How Madrid have built a supersquad: Bellingham, Vinicius Jr… are Mbappe and Davies next?

Vinicius Junior. Jude Bellingham. Aurelien Tchouameni. Eduardo Camavinga. Federico Valverde. Eder Militao. Rodrygo. Endrick. And potentially Kylian Mbappe and Alphonso Davies to come, too.

Real Madrid have assembled a frightening collection of talent over recent transfer windows. And the process looks set to continue this summer — Mbappe has told current club Paris Saint-Germain he will leave at the end of the season when his contract expires and in mid-February Madrid board members suggested to dressing room sources that he would be part of their 2024-25 squad, although they did not make clear whether he had signed yet.

However, The Athletic has reported that Bayern Munich’s Canada international left-back Davies does have a verbal agreement to join Madrid either this year or in 2025 — when his deal with the German champions is scheduled to run out and make him a free agent.


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Those signings would only highlight Madrid’s impressive transition from the ‘BBC’ attacking trio of Karim Benzema, Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo not so long ago to a team full of the brightest young stars in world football. It is a process that started with Ronaldo’s departure to Juventus of Italy in summer 2018 — which convinced Madrid’s executives of a change in approach in the transfer market.

Here, The Athletic charts Madrid’s steps towards creating a supersquad since that moment almost six years ago.

Real Madrid 2018 UCL 1


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Vinicius Junior (Flamengo), €45m

Cristiano Ronaldo (Juventus), €117m

Thibaut Courtois (Chelsea), €35m

Alvaro Odriozola (Real Sociedad), €32m

Mariano Diaz (Lyon), €21.5m

Brahim Diaz (Manchester City), €17m

Andriy Lunin (Zorya Luhansk), €8.5m

All transfer fees according to Transfermarkt

Ronaldo’s exit was a turning point — it signalled the beginning of the end for the BBC, who had helped Madrid to three Champions League titles in a row under Zinedine Zidane from 2016 and four in five years including their win in 2014.

Zidane also left that summer, after friction with president Florentino Perez over leaks to the media and disagreements over transfer strategy. The club had listened to Zidane when he asked them not to sign then-Athletic Bilbao goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga in January 2018 but the Frenchman’s surprise resignation cemented an idea in executives’ minds: coaches would come and go, so the club had to do what they thought best and maintain their transfer policy regardless.

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Ronaldo’s exit in 2018 was a turning point (Ina Fassbender/picture alliance via Getty Images)

Ronaldo and Zidane’s successor, Julen Lopetegui, were the first victims of this new policy. Despite Ronaldo being Madrid’s record goalscorer, he and the club hierarchy had clashed on several occasions before his departure to Turin was confirmed. When Lopetegui asked for several new signings to make up for losing him, including Valencia’s Rodrigo, he was told ‘No’. The club did not bring in a star forward to replace Ronaldo — only Mariano Diaz, their former academy striker who they re-signed from Lyon a year on from selling him to the French side after triggering a right of first refusal following an approach from Sevilla.



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Club officials were now also convinced of the growing financial power of rivals owned by nation states and in the Premier League — the previous summer, PSG had broken the world transfer record to sign Neymar for €222million and brought in Mbappe from Monaco on an initial season-long loan deal they made permanent a year later.

Faced with a threat to their traditional dominance in the market, Madrid decided to target younger players before they became established (and more expensive) world stars. Vinicius Jr (then 18 years old — he joined that summer but the deal was agreed over a year earlier), Andriy Lunin (19) and January signing Brahim Diaz (19) all arrived on the recommendation of chief scout Juni Calafat and his staff, a team credited by the board for their eye for talent.

These transfers were bolstered by the signing of a world-class goalkeeper in Thibaut Courtois from Chelsea. With the Belgium international’s contract set to expire in the summer of 2019, Madrid were able to pay under the odds for him. They followed a similar strategy with Brahim Diaz  — his Manchester City contract was into its final six months when he agreed his move to the Bernabeu — and it is one that would become common with future deals.


