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Monday Musings: The Tchouameni fee, the future of Madrid’s loanees, & Juni Calafat’s well for talent

The first of a new series — Matt’s Monday Musings — questioning the Tchouameni fee, placing a harsh verdict on Real Madrid’s loanees, and the sources for Madrid’s past and future talent recruitment.

FBL-NATIONS-LEAGUE-FRA-TRAINING Photo by FRANCK FIFE/AFP via Getty Images
Matt’s Monday Musings: A new series that I (Matt) am embarking on every Monday. Some weeks may be long form, others just short anecdotal thoughts. Either way, I’ll be posting reflective content on the current on goings of the club:

Aurelien Tchouameni - Worth €100 Million?

Let me preface my predominant thought for this piece with the below: I am a huge Tchouameni fan. There is a reason all the big boys in Europe are desperate for his signature. The 22-year-old is the total package: technically proficient, press-resistant, a ball carrier, a progressive passer, a ball winner, and he reads the game like a monster: 99th percentile for inceptions when compared to positional peers across the big 5 leagues. What’s not to like? He can seemingly do it all.

After being linked with nearly every big club, the choice for Tchouameni has come down to three final contenders: Real Madrid, Liverpool, and PSG. The 14-time European champions lead the race having reportedly agreed terms with the player, but are now negotiating with Monaco on a fee. PSG are doing everything in their power to try and one-up Real Madrid once again and drive the price out of reach. So the question arises, at a reported €100 million is Tchouameni still worth the investment? I am not so sure...

Many will point to the fact that Madrid are flush for cash having saved the “Mbappe fund”, but I’d argue €100 million should only be spent on a guaranteed starter. Will Tchouameni start? Many see him as the long-term replacement for Casemiro, but if the French midfielder arrives for the 2022/2023 season, then the Brazilian will still be a fundamental piece for Ancelotti and one of the vocal leaders in the dressing room. The position likely won’t be awarded to Tchouameni, he would have to earn it. But as Jonathon Johnson wrote in his recent piece on the midfielder for CBS Sports, he fits in more than one spot:

“Based on age alone, it would be logical that Casemiro outlasts Modric and Kroos in the Real starting XI unless he is sold and that means that Tchouameni and Camavinga could potentially occupy the two other starting berths ahead of the Brazilian in a rough 4-3-3 shape. The Monegasque starlet has excelled of late thanks to his all-action approach and has shown himself equally adept at scoring, creating, and using his strength with two goals and an assist in the final three matches of the Ligue 1 season to ensure that the principality outfit reached the UCL playoff.”

So does Ancelotti see the Frenchman as replacement for Modric or Kroos? Time will tell, but with a midfield already containing Fede Valverde, Eduardo Camavinga, and Dani Ceballos as replacements, €100 millions seems excessive for a player that does not have a clear starting role.

My hunch: the player’s desire is to go to Madrid, the lower offer will ultimately be accepted (probably around €65-70 million with variables), Dani Ceballos will leave, and Fede will play predominantly on the right wing, interchanging with Rodrygo. Tchouameni will have the option to compete in 3 midfield positions. Personally, I think you can only sell Tchouameni on that “rotation role” for one season. If he comes, and Madrid splash the cash, he comes to be a starter within 12-18 months.

What to do with the current crop of Loanees?

Long time followers of Managing Madrid will know that Kiyan Sobhani and I have tasked ourselves with tracking the Real Madrid loanees for the last four seasons. At times, it has been a “labor of love”, especially this season where most of the players out on loan underperformed. Many like to point to the talent of Brahim and Kubo, but the reality is they both had poor seasons. On the last Loan Tracker episode of the season, Kiyan and I ranked the loanees. Our rankings were based on performance this season (not overall talent) and it was tough pickings. Below is my list:

  1. Alvaro Odriozola
  2. Borja Mayoral
  3. Sergio Reguilon* (we included despite not technically being a loanee)
  4. Victor Chust
  5. Brahim Diaz
  6. Takefusa Kubo
  7. Reinier Jesus

*Honorable mention to Fran Garcia, who Kiyan and I both agreed would be top of the list, but we struggled to catch all of Rayo’s games this season.

The placement of Kubo and Brahim may be a surprise to those who had not watched them this season. The crop from 4th to 7th are under 22-years-old and it is still too early to write them off. Reinier Jesus or Take Kubo could very well have a developmental curve closer to a Dani Parejo or a Sergio Canales than a Vinicius or a Rodrygo. But the cold hard facts are that none of these players have consistently performed at a “Real Madrid level” this year.

What should the club do with these seven players? I would sell each — at a reduced fee — in order to include a buy-back clause. The one player I would be willing to exempt is Reinier Jesus. The Brazilian was brought in for €35 million as an 18-year-old and did not have the chance for regular minutes at Borussia Dortmund. With the right club and consistent playing time, a fair assessment can then be made of the Brazilian. If the decision is to sell, at the very least a good loan would help boost his value.

Take Kubo and Brahim Diaz are the most talented on that list, but both are at the point in their careers where they need a clear role within a squad and a stable environment to develop. Brahim has found that at Milan, but be it a consequence of long COVID or some other issue, he has failed to reproduce his scintillating early season form. Handed the coveted #10 jersey by AC Milan, the diminutive Spaniard went on to score 4 goals in his first 9 matches. Brahim scored against the likes of Liverpool in the Champions League and was key figure in Serie A victories over Lazio and Sampdoria. His impressive play even earned him a call-up to Luis Enrique’s Spain squad. Sadly, that form did not last. Brahim contracted the coronavirus in late October and was out for three weeks. Despite eventually recovering from COVID, he never rediscovered his early-season form. In fact, Brahim has not scored a goal in 31 matches (and nearly 2,000 minutes) since his last goal vs Venezia on September 22nd.

Unlike Brahim, Take Kubo has not found the right environment. I have long argued that Villarreal and Emery would have been the right club, had Kubo stuck it out (and had he been on a longer term deal with the yellow submarine). His impatience has led to some poor career moves. His next decision this summer, could make or break his dream of succeeding at Real Madrid.

Back to the well - Juni Calafat and Real Madrid scouts focus on what’s worked:

Something struck me while doing the “ranking” series for Managing Madrid back in March-May of 2020: of the ~182 foreigners that have joined the club, nearly 50% come from four countries: Brazil, France, Argentina, and Germany. Real Madrid found success — be it through quality of player and successful adaptation — that they continued to use as a base for recruiting.

Real Madrid’s chief scout, Juni Calafat, has long been heralded for his integral role of identifying and securing the singings of young prospects like: Vinicius Junior, Rodrygo Goes, Eder Militao, Casemiro, Reinier Jesus, Martin Odegaard, Fede Valverde, and Eduardo Camavinga. It seems the reports of the next great Brazilian being contacted by Juni Califat never cease with Endrick Felipe and Matheus Nascimento the latest names. In fact, Real Madrid had nearly as many Brazilians (5) as Spaniards (6) in the first team squad this season.

While Argentina’s player development has stifled in recent years — only Ezequiel Palacios coming close to joining the club — France and Brazil have produced a plethora of talent. Those two countries will continue to be the well that Juni Calafat and his team return to time and time again in their recruitment of the next big Real Madrid super star. Do not be surprised if the links to French or Brazilian players continue throughout the summer and with future transfer windows.