Real Madrid’s impressive midfield has been dominating the Champions League for the best part of a decade and as good as their veteran stars remain, Casemiro’s sale was evidence that Los Blancos are conscious that replacements are in order.
Aurelien Tchouameni has slotted in well alongside Toni Kroos. There are concerns the German may retire at the end of the season, perhaps with Fede Valverde moving back into midfield or Eduardo Camavinga stepping up to play more regularly.
However there is no clear alternative to Luka Modric. Carlo Ancelotti has said that Dani Ceballos is the closest thing they have to the Croatian, who is now 37, but with Ceballos’s contract expiring, it seems Real Madrid do not see him as a long-term option to take over.
It makes sense of the constant rumours linking Real Madrid to Borussia Dortmund’s Jude Bellingham, although they will face competition from Manchester City and Liverpool.
A recent report from Sport has declared that Florentino Perez has put a limit on their spend for central midfield of €100m. Real Madrid paid AS Monaco €80m plus €20m in variables for Tchouameni last summer, and Perez does not want to spend any more.
However, that seems on the low end for what Dortmund may demand for their star teenager. Barcelona paid €140m for Ousmane Dembele, while Jadon Sancho went to Manchester United for €85m.
With several clubs interested and Bellingham arguably more promising than Sancho, it would be no surprise to see his fee rise above the nine figure mark.
Perez can reason that Bellingham and Tchouameni are at similar levels and have similar levels of potential, although the fact that Bellingham has more of an impact in the final third tends to come with a premium.
Anything north of €100m would place Bellingham in the top 10 transfers of all time. Of those in that vaunted group, only Kylian Mbappe could claim to have been a unanimous success.
It may be an intelligent strategy from Real Madrid too. Barcelona managed to convince Robert Lewandowski that their club was the best place for him and the Polish striker turned down larger offers from elsewhere. While the Blaugrana were forced to pay over the odds to Bayern Munich, if Real Madrid do not tie themselves to just Bellingham, they could easily move on. Convincing Bellingham would to move to Los Blancos and only Real Madrid would be a difficult task though.
The reality is that the market will set the price one way or another. Whatever clubs are willing to pay for Bellingham becomes the benchmark. Comparatively to others in that list, any price up to €120m would seem well-adjusted to the current market.
Equally, Real Madrid must work out if that price adjusts well to them. While naturally clubs must pay a premium for the best talent, it should be evaluated whether there are no other options that might look slightly less promising currently but could provide a similar profile and quality.
In Bellingham’s case, it may be that he is worth gambling a significant figure for. Yet being a player still very early in his career, it is something of a gamble, no matter how talented they are.
Real Madrid and Perez have worked astutely in the market in recent years for the most part and setting lines and boundaries has served them well. A quick look at Barcelona’s business under Josep Maria Bartomeu shows that being held over the barrel for a price without unlimited resources is a recipe for disaster.