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Eden Hazard (Chelsea), €115m

Mateo Kovacic (Chelsea), €45m

Luka Jovic (Eintracht Frankfurt), €63m

Marcos Llorente (Atletico Madrid), €30m

Eder Militao (Porto), €50m

Theo Hernandez (AC Milan), €22.8m

Ferland Mendy (Lyon), €48m

Raul de Tomas (Benfica), €20m

Rodrygo (Santos), €45m

Keylor Navas (Paris Saint-Germain), €15m

Reinier (Flamengo), €30m

Madrid’s squad-building in recent years has not been without its failures. Eden Hazard and Luka Jovic were two big misses — signed for a combined total of €178million in the 2019-20 pre-season, they were both gone by last summer after scoring just 10 goals combined for the club.

Chelsea playmaker Hazard became Madrid’s record signing but was plagued by injuries during his time in Spain after a foul by Belgium team-mate Thomas Meunier in a November 2019 match against Paris Saint-Germain led to two ankle operations. Serbia striker Jovic, meanwhile, had just enjoyed a fine goalscoring season with Eintracht Frankfurt of Germany, but was so unconvincing for Madrid that executives feared another “Jovic case” when head coach Carlo Ancelotti asked for a new striker last summer.

There were some key signings for the future, too. Eder Militao arrived at age 21, with the Brazilian preferred over Matthijs de Ligt because of his speed and mobility. Madrid also knew the then-Ajax defender would command a higher fee given his fine Champions League performances as the Amsterdam side came within seconds of the previous season’s final. Juventus would pay €75million, plus another €10.5m in potential add-ons, for the 19-year-old Dutchman later that summer.

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Hazard struggled with injuries after becoming Madrid’s record signing (Angel Martinez/Getty Images)

Rodrygo, 18, arrived after agreeing to move a year earlier and Reinier was the same age when he joined in the January. They were both considered diamonds in the rough, although the former has gone on to have considerably more success for the club, with midfielder Reinier currently on to his third loan spell away from the Bernabeu, this time at Frosinone in Italy’s Serie A, and still yet to make his senior debut for Madrid.

The huge financial hit of the Covid-19 pandemic forced Madrid to bring in funds through selling talented players who had not yet settled in the Spanish capital. Navas, their first-choice in goal for the three Champions Leagues won under Zidane, was also offloaded to PSG after losing his starting spot to Courtois.


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Achraf Hakimi (Inter Milan), €43m

Sergio Reguilon (Tottenham), €30m

James Rodriguez (Everton), free

The limitations of the pandemic meant Madrid made no summer signings for the first time in 40 years, as Perez’s main goal was to balance the books.

That situation also forced them to sell some players felt to have a great future, despite the threat they would end up at a direct European rival. Achraf Hakimi was sold to Inter Milan and has since established himself as one of the world’s best right-backs at PSG, but the club needed the money at the time and already had Dani Carvajal as their No 1 right-back.

Elsewhere, James Rodriguez’s departure provided a reminder of the dangers of signing galacticos. Madrid failed to recoup any of the €75million they had paid to secure the Colombian from Monaco of France’s Ligue 1 after he won the Golden Boot as top goalscorer at the 2014 World Cup when he moved to Everton following an underwhelming six years.


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Eduardo Camavinga (Rennes), €31m

Raphael Varane (Manchester United), €40m

David Alaba (Bayern Munich), free

Martin Odegaard (Arsenal), €35m

Sergio Ramos (Paris Saint-Germain), free

Summer 2021 was when Madrid turned their attention to Mbappe, although in the July they enquired about his Borussia Dortmund counterpart Erling Haaland. The German club responded by saying their Norwegian striker would not be leaving in that window.

Madrid made two offers for Mbappe worth up to €170million, with €10m more in variables, before telling PSG they were ready to break the €222m record the Frenchmen had paid for Neymar four years earlier. They received no response to either, with PSG since arguing those bids were never formalised, so they had nothing to officially respond to.



