A few days ago, I was discussing Florentino Pérez's new Real Madrid transfer policy with my colleagues from AS's Barcelona office. We couldn't help bringing up the well-known story of when then-sporting director Jorge Valdano put the signing of a young Kaká to the Real chief. Pérez asked how much he would cost, and Valdano gave him the asking price, which was still low; after all, the Brazilian remained only a prospect. Pérez replied: "Not interested: we'll sign him when he's worth five times that." This was at a time when he still based his project around the 'galácticos': stars whose fame reached such dimensions that the mere act of signing them boosted the club's image. Stars who brought healthy returns on the marketing front.
Real have staged a U-turn from 'galáticos' to 'pre-emptive signings'
The idea made plenty of financial sense, but it unleashed a war of egos and a sort of uncontrollable culture of complacency at the Bernabéu. Real Madrid's last such recruit was Gareth Bale, who is hardly proving an unequivocal success. For a little while now, and more and more so, Real have been focusing on a different kind of transfer target that AS journalist Juan Jiménez defined in our recent discussion as 'pre-emptive signings'. It's pretty much a complete U-turn from the 'galácticos', a plan that's all about identifying young talent and snapping it up before anyone else. Top-end talent, of course. The way to avoid missing out on the next Kylian Mbappé is to sign him when he's barely out of nappies: that's Real's strategy now.
Odegaard, Valverde, Vinicius Junior, Alan...
Martin Odegaard was the first, I guess. He hasn't taken off, and I'm not sure he will now. He's on loan at Heerenveen, while out at Deportivo La Coruña is the Uruguayan Fede Valverde, who is rated very highly. At Flamengo is Vinicius Junior, a 17-year-old who has prompted Los Blancos to shell out 45m euros. Now, the latest name to emerge is Alan, Brazil's chief star at the Under-17 World Cup (Vinicius preferred not to go), a player who is being dubbed the 'new Coutinho'. There's also Lincoln, who both Real and Barcelona are tracking. It's a question of trawling the globe and getting ahead of the competition. They might not all explode into life, but a few of them could just develop into the next Neymar or the new Mbappé. That's the name of the game. Pre-emptive signings: I like the definition.