Ronaldo Nazário, Mesut Özil, James Rodríguez, Thibaut Courtois… The list of players who have seduced Real Madrid with their performances at a World Cup grows every four years. Like every other top club, the Spanish and European champions always keep a close eye on the globe’s biggest shop window.
And on this occasion, Madrid will have more time to consider their options. Although the mid-season window is just around the corner, Los Blancos’ squad for 2022/23 is already set – and they don’t make a habit of doing much incoming business in January, anyway. Across Europe’s elite, moreover, marquee deals tend not to happen until the end of the campaign.
As Madrid plan for next summer, one player in particular is in the frame for a move to the Bernabéu: England’s Jude Bellingham. Other names also appear to have been circled in red, though. Cody Gakpo, Enzo Fernández, Josko Gvardiol and Gonçalo Ramos are all players who have caught the eye in Qatar…
Bellingham (19, Borussia Dortmund and England)
Madrid’s major target for 2023 showed just how good he is at the World Cup. The 19-year-old scored one goal and set up another, and was a consistently influential figure for an England team in which he is now a certain pick. At Borussia Dortmund, meanwhile, his performances and personality have led to his elevation to third-choice captain, despite his young age.
AS reported back in March that Bellingham was Madrid’s preferred option as Los Merengues look to add further fresh blood to their midfield. He won’t come cheap, however – reports in Germany say Dortmund want €150m – and Madrid will face stiff competition for his signature from Liverpool.
Bellingham underlined his star potential in Qatar.ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULATAFP
Enzo Fernández (21, Benfica and Argentina)
The alternative to Bellingham. Fernández began the World Cup as an impact substitute for Argentina, but will end it as one of the tournament’s revelations. So far, he has a goal and an assist for the Albiceleste.
In his first season in Europe, he has shown the same kind of character that has taken him into the Argentina team in Qatar. A talented passer with an eye for goal, he isn’t afraid to get stuck in; he’s a complete midfielder. Indeed, he can play in an attacking midfield role or in a deeper-lying position, as part of a double pivot.
Benfica spent €12m to sign him from River Plate and won’t have to wait long to make a profit on that investment. According to the Portuguese newspaper O Jogo, Madrid have already made contact with his agent to sound out a deal. As Águias have set his release clause at €120m and, says O Jogo, won’t let him leave for less than €80m to €90m…
Josko Gvardiol (20, RB Leipzig and Croatia)
Widely regarded as the World Cup’s outstanding centre-back, Gvardiol is a player who has long been attracting admiring glances from major European clubs. Chelsea were close to signing him for €90m in the summer, just a year after RB Leipzig paid Dinamo Zagreb €18.8m to take him to Germany.
Amid the transfer speculation that Gvardiol’s displays have sparked, the player’s agent, Marjan Sisic, told Sky Sports Germany: “As far as a move in summer 2023 is concerned, we’re in no hurry and there are no deals in place with any club.” Italian daily Gazzetta dello Sport has named Madrid among the list of clubs bidding to snap him up. Gvardiol’s performances in Qatar will serve to intensify the race for his services – and it’ll take a large sum of money to get him.
For many, Gvardiol has been the best centre-back at the World Cup.ANNEGRET HILSEREUTERS
Cody Gakpo (23, PSV and the Netherlands)
A left winger for PSV, Gakpo operates in a more central role for the Netherlands. He faded in the knockout stages, but the 23-year-old began the World Cup in red-hot form, scoring three goals in three group games.
In the Eredivisie, he’s a very big fish in a small pond. And don’t be fooled by his height: the 6ft 2in Gakpo is a speedy forward who’s capable of doing a lot of damage even in confined spaces – not least when it comes to finding the net. A supreme creator of goals too (he has scored 13 goals and set up 17 for PSV this term), he won’t be playing in the Netherlands for much longer. In the UK, reports suggest he could end up at Manchester United, although the Telegraph also says Madrid are in the race. His asking price? Around €55m.
Gonçalo Ramos (21, Benfica and Portugal)
“I’d like to see Gonçalo Ramos as back-up to Karim Benzema at Real Madrid. I think he’d be the ideal understudy and could take over the baton in the future.” Talking to the journalist Gianluca Di Marzio, that was the verdict of João Nuno Fonseca, Ramos’ youth coach at Benfica, after reports emerged linking the player with Madrid. “He’s a modern No. 9, a player who gives the coach a lot of options tactically, because he grew up as an attacking midfielder,” Fonseca added.
The 21-year-old took the World Cup by storm with his sensational hat-trick in Portugal’s last-16 thumping of Switzerland – a display that came on the back of a fine start to the club season (14 goals and six assists). His transfer value is estimated at €24m by Transfermarkt, but Benfica will be rubbing their hands together already at the bidding war that’s set to take place.