Real Madrid have several months before they have to consider their 2022 summer transfer market strategy, which will center around Kylian Mbappe. The PSG superstar is fully expected to join Madrid on a free transfer after the Qatar-owned club rejected (by not responding) a 200 million euro offer from Real this past summer, which would have prevented Mbappe from joining his dream club for free. All Mbappe has to do is hold steadfast and wait.
Obviously, free transfers are, by definition, the most undervalued players on the market. David Alaba is a prime example of how a team can find incredible value from a free agent that is intent on joining them, either because of a personal wish (Mbappe), a financial impasse (Antonio Rudiger), or a combination of both (Alaba). These kinds of players can be risky, as there are some free agents who end up commanding contracts they do not reserve. Ask Juventus how they feel about the money going to Aaron Ramsey and Adrien Rabiot.
But beyond free agents, there is one profile of player that is very undervalued on the transfer market. We know Real Madrid are focused on veteran free agents like Alaba, Rudiger, and Paul Pogba, as well as up-and-coming superstars like Vinicius Junior, Mbappe, and Erling Haaland.
They should also be interested in players with positional flexibility and versatility. I’m not talking about players who are utility men. I am talking about star players who can excel at a variety of positions. Manchester City’s Phil Foden comes to mind, as does “one that got away”, PSG’s Achraf Hakimi. Potential Real Madrid transfer target Christopher Nkunku of RB Leipzig is another.
Targeting versatile players would help Real Madrid’s depth
With Real Madrid unable to compete financially with Chelsea, PSG, and City, opportunities like Mbappe, Haaland, and free agents become more important. But these are not the only players Real can target. They must broaden their horizons, and the name of the game is finding value before everyone else does.
Even in this economy, it takes a significant amount of money to buy anyone with serious quality. And Real are only after serious players. Would you rather pay 50 million euros to an attacking player or wide man who can only play one position? Or is it a better investment to sign someone who can fulfill two or three roles? This question becomes even more important when we start talking about players like Nkunku who may not start every match and are signed as quality depth.
In a football landscape with more injuries, fatigue, and unpredictability, depth separates the elite from the “just good”. It is what propels a team to a Champions League title. Everyone deals with injuries, so they are no longer an excuse. You have to have a plan. And what is a better way to plan than to preemptively target players on the transfer market who can be the solution to multiple absence-related problems that will inevitably arise in the grueling football calendar?
Versatility isn’t discussed enough on the transfer market. When it is, it is watered down, where average players are touted for their versatility, because they provide nothing else. Real Madrid and other elite clubs will likely start prioritizing transfer targets who are legitimately capable of starting – even if they are not signed to be a starter – in multiple positions.
Here, positions do not necessarily mean traditional positions on a static diagram like right winger, right back, center midfielder etc. A versatile player can be, for example, a forward who can play as a false nine, inverted left winger, traditional right winger, attacking midfielder, or wing back. (Nkunku comes to mind here, though I am not necessarily advocating for him as a signing.) Or even just someone who can fit multiple playing styles in the center of midfield, like recently-signed Eduardo Camavinga or possible 2022 midfield target Aurelien Tchouameni.
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The name of the game, soon, will be adaptability and flexibility. It already is for managers, but players with these traits will become even more valuable on the transfer market. Before everyone else catches on, Los Blancos would be wise to weigh this carefully when they make transfer decisions in the next couple of windows. They could use some more depth, especially once they go all-in with Mbappe (and maybe Haaland).