Benzema to Mbappe: Assessing Real Madrid's transfer plan

Bellingham: It's an honour to wear Zidane's No. 5 at Real Madrid (0:46)

Jude Bellingham speaks about paying homage to Zinedine Zidane by wearing the No. 5 jersey at Real Madrid. (0:46)

The LaLiga season hadn't even finished when Real Madrid's summer transfer business began.

Madrid announced on June 3 that Marco Asensio, Mariano Diaz and Eden Hazard would be leaving the club. A day later -- hours before Madrid's last game of the season against Athletic Club -- Karim Benzema's name was added to that list. Then, 72 hours after the season's end, Borussia Dortmund confirmed that midfielder Jude Bellingham would join Madrid for an initial €103 million fee.

Two days later, Madrid made official the return of left-back Fran Garcia from Rayo Vallecano, followed by Brahim Diaz heading back after a three-year loan at AC Milan. Last Monday, the club made it clear where the team's future lies, handing Vinicius Junior the No. 7 shirt, and Rodrygo Goes the No. 11.

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If that wasn't enough, the reports that Kylian Mbappe does not intend to extend his Paris Saint-Germain contract beyond 2024 opened up the prospect of a move this summer, and another drawn-out transfer saga. Madrid are ready to bid, although the player says he will stay at PSG and leave on a free in 12 months. In the meantime, the club announced the signing of Spain forward Joselu on Monday.

Ahead of what will clearly be a pivotal transfer window for Real Madrid, here's a closer look at what's next for the club -- arrivals and departures, the club's plans and how much money they have to spend -- as they look to build a new team capable of challenging once again for LaLiga and the Champions League.

It always going to be a summer of change at the Santiago Bernabeu, and not just because of the stadium's ongoing renovations, which began four years ago, are finally nearing completion.

Manager Carlo Ancelotti and his staff are staying -- even if the Brazilian federation still haven't entirely given up on recruiting him as their new national team coach. But the team's on-field transition, which kicked off when Cristiano Ronaldo left in 2018 -- and sped up with the exits of Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane in 2021 and Marcelo and Casemiro in 2022 -- will step up a gear.

The departures of the inconsistent Asensio, the unwanted Mariano and the anonymous Hazard will be a net positive. Their absences will free up around €40m on the wage bill to go toward new signings. Hazard, who started just two league games last season, was the team's top earner.

The most significant and premature loss is Benzema. The 35-year-old Ballon d'Or holder had been expected to stay for another season until an injury-disrupted season and an eye-watering two-year contract offer worth up to €400m from Saudi Arabia's Al Ittihad convinced him to change his mind.

Benzema has been central to Madrid's front line for over a decade, and even in an underwhelming 2022-23 season scored 31 goals in all competitions. The exodus of four attacking players meant that Vinicius and Rodrygo were the only two first-team forwards listed on the club's website until the addition of Diaz.

Diaz effectively replaces Asensio in competing with Rodrygo on the right wing, although he'll do well to match Asensio's 19 league goals over the past two seasons. But that still leaves Madrid without a recognised centre forward. There was already an acceptance that the club lacked an adequate backup to Benzema. With Benzema gone, they'll need a full replacement, too.

ESPN has reported that the club identified Harry Kane as possessing the necessary attributes -- top-level experience, technical quality and consistent goal threat -- to step in for Benzema. But Kane turns 30 next month, and Madrid are reluctant to spend a significant fee on a player with no future transfer value, and his best years might be behind him.

Another intriguing possibility emerged this week with the news that Mbappe had formally notified PSG that he would not extend his deal there by an extra year, until 2025. Mbappe later disputed the reports, writing on social media that he was "very happy" at PSG and reiterated that he would remain in Paris next season -- but his club might be reluctant to allow him to run down his contract for the second time in two years.

Sources have told ESPN that Madrid would be prepared to move for Mbappe this summer, if there was a genuine prospect PSG would countenance such a deal. Mbappe would prioritize Madrid over any other potential suitors, sources said. President Florentino Perez has remained in contact with Mbappe, despite being hurt by the last-minute change of heart that saw the striker snub Madrid last year. If PSG were to accept that a transfer this summer was in everyone's best interest, Madrid's finances are healthy enough to make it happen.

