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Why dealing with Real Madrid’s expiring contracts is not as easy as it seems

Renewing some of these players is a risk

Real Betis Sevilla v Real Madrid - La Liga Santander Photo by David S. Bustamante/Soccrates/Getty Images

These observations — where I look at Real Madrid’s history, its players on loan, Castilla, tactical tidbits, and other relevant thoughts — are now a regular thing. All previous editions can be found here.

This is such a pivotal summer coming up for Real Madrid. On some level, I feel silly stating this, because you could say it about any summer, but there is something about this summer that is intriguing, and, frankly, telling in how the club proceeds with big decisions. Have they learnt lessons from previous mistakes? Will they start looking at process and sustainability rather than allowing heroic comebacks and trophies to mask holes in the roster?

Real Madrid have yet to recover from contracts handed to Eden Hazard and Mariano Diaz — still slugging through both of their eras with regret. Two players much less problematic — Dani Carvajal and Lucas Vazquez — were renewed and now their contracts have acted as barriers — excuses, even — for bolstering the position.

Real Madrid have seven players expiring this summer. Four of them — Karim Benzema, Luka Modric, Toni Kroos, Nacho Fernandez — are 33 or older. One of them — Mariano Diaz — is guaranteed to be let go. The remaining two — Dani Ceballos, Marco Asensio — have to be juggled carefully.

It’s easy to suggest extending both Modric and Kroos is a no-brainer. They are club legends, both playing at a high level, and have earned the right to decide. But there is also another side of this that often gets overlooked, and rarely gets asked: Is it better to have one year of Kroos and Modric, or five years of Ceballos? Those are fine margins and difficult decisions. Ceballos has earned his spot in the roster, and gives you a player profile (energetic, vertical, dynamic, hard-working, press-resistant, creative) that fits in the right timeline with the rest of the young midfielders. Ceballos may see Modric and / or Kroos renewing and decide to walk.

These decisions are made on a razor’s edge. Dealing with the contracts of Modric and Kroos is extremely delicate — even moreso than it was with previous legends like Raul Gonzalez, Iker Casillas, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Sergio Ramos. With Raul and Casillas, they declined, so letting go of them was easy. Ronaldo could have stayed had he wanted. Ramos took too long to sign his contract and it backfired.

Modric and Kroos, on the other hand, have aged gracefully and have given the club zero problems. Renewing them is a simple cakewalk. But, again, keeping them short-term affects what the midfield looks like long-term — not only with Ceballos, but also Jude Bellingham (who currently is not fully prioritized but would be if Modric and Kroos leave).

(Bellingham has Real Madrid’s interest, but the full briefcase for him hasn’t been presented like it was for someone like Kylian Mbappe. That may change if Modric and Kroos don’t stay.)

Dealing with Asensio is an entirely different story, and much more straightforward. Asensio is a squad player — a good filler to provide rest and offensive production against small teams, but a liability in bigger games. By extension, he only plays certain games. He and his agent, Jorge Mendes, have reportedly asked for more money than what Real Madrid have offered. The club, in this case, have leverage. If Asensio takes the deal, he’s a fine squad player to have. If he walks, he’s easily replaceable by either: 1) Signing someone; 2) Bringing back Brahim Diaz or Takefusa Kubo; 3) Promoting Sergio Arribas. (My hunch with Asensio if he leaves is that he’ll take a significant downgrade in the club he plays for as no big club will give him more playing time than what he currently gets.)

The club should seriously think about leaning towards option three in the above choices. With so much concern about salaries and where (and who) the money gets allocated to, Asensio is a risky commitment for several years if he gets the cheque he wants. Arribas is highly talented, far less risky to be bound to, and would be on a minimal deal.

With regards to Karim Benzema, multiple questions have started arise — questions that weren’t in media and fan dialogue last season. Matt Wiltse wrote about the Frenchman’s body breaking down, and now that we’ve seen glimpses of his mortality, the club will have to decide whether or not he should be replaced. Or perhaps, a better question is: Should the club sign another striker to compete with him?

Any dialogue surrounding Benzema should be met with a simple reminder to fans: Real Madrid will almost surely keep Benzema until 2024. He is probably not going anywhere before that timeline regardless of his physical state for two main reasons: 1) He’s earned the extension; and 2) Benzema is the transition safety net until the future superstar becomes available.

Point number two, to expand, has been a source of frustration for many fans. ‘Haaland or Mbappe or bust’ is where the club currently sits. As the club see it, there is little point in signing a good striker in the interim as they believe the Benzema - Alvaro dyad is enough to see them through until 2024 when Endrick + ‘X star’ arrive. If Haaland or Mbappe are inevitable, perhaps it was worth it. If the club miss out on both, it all seems like a silly risk.

The ideal scenario, if the club are hellbent on getting one of those two apex predators in 2024, is to coax a good striker into a one year deal. Maybe a Dzeko. (A Harry Kane type wouldn’t accept that kind of short-term deal.)

But is a Dzeko type rental worth prioritizing over Alvaro — a player the club believes in? Perhaps it would work while Alvaro goes out on loan.

This team is really good, but weak in certain areas. They are not that far away from having a great overall squad, but the chips need to be played properly to maximize the capacity to fight for all three trophies for the next few years. A lot of the decisions this summer will affect long-term success.

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