Real Madrid's marquee misses: Neymar, Mbappé... Hazard?
Chelsea's transfer ban leaves Madrid's pursuit of Eden Hazard in doubt. It wouldn't be the first galáctico signing not to happen in recent times.
FIFA have handed Chelsea a two-window transfer ban over irregularities in the signings of international minors, in a situation that's very familiar to observers in Spain: in the recent past, LaLiga clubs Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atlético Madrid have all been given similar or identical punishments for the same offence. And in this case, despite not being the sanctioned club, Madrid are again affected. After all, Chelsea star Eden Hazard was shaping up as one of their chief transfer targets this summer, in a deal that the European champions felt would be relatively straightforward to get over the line, and which has now been left in real doubt.
If it finally doesn't happen, it won't be the first marquee Madrid signing that has not come to fruition of late.
Madrid pushed hard to sign Neymar last summer, but came up against brick wall. Paris Saint-Germain had prised the Brazilian from Barcelona a year earlier after paying his 222m-euro release clause, but his first season in France did not go as planned: though PSG did win domestic silverware, they were dumped out of the Champions League at the last-16 stage by Madrid and, to top things off, had to make do without their world-record signing during the business end of the campaign after he suffered a serious injury that almost ruled him out of the World Cup.
There were constant leaks to the media about Neymar's unhappiness in Paris and his poor relationship with his team-mates, particularly Edinson Cavani, and at no point did the player close the door on an end-of-season departure. However, every Madrid attempt to persuade PSG to do business was met with a resounding 'no'. That there are no buy-out clauses in French football worked against Los Blancos: if Neymar wants to leave the Parc des Princes before the end of his contract, he must do so with PSG's blessing.
The World Cup then proved the final nail in the coffin: Brazil failed to make it past the quarter-finals and Neymar performed poorly, chiefly grabbing the headlines for repeated episodes of play-acting that damaged his standing among the Madrid faithful; meanwhile, Kylian Mbappé went on to win the tournament with France, playing a key role in Les Bleus' second world title. An AS poll conducted during Russia 2018 left little room for doubt: nine out of 10 Madridistas wanted the club to buy Mbappé rather than Neymar.
When it comes to Mbappé, Madrid have encountered similar PSG intransigence: having paid big money to secure his services - in this case 180m euros - the Ligue 1 champions have no intention of negotiating with potential suitors. Los Merengues enquired about the striker last summer but, as with Neymar, were given short shrift - and, though the player himself has not ruled out moving on in the future, the feeling is that it will be a tall order to persuade the Parisians to change their stance. Madrid's real opportunity to snap up the 20-year-old was the summer of 2017, when he was still at Monaco. Indeed, the LaLiga club reached a deal with Monaco to pay a similar sum to PSG, but did not come to an agreement with the player.
The club's version was that Mbappé wanted 12m euros a year after tax - demands which would have forced them to break their wage structure by making a teenager the second-best paid player in the squad behind only Cristiano Ronaldo. What's more, Mbappé and his father expressed doubts about the role the youngster would be given at the Bernabéu at a time when Madrid still had the 'bbC' of Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and Cristiano. Los Blancos had the chance to sell Bale to José Mourinho's Manchester United, who were ready to dig deep; however, they decided to keep the Welshman, and Mbappé ended up at PSG.
In truth, Madrid's interest in Eriksen, who was viewed as an ideal midfield successor to Luka Modric, was over as quickly as it started. Modric, who will be 34 in September, is now in the final straight of his career and the club are well aware of the need to plan for life after the Ballon d'Or winner. However, the problem with Eriksen was that he plays for Tottenham, who Madrid have already relieved of Modric and Bale and are headed up by Daniel Levy, a tough negotiator who made the 13-time continental kings wait until the final days of the summer transfer window to clinch both signings - and in exchange for top dollar, too: 35m and 101m, respectively.
After Zinedine Zidane's resignation as coach at the end of last season, Madrid president Florentino Pérez sought to prise Mauricio Pochettino from the Premier League club, with the Argentinian keen to go to the Spanish capital; however, Pérez came up against Levy's refusal to negotiate, before again feeling the full force of the Spurs chief's talent for playing hard ball a few months later when they were quoted 250 million for Eriksen. Pérez knows only too well that talks with Levy take time and, above all, money. This led Madrid to end their interest in the 27-year-old, despite the fact that his contract is up in 2020 and he is not expected to renew. With other big names from the Premier League in the race for Eriksen, Los Merengues opted to focus on Hazard... whose signing has now been thrown into serious doubt.
Hazard is Madrid's top target for the coming transfer window, but the news of this week's transfer ban has left serious question marks hanging over his close-season arrival. If it is confirmed that the Blues - who have appealed FIFA's ruling - cannot register new signings this summer, the West Londoners will be forced to keep their current squad together if they are to be competitive in the 2019/20 season. Madrid had been planning to repeat the strategy they followed when signing his countryman, Thibaut Courtois, from the Stamford Bridge outfit last year: wait until he is about to go into the final 12 months of his contract and, with the player eager to go the Bernabéu, negotiate a knockdown fee (the keeper joined for 35m).
That Hazard wants to play for Madrid is no secret; he has said as much on several occasions, and does not appear to be about to extend his contract. But Chelsea's inability to sign a replacement could prove too great an obstacle towards the club allowing him to depart this summer, even at the risk of the 28-year-old moving on a free transfer in 2020. Madrid wouldn't have much trouble signing him at that point - assuming he were not tempted by another of the clubs likely to be ready to offer him big money - but he would by then be within sight of his 30th birthday...