Real Madrid weren't expecting to spend heavily on a forward this summer -- especially after committing an initial €103m plus a potential €30m in variables to sign Bellingham -- but last year's accounts showed a cash balance of €425m.

With the savings made on Hazard and Benzema, and new revenue streams imminent from the redeveloped Bernabeu, Madrid could afford to sign Mbappe or Kane, if they wanted. After all, they were willing to spend up to €200m to sign Mbappe in 2021, at a time when other clubs were on the brink because of the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The plan this summer was for a much more modest investment in attack. Spain and Espanyol forward Joselu, scorer of 16 LaLiga goals last season -- behind only Robert Lewandowski and Benzema -- has arrived on loan. The 33-year-old, who was previously a Madrid player between 2009 and 2012 and is Dani Carvajal's brother-in-law, is in the form of his life. It's a sensible, low risk move for a player who could adapt quickly, and offer something different as a no-nonsense goal scorer.

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But it's hard to imagine Madrid going into the new season with Joselu as their first, and only, choice at centre forward. Chelsea's versatile Kai Havertz, 24, has been looked at, with his contract at Stamford Bridge due to expire in 2025. Earlier this season Madrid were tracking a number of other candidates, including Juventus' Dusan Vlahovic and Tottenham Hotspur's Richarlison.

In defence and midfield, it will be a less dramatic summer than it might have been. The futures of Nacho Fernandez, Toni Kroos and Luka Modric -- three of the squad's most senior players -- have all been in doubt, to varying degrees. For now, all three appear to be staying put.

Nacho has only recently confirmed that he had overcome unhappiness at his place in Ancelotti's defensive hierarchy. Nacho previously said he "didn't feel valued" after falling behind Eder Militao, David Alaba and Antonio Rudiger earlier this season, but last week he agreed a new one-year deal. It helps that he will be Benzema's successor as club captain.

Kroos openly considered an early retirement before his improved form and physical condition persuaded him to continue. His one-year renewal is yet to be made official.

Modric, meanwhile, has said publicly and privately that he wants to stay and has agreed to terms on a new deal. But there is also serious interest from Saudi Arabia, which he has so far managed to resist.

But bigger doubts remain, including around Dani Ceballos. The midfielder grew in importance as the season went on, and of his 19 league starts, 16 came in the second half of the campaign. He is now weighing up whether that increased game time is sufficient to see him accept the club's contract offer.

The possibility of a surprise departure -- think Varane in 2021 or Casemiro last year -- can never be entirely ruled out at Madrid. If an attractive offer arrives for a player who is deemed nonessential, the club have a track record of knowing when to extract maximum value and emerge stronger.

Three other squad members, Andriy Lunin, Jesus Vallejo and Alvaro Odriozola, would also be allowed to leave if suitable destinations were found. If squad places then need to be filled, a number of talented academy players have already shown enough to suggest that they could contribute to the first team.

Centre-back Rafa Marin, 21, is rated highly, although his contract is due to expire in 2024. Midfielder Sergio Arribas, also 21, has already performed at this level, while forward Alvaro Rodriguez, 18, looked a useful target man last season and playmaker Nico Paz, 18, might be the academy's brightest star.

Ancelotti, though, has tended to be reluctant to turn to homegrown youngsters -- one of the criticisms he has faced from within the club -- unless circumstances leave him with no choice.

With the signing of Bellingham, the regeneration of this Real Madrid team's core is now complete.

The 19-year-old will play alongside Eduardo Camavinga (20), Aurelien Tchouameni (23) and Federico Valverde (24) in midfield. Add forwards Vinicius and Rodrygo (both 22) and Brahim (23), plus defenders Militao (25) and Garcia (23), and Madrid's age profile looks increasingly healthy.

The final piece of the puzzle will be the new striker, as Benzema's farewell leaves the club with one major piece of transfer business outstanding -- if Joselu is not to be the only addition to the frontline -- and 2½ months to find their man.