Even before late December’s 3-0 Clasico defeat against Barcelona, there was persistent speculation that Real Madrid would look to move seriously into the January transfer market.
But the shocking loss, which left Zinedine Zidane’s side a full 14 points behind runaway La Liga leaders Barca (albeit with a game in hand), has only increased the feeling among Blancos fans and pundits that the squad must be strengthened immediately.
The most spectacular, if unlikely, rumour doing the rounds of the local press over the winter break was that Madrid president Florentino Perez is now determined to move for Tottenham centre-forward Harry Kane.
The England international’s name was added to a list which had previously included Inter Milan’s Mauro Icardi, Arsenal’s Alexis Sanchez, Chelsea’s Eden Hazard, Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero and Atletico Madrid’s Antoine Griezmann. Even though the chances of any of these moving to the Bernabeu as soon as January appear slim at best.
Madrid do have money to spend after missing out on PSG’s Kylian Mbappe last summer, and Zidane did talk last month about being open to going into the market in January. Although the manager also made clear that he is not the main decision maker over transfers at the Bernabeu, and publically retains faith in centre-forward Karim Benzema (currently injured) despite his continued struggles in front of goal.
There is now the possibility of Madrid tabling a huge offer which Tottenham (or any other club) would have to consider. Or more likely that a surprise name will emerge over the next few weeks to fill the gap left at the Bernabeu by previous back-up No. 9 Alvaro Morata’s exit for Chelsea last summer.
Many clubs have been cautious about spending money in January, due to the difficulty of getting deals done mid-season. But Marca have run the numbers and found that since the winter window was introduced in Spain in 1995 the Bernabeu outfit have spent €143 million on 18 different players, with decidedly mixed results.
There have been quite a few disasters. Julien Faubert got just 54 minutes in La Liga during a 2009 loan move from West Ham which has never been adequately explained; Antonio Cassano caused more trouble for hotel busboys than opposition defenders during his 18 months in the Spanish capital; Brazilian midfielder Lucas Silva’s €14m move was not working out even before his illness and he’s now on loan at Cruzeiro.
There have been some successes. Brazilians Marcelo and Casemiro were both under the radar winter captures which turned out well; Argentine Gonzalo Higuain, a January 2007 signing, also did well on balance. However Madrid cannot bring forward their move for latest South American sensation Vinicius Jr — due to arrive in summer 2018 for €45m — even if they wanted to due to him still being just 17.
The last time the call went out for an “emergency” centre-forward, when Jose Mourinho loaned Emmanuel Adebayor from Man City in 2011, the much travelled Togo international did reasonably well and ended up winning a Copa del Rey medal. Two years previous, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar’s signing from Ajax made a lot of sense, until it emerged that Madrid’s belief he could play in that year’s Champions League round of 16 had been mistaken.
A similar move for an experienced and available goal-scorer cannot be ruled out this month — especially as history shows that the main reason Madrid’s hierarchy sign players in January is the short-term PR boost they get for looking to be proactively trying to solve the team’s problems.
Given the Real Madrid supporters have just suffered through the winter break following an especially painful Clasico defeat, a surprise big name arrival would move the narrative on from the squad’s lack of depth and Zidane’s tactical failings.
This could be especially useful given the tricky upcoming fixture list, starting with a Copa del Rey trip to in-form Segunda side Numancia on Thursday, than always dangerous Celta Vigo away on Sunday in La Liga.
Minds are also already focused on Feb. 14’s Champions League round of 16 first leg against Paris Saint-Germain, who will be bringing their expensive signings Neymar and Mbappe to the Bernabeu. If Madrid did have their own new superstar like Chelsea’s Eden Hazard to show off, it would help the mood considerably during the build-up to what now looks a season-defining tie.
The general lesson however is that although it can be a good idea to bring on board promising kids in January and ease them slowly into the team, when Madrid have felt forced into changing plans or making a panic buy mid-season things have generally not gone well.
In nine seasons in which Los Blancos have moved in the winter window, the team have ended the season winning just four trophies — well below par for the Bernabeu.
The January signings themselves are probably not to blame for this, as the very fact that the club’s hierarchy felt the need to move at that point shows their season was already in trouble. Indeed, 2017-18 already looks to be heading into dangerous territory, regardless of what Florentino and Zidane do this month.
Dermot Corrigan is a Madrid-based football writer who covers La Liga and the Spain national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @dermotmcorrigan