Without a doubt the future of Monaco forward, Kylian Mbappé, is the soap opera of this summer transfer window. It is still unclear where the French starlet will be playing next season, with Paris Saint-Germain, Manchester City, Arsenal and Real Madrid the main contenders to sign the 18-year-old for what is expected to be for a world record fee.
Arsene Wenger, the Gunners’ manager, has suggested that Mbappe could yet shun big-money offers to move overseas and remain at Mónaco. “Yeah, it looks like that, too much choice for him, maybe, so in the end people don’t move,” he said. “What we know now with Mbappè it is over £100m, it is free to imagine what we want but we have not made any offer.”
Real Madrid have reportedly made a bid of €135m, according to El Mundo Deportivo, and some Spanish sources confirm that PSG will equal any bid made by Los Blancos to secure the most coveted forward in world football in almost 20 years. As the saga threatens to reach a climax there is a debate among Spanish supporters: Do Real need Mbappé to maintain their recent success?
Across the last few months Real’s pursuit of the teenagers has been more of a craving than a necessity from president Florentino Pérez. Speaking to IBTimes UK last year, Iván Campo anticipated the success enjoyed by Zinedine Zidane, saying: “In order to succeed in a huge team it is mandatory to know what goes on inside the dressing room. Football stars want to play week in week out, but just 11 can play. Joy in the dressing room is essential to succeed in a top club.”
And that successful rotation policy was arguably Zidane’s most important achievement last season. Twenty players played more than 1,000 minutes in La Liga, a fine exercise in squad management which was vital to ensuring every player felt important during every month of the season.
Returning to the Mbappé debate, would he have the chance to play an important part in the Real team? Probably, but there was an issue that changed the whole season for the 12-time Champions League winners. Gareth’s Bale long term injury altered the whole picture from a Real point of view.
Since the arrival of the Wales international, Real have been using a 4-3-3 system. During the Xabi Alonso days, it was not a problem as the midfield maestro coped with imbalance generated by the lack of work of Karim Benzema, Cristiano Ronaldo and the former Tottenham Hotspur forward. Once Alonso joined Bayern Munich however, problems arose and this was especially visible during Rafael Benítez’s tenure; Isco, Luka Modric and Toni Kroos were not able to impose themselves in the midfield.
One of Zidane’s first decisions after replacing Benitez was introducing Casemiro. He may not be Alonso but he was aware of his role and suddenly Real seemed more organised. Though during some phases of that season Real experienced some of the same old problems, as the Brazilian faced difficult situations in the midfield.
When Bale picked up a calf injury last January, Zidane made a smart decision by moving to a 4-4-2. A refreshed Ronaldo – he was rotated for the first time since moving to the Bernabéu – and Karim Benzema were relinquished of any defensive responsibility. An additional player, often Isco, made Kroos, Modric and Casemiro’s lives easier.
The impact of that decision was crucial, as Real not only started winning week in, week out, but also dominated every match from the first minute to the last, no matter their opponent or the competition.
So is it crucial that Real secure Mbappe in the summer transfer window? With Bale, Ronaldo and Benzema in the squad and a place for just two forwards in Zidane’s 4-4-2 system, he could be sidelined. If Real’s squad stays injury-free then two of these world star players will start from the bench every week.
Currently, Zidane will not have the luxury of being able to rotate his squad come the start of the season. Ronaldo will not start training until August after taking part in the Confederations Cup, meaning he will be without the Ballon d’Or winner for the Uefa Super Cup final against Manchester United and the Spanish Super Cup final against Barcelona.
“You need joy in the dressing room to succeed and just 11 can play,” said Campo. Mbappé is arguably one of the most promising players in the world but he would answer a question no-one is asking of the Real attack, with the team close to perfection when it comes to offensive duties. Zidane learned a tactical lesson after Bale’s injury and now he knows how to keep his stars happy while he balances the midfield. Should one of the members of the so-called ‘BBC’ attack leaves the club, the situation could change. But, despite Cristiano’s alleged tax fraud controversy, this seems almost impossible.