While Barcelona face an unprecedented future, adjusting to life without Lionel Messi, Real Madrid are looking towards their past. Los Blancos have lodged a £137 million bid for Paris Saint-Germain superstar Kylian Mbappe, in a move that conjures memories of their Galacticos era. La Liga’s twin giants have been rapt by financial regulations this summer, and while a frantic clearout is underway at the Nou Camp, Madrid are looking to put a coat of 24 carat gold paint on the Bernabeu with the arrival of the World Cup-winning Frenchman.
With the pandemic wreaking havoc on the finances of clubs big and small, and Real Madrid reportedly being among the worst hit because of their duty to comply with La Liga’s financial restrictions, the very nature of this deal and the money involved is surprising. Mbappe’s contract expires next summer, meaning Madrid would be free to sign a pre-contract with him in January. Instead, they have lodged a sensational bid in the last week of the window for a staggering fee. The move harks back to a bygone era of mega-money transfers for the club, a time summed up by one word: Galactico.
Every year, the Madrid summer would be illuminated by the arrival of another football great at the Bernabeu. Luis Figo, Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldo Nazario and David Beckham arrived in consecutive summers. In the years that followed, further box office firepower would be added. Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder joined in 2007, Cristiano Ronaldo’s world record transfer in 2009 was augmented with the arrival of Kaka and Karim Benzema. The era of Career Mode-style wheeler-dealing came to an end in 2013, with another world record fee spent on Gareth Bale, before being briefly revived with the 2019 capture of Eden Hazard.
While the signing of Mbappe feels like a can’t-miss proposition, with the former Monaco forward looking better every season, the history of Real Madrid’s superstar signings is surprisingly patchy. The original Galacticos of Figo, Zidane et al were considered a mild failure. The most glittering array of talent ever assembled at one club only secured one Champions League triumph in their time together.
Kaka enjoyed a solid spell but never scaled the heights that landed him a Ballon d’Or while at AC Milan. Bale has struggled for affection from the Madridistas, despite lighting up Champions League finals with his brilliance, and was allowed to spend last season on loan at Tottenham Hotspur. While the last high-profile signing, Eden Hazard, has battled injury issues while struggling to make an impact in Spain. Real Madrid and world class players is not always the perfect marriage, though Mbappe has all the talent necessary to succeed at the club.
With Real in a precarious position financially, it seems unlikely this potential transfer will represent a first building block in a monumental new Galacticos era. Rather, this feels like an attempt to add a superb attacking talent to a side that has had to cut its cloth conservatively to meet league restrictions. However, the club that Mbappe is leaving does appear to be putting together a squad that has a few echoes of Madrid’s star-laden past.
The most obvious is of course the addition of Sergio Ramos. Allowed to leave the Bernabeu as a cost-cutting measure, the iconic defender was the bedrock upon which much of Madrid’s recent success was built. The former French champions have also added the biggest possible signing this summer, with the addition of Lionel Messi to their already-monstrous front line. Gianluigi Donnarumma and Achraf Hakimi are among a raft of other buys that increase the swelling starpower of PSG. It is ironic that Mbappe has told club officials he dreams of playing for Real Madrid, while his current employers appear closest to emulating the Spanish club.
With less than a week remaining in the transfer window, and Mbappe just one of a maelstrom of huge potential transfers, it will be fascinating to see how this story unfolds. PSG are reportedly considering Madrid’s offer, and any switch may be helped along by the movements of Cristiano Ronaldo and even Harry Kane. But if Mbappe does wear the white of Real Madrid this season, it will write another chapter in the story of the Galacticos.