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When that failed, Madrid made a last-minute, surprise move for Eduardo Camavinga, with the 18-year-old midfielder joining for €31million, plus around €10m in variables. The club had worked on his signing for a long time and his Rennes contract was also set to expire within a year, meaning they paid a cut-rate price for the now 13-cap France international. There was further intelligent business with the arrival of David Alaba on a free transfer after he had refused multiple times to renew his contract with Bayern.

The departures of Raphael Varane — another key figure in their Champions League ‘three-peat’ from 2016-18 — and Martin Odegaard allowed Madrid further credit, which was even more important given the costly and extensive renovation of the Bernabeu.

Madrid were ruthless in saying goodbye to another club legend in Sergio Ramos — withdrawing a contract offer to their 35-year-old captain as they felt he took too long to reply. It was yet another example of Perez and his board putting the club above all else.


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Aurelien Tchouameni (Monaco), €80m

Casemiro (Manchester United), €70.65m

Antonio Rudiger (Chelsea), free

Luka Jovic (Fiorentina), free

Isco (Sevilla), free

Marcelo (Olympiacos), free

Gareth Bale (LAFC), free

Another summer, another failed attempt for Mbappe. This time, the player decided to renew his contract with PSG. Madrid reacted quickly to redirect their attention to his countryman Aurelien Tchouameni, who signed from Monaco for €80million, plus a potential €20m in variables.

Club officials were keen on midfielder Tchouameni but had no plans to pay that fee for him until they were again unable to secure Mbappe. Ironically, Mbappe tried to get his France team-mate to sign for PSG in that window.

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Tchouameni turned down more lucrative offers from elsewhere (Ion Alcoba Beitia/Getty Images)

At 22, Tchouameni was another young player with big potential. There was another intriguing feature to the deal that would start to be seen with other new Madrid signings: he turned down more financially lucrative offers from elsewhere because of his desire to play for the club. Antonio Rudiger, meanwhile, was another market-opportunity signing from Chelsea, the centre-back arriving without Madrid paying a fee as his contract in London had expired.

Madrid secured more than €70million for a 30-year-old Casemiro and his fellow club legend Marcelo left on a free transfer. But the exits of Jovic, Isco and Gareth Bale for free had to be considered poor business given how much Madrid had spent on those three players.


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Jude Bellingham (Borussia Dortmund), €103m

Karim Benzema (Al Ittihad), unknown

Arda Guler (Fenerbahce), €20m

Marco Asensio (Paris Saint-Germain), free

Fran Garcia (Rayo Vallecano), €5m

Mariano Diaz (Sevilla), free

Eden Hazard, released

Jude Bellingham was Madrid’s marquee signing last summer for a fee that could rise to become a new club record. The 19-year-old England international took the same path as fellow midfielder Tchouameni a year earlier, opting for the Bernabeu when he could have earned more by joining a Premier League club.

Madrid showed they had not forgotten about other young talent either as they signed rising Turkish star Arda Guler amid interest from Barcelona among other clubs and bought back academy graduate Fran Garcia after three seasons with Rayo Vallecano — although neither has settled yet for a variety of reasons.

Brahim also returned from an unusual three seasons on loan at AC Milan, and has looked like a new signing

Several club legends and longstanding players departed — with the most dramatic of these being Karim Benzema. The club’s second all-time top scorer asked to leave and it is still unclear whether they received any fee from Saudi Arabian champions Al Ittihad for the France striker, who had a year left on his contract.

Madrid made another unusual agreement for Hazard to leave a year before the end of his deal, drawing an end to a disappointing four-year spell in Spain. He retired at age 32 shortly afterwards.

It’s only the first week of March but Madrid already have one summer 2024 signing finalised: Endrick will move when he turns 18, after agreeing to join in December 2022 in a similar deal to those that brought his fellow Brazilians Vinicius Jr and Rodrygo to the club.

And with Mbappe and Davies also on the horizon, the future for Madrid looks as bright as their famous white shirts.

Real Madrid with Davies and Mbappe

(Top photos: Getty Images)

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