Kylian Mbappé was Real Madrid’s top transfer target for the better part of the last three seasons. In fact, Los Blancos and Florentino Perez tried to recruit the French prodigy from the time he was just 14 years old.
Back then, the only thing that stopped Mbappe from joining Real Madrid was Zinedine Zidane moving up in the ranks. According to Kylian Mbappe’s father, he believed Zidane would not have the time to nurture the French wonder kid in significant developmental years.
Instead, Mbappe joined Monaco’s youth ranks. After bursting onto the scene with the senior squad, PSG acquired his talents for over $200 million. Even then, Real Madrid kept an eye out on the player. Then, it all seemed set in stone.
Real Madrid based its entire transfer strategy for the summer of 2022 around Kylian Mbappe. He was supposed to be the biggest signing for the club since Cristiano Ronaldo. LaLiga President Javier Tebas even looked forward to his arrival due to the rise in popularity that would ensue.
However, Mbappe’s shock ‘switch’ back to PSG left a gaping hole in Real Madrid. On one hand, this is a club that has won yet another Champions League Final. However, with an aging core and Karim Benzema aged 34, the 23-year-old Mbappe would link with breakout star Vinicius Júnior for the foreseeable future.
Now, Florentino Perez must work to satiate the appetite of Real Madrid fans to have the biggest and brightest stars in the game.
Real Madrid’s transfer targets – forwards
Let’s start by saying Real Madrid does not need any particular player. Real was by far the best club in Spain in 2021/22. The only blemish was the Copa del Rey, where Athletic Bilbao eliminated Real Madrid in the quarterfinals.
Karim Benzema put up a simply tremendous season. His 44 goals and 15 assists in 45 games will likely win him the Ballon d’Or. It comes as no surprise that in the club’s six league games not featuring Benzema, Real earned just eight points.
The same applies for Vinicius Júnior, who occupied the left flank of Benzema much of the season. Once maligned by Real Madrid supporters, the Brazilian racked up 41 goal contributions in 50 appearances entering the 2022 UEFA Champions League Final. His breakout season came at a crucial time, helping Real Madrid to domestic and European success.
Clearly, Real Madrid’s offense is not lacking. However, no club would pass up the opportunity to sign one of the brightest prospects in the history of the sport. After all, Mbappé starts for every team in the world.
If Florentino Perez wants to sign another attacker, or simply another big name, there are several options for him to go after.
In many ways, RB Leipzig standout Christopher Nkunku is a discount Kylian Mbappe. The Bundesliga player of the season lit up the German league. Plus, he made a splash in the pair of European competitions he featured in. The headline of that came courtesy of a hat trick at the Etihad against Manchester City.
Christopher Nkunku is not Kylian Mbappe. To be fair, no player has the talent set Mbappe has. However, Nkunku can still provide for Real Madrid. A remarkably well-balanced 20 goals and 15 assists in league play shows an uncanny ability to finish and set up. With Benzema proving to be one of the world’s most lethal finishers, Nkunku could serve his compatriot well.
The one concern is how well Nkunku actually fits into Carlo Ancelotti’s formations. RB Leipzig manager Domenico Tedesco regularly employed a 3-4-3 formation. Nkunku, the star of his side, occupied the left wing. Comparing that with Carlo Ancelotti’s 4-3-3, Nkunku would battle for position with Vinicius. Nkunku showed versatility by playing up top when called upon. Still, Ancelotti would require Nkunku to make the switch over to the right side. Not every player can make a seamless switch, especially considering Nkunku is right-footed.
Manchester United welcomed Cristiano Ronaldo back to Old Trafford in grand fashion. Only problem was that not even Ronaldo could keep the Red Devils afloat in the Champions League spots. Instead, Manchester United finished the season in sixth, and will play next season in the Europa League.
Cristiano Ronaldo is still one of the world’s best players. His level of talent does not embody the Europa League, despite the competition’s growth over recent years. He is the Champions League’s top scorer in its history, he lives and breathes the competition.
Real Madrid won the competition four times during Ronaldo’s tenure in Spain. Already in the 2022 Final, Ronaldo could be another gem for Florentino Perez’s galactico crown. Plus, the No. 7 is still open, so he could slide right back into that famous white kit.
This signing would serve three means. On one hand, Real Madrid picks up an elite striker that scores goals at will. Also, Robert Lewandowski’s refusal to return to Bayern Munich would allow the Polish playmaker to arrive for little in terms of a transfer sum. In fact, his transfer fee, at least according to rumors for a transfer to Barcelona, circle around the $45 million range.
Finally, it would hamper Real’s biggest rival. Barcelona seeks out Robert Lewandowski to provide the finishing touch from world-class young midfielders like Gavi and Pedri. Nothing wrong with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang or Ferran Torres, but Lewandowski’s avoidance of Barcelona would be damaging, especially if he went to Real.
The only problem with this is the ensuing competition with Karim Benzema. Both are strikers who will be 34 once the 2022/23 campaign gets underway. There is not too much room for growth in those legs, which seems to be a trend among Real Madrid’s squad.
The timing could be right for Mané to head to Real Madrid after reports that he is set to leave Liverpool.
Bayern Munich is one potential location for the Senegalese, but could Real Madrid be another potential location? He plays a similar style to Kylian Mbappe. Pace dominates his game and he can be clinical once entering the box.
Position poses another problem. Like Christopher Nkunku, Sadio Mane plays on the left wing for the majority of the time. Vinicius Junior has a hefty claim to that spot as things stand. However, if Sadio Mané can make a transition to right wing, it would be a deathly front three with pace on the flanks and the best finisher in Europe in 2021/22.
Other marquee signings
Florentino Perez may not seek out just a forward. As Real Madrid tends to do, it could hunt down the biggest names in the transfer market to represent Los Blancos.
With one signing already practically confirmed, here are three potential arrivals that would be major signings.
If Real Madrid could not have one AS Monaco product, it would get another. Albeit, this incoming Real Madrid player is not a forward.
Aurélien Tchouaméni is actually a defensive midfielder. The Frenchman only arrived at Monaco ahead of the 2020 season. However, in his two seasons in Ligue 1, he played a pivotal role in pushing Monaco back into the Champions League. According to RMC Sport, Real Madrid signed the midfielder to a five-year contract worth roughly $85 million.
However, nothing is confirmed quite yet. Liverpool and PSG are among the teams in the hunt for Aurélien Tchouaméni. The 22-year-old would jostle for time with Casemiro and fellow Frenchman Eduardo Camavinga. Plus, if Real Madrid potentially targets the following French player, there would be more competition.
This one is a shot in the dark. Paul Pogba transferred from Juventus in 2016 with immense expectations. Back then, Real Madrid, Barcelona, PSG, Manchester City and practically every club wanted the talents of Pogba. His time in Manchester United did not quite go as planned, even though he remains an elite midfielder.
As of now, rumors suggest Pogba is returning to Juventus. However, it would be a major get for Real Madrid considering Pogba, despite his presence in European soccer for years, just turned 29. For context, Toni Kroos and Luka Modric are 32 and 36, respectively.
It would be a shock, but Pogba has just one appearance in a Champions League Final. The partnership could work for the two to achieve European glory.
Photo credit: Getty Images via Ian MacNicol / Contributor