The arrival of 2023 will bring with it a huge task in the corridors at the Real Madrid stadium. As of 1 January, Benzema, Modric, Kroos, Asensio, Ceballos, Nacho and Mariano will be free to negotiate with whoever they choose, as almost a third of the squad have their the contract ending on 30 June 2023. They are seven footballers in seven different scenarios, but all of them are on their way to becoming a free agent.
Having just blown out the 35 candles on his cake, Benzema has had a very strange 2022. While he has seen success over a large part of it, the way it ended was one to forget. But that doesn’t cloud the sensational performance of the Ballon d’Or winner, after his 44 goals and 15 assists led Madrid to soar to a League and Champions League double. With the changing of the season from summer to autumn, problems began to appear (he has missed 9 and a half games, which has left him sitting on 6 goals in 12 games); ‘muscular fatigue’ stopped him from playing before the World Cup and the final setback was when Deschamps, due to a minor injury, him home from Qatar.
Also, the Ballon d’Or, unlike with Modric in 2018, does not guarantee an automatic contract extension at Madrid and he will have to sit down at the table to discuss terms. However, Los Blancos understand that the latest setbacks have been nothing more than accidents and the idea regarding Benzema’s continuity will not change: in Madrid they still want Karim. At least until 2024, when Endrick will arrive and Haaland’s option will be given the green light.
When his body says enough is enough, Modric will hang up his boots. The question is when that time will come. His performance is far from showing that football for Modric has an expiration date and after the World Cup he has slammed shut the idea of his withdrawal from the national team. “It may be my last World Cup, we’ll see what happens in the future, but at least… I want to continue until the Nations League (June 2023)”, said the genius from Zadar as he kissed the World Cup bronze medal. In September he will turn 38, but Luka has led Croatia in Qatar and for Ancelotti he is still non-negotiable (he has 1,259 minutes so far this season). Bellingham and Enzo Fernández have appeared on the horizon, but this does not mean that Luka cannot teach them how he uses his magic toes before stepping aside. To do this, he will renew and, for the moment, nothing appears to be any different in that regard.
“I think he’s going to stay”. Ancelotti’s hopeful comment at the end of October hid the fear surrounding Kroos’ continuity in Madrid, and showed that it depended solely and exclusively on Toni himself. The German, a private player with interests outside the world of sport, has set a deadline for organising his renewal at the end of this season. At the club they offered for him to continue, but the German preferred to wait; he will assess how the year goes when it’s over and if he takes his performances this year as a measure of whether he should carry on, it will not take long to make a decision. Throughout the season, in addition, he has given everyone some reassuring statements. “I’m going to retire here.” “I don’t know what will happen, but I’m not going to change clubs. Both the club and I are calm. Everything will be fine, that’s for sure”. Toni Kroos is the fourth most used player in the squad (1,393 minutes).
It’s not easy nowadays to be a One Club Man, but Nacho is exactly that. The ex-youth squad player is in perhaps the most difficult season since he became a full part of the first team. Rüdiger’s arrival has made him less important and, despite his versatility, Nacho has only been able to play 414 minutes so far. Even so, when he takes to the field, he is as solid as ever. A pessimistic defender in the best sense, as Ancelotti would say. There is no shortage of suitors for the Spaniard, with MLS being the latest to join the list, as AS reported. Milan, Roma and Wolves also have him in their sights, but Nacho’s priority is, as always, Real Madrid. The man from Alcalá hopes of extending his contract until 2024. There has already been contact between the two parties in search of a handshake.
Of the entire list, Asensio is the one who has been in and out of the exit door the most. The Spaniard seemed to have a foot and three quarters out of Madrid in the summer, with Ancelotti recognising that he was looking for minutes. However, Asensio stayed and until now has only managed to get upset in a game against Mallorca where he warmed up and didn’t play, later being whistled before proving his worth with a goal against Leipzig which started off the peace process. Little by little he grew in his role as a substitute (3 goals and 3 assists in 426′) to the point where he earnt a place on Luis Enrique’s list for the World Cup, where he was a starter, as a ‘9′. If Jorge Mendes was looking for juicy offers in the summer market, now Asensio wants to continue. AS has already informed of the player’s intention to continue at Los Blancos.
A case similar to that of Asensio. Ceballos also seemed, at times, to be more out than in over the summer and ultimately opted to fight for his place at the club. Betis dreamed of his return, but the funds available did not allow the Verdiblancos to do anything more than fantasize. Although Ceballos wants to fight and show that he has a place in Madrid, Betis are still hopeful of a return on a free. His statistics per 90′ are at the level of Modric and Kroos, but not his minutes (209′: Odriozola, Vallejo and Mariano have less). An injury came along in the days before the World Cup, leaving him unable to form part of Ancelotti’s rotation plan. Carletto promised that he would have opportunities and urged him to stay in the summer. Ceballos did and now he is potentially entering the final stretch of his time. The club should take advantage of his position in the squad during the first matches back in La Liga, with some World Cup players (Modric, Tchouameni, Camavinga) still enjoying their mini-preseason.
Mariano’s goodbye is a matter of time. Since he landed as a signing for Lopetegui’s Madrid in 2018 after scoring for fun at Lyon, the Hispano-Dominican has failed to convince. A player of decreasing importance, Mariano has rejected several proposals to leave the club in previous transfer windows. He was close to going to Valencia, he said ‘no’ to Rayo before Fenerbahçe put a contract of 5 million euros a year on the table, which the striker demanded. The club made his situation clear over the summer and that it he would not be part of the plans. But a clear move failed to materialise and Mariano is last in line for Ancelotti, playing only 25 minutes. On 30 June, the man from Premià de Mar will pack his bags.
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