Karim Benzema is well and truly a talismanic figure for Real Madrid. While the French forward seems to only get better with age, Benzema will turn 35 this year, and it’s evident that the Spanish side needs to plan for the future. With Erling Haaland moving to Manchester City, Real Madrid looked to have a movie lined up for Kylian Mbappé. The Frenchman, along with Haaland, is seen by most as the best of the next generation of footballers. The Paris Saint-Germain forward is still only 23, but he’s been highly regarded by many since his breakout season.
Mbappé made his debut for Monaco, aged 16, breaking the previous record set by Thierry Henry, and he was almost instantly a first-team regular. He was a key part of the Monaco side that won Ligue 1 in the 2016-17 season, scoring 15 goals in 29 league games. PSG, who Monaco pipped to the title, was well aware that he was a superstar in the making, and decided to bring the young attacker to Paris
His move to the capital took the form of an initial loan, which was later made permanent. Since moving to the Parisian outfit, Mbappé has scored 171 goals in 217 games for the club and cemented his status as a star. He’s spent the past year in a front three alongside Neymar and Lionel Messi and hasn’t looked even slightly out of place.
However, the young attacker’s contract was due to expire in the summer of 2022, and he looked to be on the move. It was widely reported that he had agreed on terms with Real Madrid and that a deal was all but complete. Los Blancos, aside from being one of the biggest clubs in the world, are the reigning European champions and need no introduction.
The appeal for Mbappé, aside from generous wages, was obvious. A more competitive league, coupled with a greater chance of European success. It seemed as if the football world, including PSG, we’re resigned to the move. However, that’s not how things turned out. Mbappé stayed in Paris, signing a contract which would see him financially rewarded on astronomical terms, as well as increasing his influence at the club.
For Real Madrid, it was a major blow. While they rank well in football odds today, the Spanish side has to plan for tomorrow. The club is in the process of replacing its aging stars. Toni Kroos and Luka Modrić are both in the twilight of their careers, and the rejuvenation process has already started in midfield, with Eduardo Camavinga joining the club.
In attack, the development of Vinícius Júnior has been a pleasant surprise, and fans would have been salivating at the prospect of the Brazilian combining with Mbappé. The Frenchman’s decision to stay put means that, at least for the next few years, neither of football’s superstar young forwards will be playing for Real Madrid.
The damage that this development does to their squad building is not inconsequential, although a club with Real Madrid’s resources should be able to find an attacking talent who can lead the line for them. The real damage to Real Madrid is reputational. The move comes amidst the wider context of a power shift in football.
The Spanish side was amongst those who pushed for the failed European Super League project, as traditional superclubs looked to ringfence their position at the top of the game from nouveau riche sides such as PSG. While that project failed, the fallout has continued and paints the backdrop for this saga. Failure to sign one player should never be fatal for a football club but, for Real Madrid, the wider implications for their place in the modern game are ominous.