As soon as Kylian Mbappe made the switch from Monaco to Paris Saint-Germain the faithful at the Santiago Bernabeu have not been shy about their belief that they will one day bring the Frenchman to Real Madrid.
As Mbappe's contract approaches its final 12 months those links are only becoming more intense with Spanish publication AS reporting on that six players will be put on the market to raise $122million to pay PSG for their talismanic forward in a move they've dubbed "operation Mbappe." That sextet are Marcelo, Isco, Luka Jovic, Brahim Diaz, Gareth Bale and Dani Ceballos. The final three of those are out on loan at AC Milan, Tottenham and Arsenal respectively whilst Jovic is also set to return to Eintracht Frankfurt on a temporary basis this month.
With their sale and the resultant space on the wage bill that will be freed up, Madrid will be primed to put together a package that might convince PSG to part ways with the 22-year-old, widely acknowledged to be one of the best young footballers in the world and potentially a multi-time Ballon d'Or winner in years to come. Inevitably there are no guarantees that Madrid will just be able to sign that sort of player.
Here are three reasons why bringing the French super to Madrid is easier said than done.
1. Even Madrid might not be able to afford Mbappe
For all the indications in the Spanish press that Madrid kept their powder dry last summer, where they did not sign a single player despite moving on the likes of Achraf Hakimi, James Rodriguez and Sergio Reguilon, to sign Mbappe the reality is that COVID-19 has made a huge dent in the club's finances at a time when they are investing heavily in the refurbishment of their Santiago Bernabeu stadium.
Cost-cutting measures have been put in place throughout the club, including a 10 percent wage cut on playing staff with talk of a further cut this year. There is speculation that the likes of Sergio Ramos will be asked to take further reductions to their overall salary in any new contract, it does not require much imagination to consider how it would go down among senior figures in the dressing room if Madrid were to splash what money they have saved across the squad on a huge transfer fee and contract for Mbappe.
It may be that the pandemic is a one-time hit - and it should be noted that Madrid scraped into profit in their 2019-20 accounts, but when Los Merengues are preparing for a $365million revenue hit in the 2020-21 season it certainly seems difficult to see where the money would come from to sign a player that PSG will drive a hard bargain for.
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2. Will anybody buy the players Madrid want to sell?
Of course the solution to the first problem might just be to get the outgoings to pay for that incoming. Even assuming that some of those who departed won't need to be replaced, Ferland Mendy, for example, seems perfectly able to step into the left back role should Marcelo depart, there is the question of how many of the sextet mentioned above could realistically be sold.
For instance Gareth Bale was on the market for several years and the only team that came close to signing him on a permanent basis were Jiangsu Suning... and even the Chinese giants were unwilling to pay a transfer fee to sign one of the best-paid players in the world. The Welshman is now out on loan at Tottenham with Madrid contributing the majority of his salary; for all the deep emotional connection between Spurs and Bale there are no guarantees that the 31-year-old would even return to see out the final year of his Spanish contract in north London considering he is a fringe player who earns more than Harry Kane.
Even though others on that list do not earn such exorbitant salaries there is no guarantee that there will be significant markets for ageing veterans such as Marcelo (who will be 33 next season) and Isco (who will turn 29 in April). If Jovic rediscovers his old form at Eintracht Frankfurt he may yet be an attractive option but Dani Ceballos' mixed experience at Arsenal - starter on minute, fringe option the next - does not augur well for Madrid players out on loan.
Indeed the only one of the Madrid squad that one could be sure there will be a strong market for is Brahim, who has impressed on loan at AC Milan. The indications are that they would like to bring the 21-year-old back to Serie A next season but it hardly seems an ideal state of affairs if Madrid are selling their bright young things who could age into the team alongside Mbappe.
February 21, 2017: @KMbappe gets his first #UCL start. 40 minutes in, he scored his first #UCL goal with this finish.— Champions League on CBS Sports (@UCLonCBSSports) December 20, 2020
He's gone on to overtake Lionel Messi's record as the youngest player to 20 #UCL goals in history. 😤 pic.twitter.com/FT9wWr3ARR
3. PSG will fight hard to keep their star
Perhaps the most significant hurdle to clear on Operation Mbappe is PSG themselves. Neymar may be their world record signing but it has largely been the case in recent years that it is Mbappe who is the face of the franchise in the French capital. Negotiating new contracts for Mbappe and Neymar has taken priority over any transfer business at the Parc des Princes and the club hierarchy are bullish about keeping the pair.
"We have started to speak with Neymar and Kylian Mbappe," president Nasser Al-Khelaifi said last month. "Those talks will remain confidential, but I am very confident. They both want to stay with us."
Financial Fair Play rules are the only real limit to PSG paying Mbappe and Neymar whatever it takes and they now have a manager in Mauricio Pochettino who has a proven track record of connecting with youngsters and forging a close bond with them. "We hope that he will have fun," was the Argentine's message to the 22-year-old, one that should augur well for Mbappe.
Madrid are of course used to prizing star players away from their rivals but in the case of Mbappe this may be their toughest test yet.