He hasn’t yet been officially announced as the next Real Madrid manager, but speculation is already in full swing as to the changes Rafa Benitez will oversee at the Bernabeu this summer. A day after failing short of leading Napoli to the Champions League, the former Liverpool coach is reportedly in the Spanish capital to complete the formalities of his long-mooted surprise deal to replace Carlo Ancelotti in the Real Madrid hot seat. After a trophy-less season for the club, Benitez is set to play his part in a significant summer of upheaval in the transfer market.
Here’s a look at four players thought to be on the wanted list.
David de Gea (Manchester United)
The position of goalkeeper has now been an issue at Real Madrid since Jose Mourinho’s time in charge. While he has been restored to the position of No. 1 this season, Iker Casillas has continued to look susceptible to the kind of errors that a club of Real Madrid’s ambitions simply cannot afford. For the best part of a year, it has been reported that Casillas’ understudy in the Spain squad, De Gea, is the man they want to take possession of the gloves at the Bernabeu. The 24-year-old has enjoyed an outstanding campaign and Manchester United have been unable to provide any assurances over his future, with the player having just a year remaining on his contract.
The former Atletico Madrid starlet is believed to favor a move back to the city where his family is still based, and he refused to rule it out when speaking at an event this weekend. “We’ll see what happens with my future,” he said, reports Spanish sports daily AS.
While Casillas might remain at the club, it would be a surprise if De Gea was not installed at the Bernabeu by the start of next season.
Paul Pogba (Juventus)
It is no surprise that Real Madrid are thought to be one of the clubs in the hunt for perhaps the most in-demand player this summer. In three years at Juventus, Pogba has developed into one of the world’s most complete midfielders and, still aged just 22, is poised to become one of the sport’s true superstars -- a profile that will doubtless appeal to Madrid’s galactico-loving president Florentino Perez. Pogba’s agent has indicated the player could be willing to leave for a massive fee this summer, although Juventus’ run to the Champions League final increases the club’s bargaining power.
Speculation has suggested that Barcelona have already been in talks over a transfer that would see Pogba arrive after their transfer ban ends next summer, allowing Juventus to keep hold of their man for another season. Meanwhile Real Madrid made the unusual step last week of releasing a statement to deny they had made an offer for the France international. Given the problems Los Blancos have had balancing their midfield this season, it would be odd were they not at least giving serious consideration to making Pogba their latest big-money signing.
Marco Verratti (Paris Saint-Germain)
If Real Madrid fail to get Pogba then PSG’s Verratti would be a fine alternative. The 22-year-old Italy international has blossomed in the past three years in the French capital, adding combativeness to his fine range of passing. It is that tirelessness without the ball that means he could well be sought to balance a midfield that was exposed for its lack of steel at crucial points of the season. Barcelona-based outlet Sport has recently claimed that the player features prominently on Real Madrid’s agenda, however his signing will be far from straightforward. PSG have riches almost unmatched by any other club in the world and Verratti signed a new contract last September keeping him tied to the French champions until 2019.
Raheem Sterling (Liverpool)
After being voted the best young player in Europe last year, Sterling has been frequently linked with Real Madrid amid an ongoing contract wrangle at Liverpool. The 20-year-old has stated publicly that he has no intention of extending a contract that has two years left to run, and is widely believed to have asked for a transfer away from Anfield this summer. Spanish publication Marca has reported that Madrid’s interest in Sterling has been heightened due to Benitez’s impending appointment. Benitez was Liverpool boss when Sterling was signed from Queens Park Rangers five years ago.
It would be a surprise were the deal to come to fruition this summer, however. Liverpool have no imperative to sell for anything less than a mammoth fee, and his form in recent months will have done little to convince a club of Madrid’s stature that he is currently worth such an investment.