The transfer window has slammed shut for Real Madrid and the club are no better off than they were at the beginning of the summer.
With David De Gea’s signing collapsing at the last minute due to a problem with the paperwork, this season’s side looks very similar to last year’s version – and none of the weaknesses have really been addressed.
If anything, the 2014-15 campaign appeared to highlight that Madrid needed another striker, a central midfielder and a goalkeeper if Iker Casillas left the club. Three basic pieces. Yet the only goalkeeper who did arrive, Kiko Casilla, is no better than the one who left; Mateo Kovacic does not appear a suitable replacement for Toni Kroos or Luka Modric; and Karim Benzema is left as the sole striker at the Santiago Bernabeu after Javier Hernandez returned to Manchester United following the end of his loan spell (and subsequently signed for Bayer Leverkusen).
The best news for Madrid was the renewal of captain Sergio Ramos, who came close to joining United earlier in the summer before putting pen to paper on a lucrative new deal. But the needs of the team have not been addressed elsewhere and the arrival of Rafa Benitez as a replacement for Carlo Ancelotti in the dugout has hardly convinced fans, either.
In goal, Madrid allowed Casillas to leave the club after 16 seasons at the Bernabeu. Iker’s move to Porto meant De Gea would arrive. It was only a matter of time. But, in the end, time ran out and the two first-choice goalkeepers – Keylor Navas and Casilla – are not an upgrade on last season.
The expected duo for this term – De Gea and Casilla – will now likely have to wait until 2016-17. And to make matters worse, the whole De Gea debacle is a big blow to both the prestige and the image of the club and much-maligned president Florentino Perez – a huge embarrassment.
At the back, Madrid have improved marginally thanks to the acquisition of Danilo to compete with Dani Carvajal on the right and the departure of left-back Fabio Coentrao. Danilo has yet to prove he is an upgrade on his Spanish counterpart, but their flank is all the better for the competition. Following the exit of Coentrao, Alvaro Arbeloa will deputise for Marcelo on the other side. In the centre, Ramos and Pepe both stay after signing new contracts and are ably backed up by Raphael Varane and Nacho. So, at least there are plenty of guarantees for Benitez in defence.
In midfield, some of the dead wood has been removed with the departures of Asier Illarramendi, who rejoined Real Sociedad for a significant loss; Sami Khedira, who signed for Juventus; and Lucas Silva, who moved to Marseille on loan. Casemiro returns from his season-long loan at Porto as los Blancos activated their buy-back clause and the Brazilian will be important as Madrid lack defensive players in that area, while Kovacic arrives from Inter as the club’s biggest summer signing for a total of €32m. The Croatian, however, is not a natural central midfielder and would seem more comfortable further forward – even though he said at his unveiling that his best position is as a defensive midfielder. Despite the 21-year-old’s undeniable quality, the success of that operation will remain to be seen.
In attack, Lucas Vazquez joins from Espanyol to add strength in depth along with Denis Cheryshev, who returns from his loan at Villarreal last season despite interest late in the window from Valencia. And those two are joined by Jese Rodriguez, almost a new signing himself after recovering completely from his anterior cruciate ligament injury to boost the team’s options up front. Not that they are short here anyway, with Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, James Rodriguez and Isco all ahead of them for the three positions behind Benzema. With Jese able to operate as a striker as well (along with Ronaldo and Bale if necessary), Madrid have decided against bringing in another orthodox centre-forward. Time will tell whether that decision is a wise one.
Madrid will not be too concerned by money because they have enough of that anyway. Overall, they have spent around €80m this summer: Kovacic (€35m), Danilo (€31m), Casemiro (€7.5m), Casilla (€6m) and Lucas Vazquez (€1m), without counting the investment on Jesus Vallejo (€5m), who will be loaned to Zaragoza.
Meanwhile, Illarramendi’s return to Real Sociedad brought in around €15m, and the club will no longer have to shell out €10m in wages every year to Casillas after his move to Porto.
In total, then, a net spend of about €65m – perhaps too high considering the squad has not been sufficiently strengthened in key areas. De Gea’s arrival on deadline day would have given the summer spending a different look, but without the goalkeeper and no Galactico signing to boost the midfield in particular, Madrid haven’t done their homework this summer and it could cost them over the course of the season.