After missing out on Kylian Mbappe last summer, Real Madrid reacted quickly to secure the signature of Aurelien Tchouameni. Costing €80m, Tchouameni has slotted in immediately and exhibited excellent performances so far. Yet there is a feeling that he is not necessarily the ‘franchise player’, to borrow a term from the USA, that President Florentino Perez desired.
Carlo Ancelotti has consistently maintained that he is happy with his squad and with the possible exception of cover for Karim Benzema up front, Los Blancos have a fairly complete team.
After securing the signing of Endrick Felipe from Palmeiras, Real Madrid have the star of the future. He will only arrive in 2024 though, at which point Endrick will still be just 18 years of age.
There is a feeling that Los Blancos will pursue a midfielder to come in as a long-term replacement for Luka Modric this coming summer, but perhaps that Perez will seek another marquee signing. Following a World Cup with several breakout stars, something Perez has shown a predilection for in the past, there have been whispers that Josko Gvardiol could be Real Madrid’s next pursuit.
The Croatian defender catapulted himself into the discussion as one of the best defenders in the world in Qatar, standing out for Croatia in each and every game. Defensa Central say they are evaluating a move for Gvardiol, which would likely cost €110m. Manchester City and Chelsea stand out as competition.
Gvardiol was probably the standout defender in the tournament. Aggressive with his pressing, proactive and committed, the timing of his challenges was almost always spot on. In particular during the World Cup, he made several last ditch tackles which made the difference for his side.
With the ball he stood out too. Capable of driving through the middle of the pitch into the final third, often he would open up space for his teammates. Equally, his handling of the ball would not look out of place in midfield.
If Real Madrid were to plump for him, Gvardiol could operate either in the middle of defence or as a left-back. Given his talent, his age (20) and performances, it is no surprise that Los Blancos are considering making him their ‘World Cup’ star.
However Gvardiol’s signing would be a major investment in an area Los Blancos have worked hard to cover in recent years. David Alaba, Antonio Rudiger and Eder Militao have replaced Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane. That the German is not a starter shows the strength in depth at Real Madrid.
Gvardiol would be a starter at that price and it would either mean using him as a left-back, or shifting David Alaba out to the left, or simply dropping one of the Austrian or Militao.
Using Gvardiol as a left-back would no doubt still be accompanied by top performances, but his preferred position is in the middle. It is also not where he has now made his name at the World Cup.
In the middle, it would necessitate the sale of another of their quality central defenders. It should be noted that Real Madrid came up against RB Leipzig earlier in the season twice and while he was impressive, there was little suggestion of Real Madrid using the money saved on Mbappe for him.
Signing Gvardiol is equivalent to giving up on one of their already quality central defenders. At various points last season, all three of their current defenders have been on runs that were similar to the heroics of Gvardiol at the World Cup. In the short-term at least, all three are capable of performing at a similar level. Defending being the function of a collective positioning, their cohesion as a unit will weigh as much, if not more than the individuals in it with these fine margins.
If there is one thing above all that makes a mammoth transfer not quite the wrong move, but not the right one, it is the use of resources. In a tricky situation with the aging of Karim Benzema, Los Blancos would be better served by putting that money towards either strengthening the full-back slots with more natural options or finding their next big forward.
One of the things that has stood out about Los Blancos in recent years is their smart recruitment below the top level of spending. Militao, Vinicius Junior, Rodrygo Goes, Fede Valverde, or even older examples like Luka Modric, Toni Kroos and Benzema have shown as much.
Of Real Madrid’s starting team, only Tchouameni cost more than €50m. That is partly a result of the inflation of the market, but it shows the fine margins between those perceived to transcendental and as ‘just’ top tier options. With three quality options available already, spending €110m on Gvardiol is not the sort of transfer that has left Los Blancos ahead of Barcelona and Atletico Madrid off the pitch.