Former Real Madrid target Exequiel Palacios joining Bayer Leverkusen

Bayer Leverkusen have confirmed they are signing River Plate midfielder Exequiel Palacios, a former Real Madrid target.

César Luis Merlo of TyC Sports had recently claimed the plater will move to the Bundesliga club in a deal worth €15m – his release clause – while he has now officially penned a five-year deal.

Strong reports this year had linked the Argentine with a move to Real Madrid earlier in January, with suggestions that a deal had been done but no move came to fruition.

River Plate boss Marcelo Gallardo admitted he could not stand in the way of Palacios joining Madrid if they wanted him.

“If Madrid came for him, how could I tell him not to do that,” Gallardo said this month, as cited by Diario AS.

“He is good enough to join a major club.”

The 21-year-old, who has also been heavily linked with a move to both Ajax and Inter, had been surprisingly rumoured to be joining MLS in recent months.

The highly-rated midfielder was said to be on the verge of signing a five-and-a-half year deal with Madrid last January, with his proposed contract containing a reported €15m release clause.

Palacios made his debut for River as a 16-year-old and won two international caps for Argentina last year, attracting interest also from Barcelona and Atletico Madrid.

Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City have also been linked with the midfielder which is said to have speeded up Madrid’s pursuit of the deal.

The Argentine missed two months of football earlier this year with a knee injury and that significantly cooled off interest from clubs, despite making a full recovery.

The central midfielder has made fewer than 100 first-team appearances for River but helped his club to the Copa Libertadores title last year and again participated in their run to this year’s final, when they lost to Flamengo.

A move to the Bernabeu would have represented a continuation of Madrid’s policy of signing young South American players with Brazilian teenagers Vinicius Junior and Rodrygo Goes captured last year.

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