high-profile impact signings Madrid could make to replace the cavernous chasm in attack.
A move for an emerging talent will do little to satiate the opulent desires of the Madrid faithful. It also will do little to supply Ronaldo’s record-smashing baker’s dozen of Champions League goals.
Neymar checks all those boxes while quenching Perez’s thirst for footballing deities who sell jerseys – a move that would rival David Beckham’s 2003 transfer and its subsequent commercial appeal. Reports suggest a perpetual unrest at Paris Saint-Germain for the flashy Brazilian star, and while Thomas Tuchel’s love of attacking football may appeal to Neymar, so too may the glitz and glamour of returning to the Spanish top flight.
Like Neymar, Ronaldo fancied shading left in support of Karim Benzema, and the footballing bond between he and the Frenchman was a recipe for success. Whether Neymar could assimilate with Benzema, Gareth Bale, and Isco would need to be determined, though he did it with brilliant results at PSG in union with Kylian Mbappe and Edinson Cavani, pairing 13 assists with 19 goals in just 20 Ligue 1 appearances. Imagine being a fly on the wall for a potential conversation between Perez and Les Parisiens chief Nasser Al-Khelaifi.
Few young players fit the galacticos profile like Mbappe. With pace to burn and an eye for goal, PSG’s 19-year-old star fits the profile of a Madrid signing.
Destined for Ballon d’Or recognition, Mbappe has barely scratched the surface of a diverse set of skills that could see the Frenchman either play wide or line up as a No. 9. That may vault Mbappe above Neymar in terms of practicality, as Benzema, 30, returns to first-team training on the heels of his scantest goal output in nine seasons at the Bernabeu.
If Neymar would be a challenge to pry from Al-Khelaifi’s luxury grasp, Mbappe would be a near impossibility. Born in Paris, he is quickly becoming the face of both the French capital club and the national team, a relationship that has drawn the affection of PSG’s fervent ultra support, which Neymar has not attracted. Madrid wanted Mbappe last summer, and it may very well again attempt to lure the childhood fan of Ronaldo to the Bernabeu to replace his favourite player.
Frequently linked with a move to Madrid, Hazard’s potential shift to the Spanish top flight is buoyed by uncertainty at Chelsea. Russian billionaire owner Roman Abramovich had his British visa application denied, and Antonio Conte is again bossing first-team training despite reports of his discontent and Maurizio Sarri’s alleged move to Stamford Bridge.
Pair that with an aging Blues squad that, at times, appeared flat last season and Hazard and first-choice shot-stopper Thibaut Courtois’ “wait and see” runaround with new contracts, and Hazard’s transfer to Madrid makes heaps of sense.
A world-class playmaker with an eye for goal, a move for Hazard would presumably include the recruitment of a high-profile No. 9 the following summer, and because of the variation of Hazard and Ronaldo’s skills, the Belgian stud could escape many of the expectations and pressures that others would immediately face. If Perez is forced to wait for the likes of Neymar and Mbappe, Hazard would amount to a brilliant stopgap whilst fitting the galacticos profile.
As Ronaldo transitioned to a No. 9 while a locker of dazzling skills began to slowly leak its pace and panache, the 33-year-old became a dependable backup plan at striker.
Ronaldo is gone, Benzema is 30 years old, Lucas Vazquez and Borja Majoral hardly fit the profile, and youngster Vinicius Junior’s development appears best suited for the 2019-20 La Liga campaign. In steps Tottenham’s Kane. Arguably football’s best traditional No. 9, Kane is a goal poacher who continues to add skills to a refined palate. His passing is cultivated, as is his ability to drop deep and dominate with hold-up play – talents that have been on display in droves in Russia.
Kane is also an elite goal scorer with 135 tallies in all competitions from the 2014-15 breakthrough campaign and onward, and perhaps most importantly, the 24-year-old appears to be outgrowing his north London digs. Kane is emerging as a world-class talent at a rate trophy-starved Spurs are struggling to keep pace with, even with a new stadium set to increase revenues. And as a result, Tottenham’s wages pale in comparison to the continental colossus. The England star would be the perfect compliment to Hazard, and Tottenham is no stranger to selling its best players to Madrid.
(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)