Real Madrid transfer stories generally play out in the capital’s sports media in three stages.
First, there is the tentative link, when Player A is mentioned in a story with another player, or more than one club is linked to the same player with Barcelona often the hedge-betting option whenever the Bernabeu is involved.
Then comes the addition of either the coach or club president’s name to a story about Player A and some two-plus-two stuff as to why the transfer could go through, coupled with the player’s desire to move to Real Madrid, 90 percent of the time without quotes but courtesy of his “inner circle”.
Finally, the coup de grace: an all-out charm offensive as it becomes clear that an almighty transfer tussle is on the horizon, the pro-Madrid media doing their bit to ensure that the designs of the club are aired while also shifting a few more copies into the bargain. Perhaps more than in any other country — the same method is applied in the Catalan dailies — in Spain a transfer can seemingly be ushered towards the dotted line by the fourth estate’s determination to be proved correct in the first place. The three-month assault of David De Gea-related front pages in the summer of 2015 is a case in point, although neither party factored in an errant fax machine.
On Monday, completion of the three-point plan was achieved when one of the biggest Madrid tabloids ran a simple headline in a very large typeface: “Mbappe, phenomenon.”
The inference is clear and the nod towards the Brazilian Ronaldo certainly no accident: Kylian Mbappe is Europe’s most exciting prospect and if the 18-year-old is lured from Monaco this summer, it had jolly well better be in the direction of Real Madrid. Sergio Ramos joined the party in his pre-match news conference ahead of the France-Spain friendly on Tuesday: “I haven’t spoken to ‘El Presi’ about Mbappe, but if he comes we’ll welcome him with open arms.”
Competition for Mbappe’s signature is likely to be fierce, and the fee could well be north of €100 million. The striker’s rise has been so rapid that “meteoric” seems too light an adjective. Mbappe made his first appearance for Monaco in December 2015, a few weeks before his 17th birthday, overtaking Thierry Henry as the club’s youngest debutant, and scored his first goal for the side little more than a year ago. In late 2016 he bagged a first club hat trick in the Coupe de la Ligue and followed that up with a Ligue 1 treble last month. On March 25, he became the second-youngest player to represent France when he made his debut in a World Cup qualifying victory against Luxembourg.
Henry himself said this week that his heir apparent has the potential to “go a long way” in football.
Signing Mbappe would be in line with Madrid’s recent policy of stocking the cantera with youthful talent. Sao Paulo’s Augusto Galvan is to join next month while Sergio Diaz, Mink Peeters, Federico Valverde and Jesus Vallejo, who has been a sensation in the Bundesliga on loan at Frankfurt, form the basis of what could in five years be the nucleus of a new-look Real Madrid side.
Unusually, Florentino Perez discussed a potential move for Mbappe on Radio Montecarlo last week, during which he also lavished praise on Karim Benzema: “If it was up to me, Benzema would remain here for his entire career,” Perez said. “A duo of Benzema and Mbappe? Everything is possible.”
The main issue with Mbappe is that he will not be a signing for Castilla. A more probable outcome, sooner rather than later, is Mbappe ending Benzema’s employment at club and international level. If the phenomenon arrives in Madrid, it won’t be to play second fiddle to the current No. 9 or anybody else and a potential nine-figure price tag precludes a substitute’s role from the outset. As Antoine Griezmann noted after the Luxembourg game: “Mbappe is going to put us all on the bench.”
It is perhaps little wonder that when asked about Mbappe in a recent interview, Benzema cautioned a possible usurper against rushing into a move to a European heavyweight.
Real Madrid had Mbappe in their grasp in 2014, when the youngster visited the club’s Valdebebas training complex and was given the VIP treatment. However, despite overtures from Zinedine Zidane, who made an impression on Mbappe as the “greatest French player in history,” he didn’t want to leave France at such a tender age.
However, the lure of working under Zidane should be used to maximum effect this summer when Europe’s wealthiest clubs test Monaco’s resolve. Manchester United have reportedly already had a Paul Pogba-size fee turned down, and the Ligue 1 side will hold out for a world record for their academy product. Real hold the cards — Zidane, Ronaldo, Benzema and Raphael Varane among them — and must use that leverage to secure the signature of a player seemingly destined to mark a generation for France much as the current Bernabeu boss did.
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