Real Madrid may have topped Forbes’ list of the world’s most valuable sports teams for the third year running, but the Spanish giants have so far been restrained in spending their considerable wealth during this summer’s transfer window. To date Madrid’s biggest signing remains the €31.5 million capture of former Porto right-back Danilo, confirmed more than three months ago. The club has, however, now confirmed a further arrival.
Following quickly on the heels of Iker Casillas’ departure to Porto, Madrid have wrapped up a deal to bring goalkeeper Kiko Casilla back to the club from Espanyol. Casilla, 28, came up through the ranks at the Bernabeu before departing for Espanyol in 2007, where he has gone onto establish himself in La Liga and last season earn his first cap for Spain.
“Real Madrid C. F. and R. C. D. Espanyol have agreed to the transfer of Kiko Casilla, subject to a necessary medical examination,” read a statement on Real Madrid’s website. “The player will be tied to the club for the next five seasons.
The fee is reported to be €6 million, and Casilla expressed his delight at heading back to Real Madrid, saying he did so “with the excitement of a child.” However, Casilla’s arrival raises further questions about Real Madrid’s long-running pursuit of Manchester United stopper David de Gea. It was a subject that manager Rafa Benítez was reluctant to discuss ahead of Real Madrid’s pre-season encounter with Roma in Melbourne.
“He is not one of our players, he belongs to another club,” he said, via Madrid-based sports daily AS. “We have excellent goalkeepers here and we have to work so that they can become even better”.
The two clubs currently appear at a stalemate with United unwilling to allow De Gea, who has just a year remaining on his contract, to leave unless Madrid sanction the move of Sergio Ramos in the opposite direction. Yet Casillas’ departure has meant Ramos taking over as captain and Benítez has expressed his hope that the defender will stay to flourish in the role.
“The way Sergio trains is sensational,” he said. “People had already told me about him and it is a great satisfaction to me to see how immersed he is in his work. The president has said that he will continue and that he will remain with us. If that happens, I will be the happiest man in the world. The dedication and involvement I see in him is what makes him such a great captain.”
Another leading player Benitez said he expects to stay is Cristiano Ronaldo. There have been rumors that the current world player of the year is unsettled at the club following the departure of Carlo Ancelotti as coach, with speculation that Paris Saint-Germain were putting together an unprecedented offer to prize him away. While Benítez wouldn’t get involved in the never-ending debate about who is better between Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, he did say that he was eager to work with the Portuguese star along with the rest of Real Madrid’s array of attacking talent.
“He’s one of the best players in the world; it’s very difficult to say who is the best but I think Cristiano, [Gareth] Bale, [Karim] Benzema and James [Rodríguez] are all up there and at their best are as good as anyone out there,” he said. “There’s so much talent and all of them are players of such a high level that there is no way I could choose; I am just happy to have all of them in the side. It’s a nice problem to have and I have the same problem in defense and in midfield. With hard work, the squad can get even better.”
Yet, following the end of Javier “Chicharito” Hernández’s loan spell, one position Real Madrid do look short on is a natural striker, with Benzema currently the only recognized option. Big names like Sergio Agüero and Álvaro Morata have been linked, and so has an unlikely target in Juventus’ Fernando Llorente. The former Athletic Bilbao target man could find himself surplus to requirements at the Italian champions this season following the arrivals of Paulo Dybala and Mario Mandžukić. And Portuguese publication A Bola reports that a queue is forming for his signature, with Porto now joining Madrid and Liverpool in the hunt.
Although at the age of 30 he may be past his prime, Llorente would certainly provide a different option for Madrid. He would also appear to be readily attainable, something which Benítez has hinted isn’t the case with many of Real Madrid’s transfer targets.
“The club always keeps an eye on the market, but it's not easy to find better players than the ones we've got,” he said. “Of course I'd love to have a lot of very good players, but finding them isn't easy, let alone bringing them in. It used to be much easier because there were fewer clubs with major financial clout. Now there is a lot of competition in the market and players earn very good salaries.”