12 June, 2019.
You have to go all the way back to 12 June, 2019 to find the last time Real Madrid spent money to sign a player.
Left-back Ferland Mendy completed a £47m deal from Lyon and inadvertedly kick-started a two-year barren period which has seen Real slowly start to lose their footing on the football mountain.
Since that day, Real have not spent a single penny on a first-team recruit, instead allowing their squad to grow old and uncomfortable together across the four transfer windows that have followed, and the fallout of that is really starting to show now.
It’s in defence that most of their struggles have been laid bare. At right-back, the options are injury-hit duo Dani Carvajal and Lucas Vazquez. Centrally, Sergio Ramos has left and Raphael Varane is close to sealing the move to Manchester United that he wants. Over on the left, Marcelo looks woefully past it.
Where are the replacements? Where are the upgrades? Sure, David Alaba has been brought in for an enormous sum of money, but he is approaching 30 years old and will need replacing himself in the not-too-distant future (all the while earning close to £400,000-a-week as he regresses).
Further forward in midfield, Casemiro is 29, Luka Modric is 35 and Toni Kroos is 31. The trio are among the finest on the planet, but they’re not immune to ageing and, Fede Valverde aside, there are no obvious candidates to replace them when they go. Furthermore, there aren’t even viable options to rotate with them in the short-term.
It’s such a reckless strategy, and one which reeks of a club who are so focused on building an imposing attack by signing Kylian Mbappe that they have forgotten about the rest of the pitch – a trend which actually goes back far further than 2019.
Since 2016, Real have spent £42m on first-team midfielders, £155m on their defence and goalkeeper and a whopping £290m on attackers – most of which has actually ended up being massively wasted.
The need to bolster elsewhere is so apparent, but Real are having none of it. They have declined to spend any money for two years now, gambling that the rest of the squad will survive while they pursue their Parisian dream.
In the short-term, that went alright. They won La Liga in 2019/20 but soon fell behind in 2020/21, and as it stands, there is absolutely zero reason to believe that things will turn around. Players are getting older and growing tired of stagnating.
Should Real sign Mbappe, they might be able to paper over a lot of the cracks. 90min understands official talks with Paris Saint-Germain are set to take place soon, but there is absolutely no guarantee that Mbappe will be sold.
If they do sign Mbappe, they’ll score a lot of goals and likely win a lot more games, but they will also eat up so much of the money which is actually needed elsewhere. Unfortunately, you just know that’s a risk Real are willing to take.
Real will allow Mbappe to score goal after goal after goal, but they’ll also act surprised when their defence starts to fall apart (again) and their midfield eventually starts to give way.
It’s cripplingly unsustainable, and while club president Florentino Perez will claim his poor spending has been enforced by COVID-19 and the absence of Super League cash, the reality is his focus has been on the wrong areas for far too long now.
Goals are all well and good, but they can only carry you so far, and Real are really starting to learn that lesson right now.