Real Madrid have been perennially linked to David Alaba. And so the latest batch of reports connecting the club to the Bayern Munich star should come as no surprise to anyone who has been a fan of Los Blancos since the Austrian signed for the Bavarians back in 2010.
But this summer, the saga feels different. There’s an air of expectancy that Alaba has finally decided it’s the right time to move on, and to seek a new challenge. To date, Alaba has 21 pieces of silverware during his decade in Munich, having helped the club to two UEFA Champions League titles and nine Bundesliga crowns, in the process of winning two trebles. This is a man who began his career as a left-back, and has slowly transitioned into a central defender of a high order, and now, plans to peak elsewhere.
Usually, when a 28-year old serial winner, one who can play several positions, really well, comes knocking at your door, you would expect your team to open said door, allow him in, then lock the door behind him. But there are issues with this, and the way I see it, Madrid may feel Alaba’s moment has passed.
In these Covid-19 impacted financial times, Real were hesitant to give Zinedine Zidane new players this summer, which would have helped further develop a side in transition. The board’s key focus was to save and earn more money, they achieved that through player salary cuts and 17 players either leaving permanently, or on loans. There are three ways of looking at why Madrid didn’t spend a single euro this past summer. Firstly, they were clearly unsure about the financial forecasting associated with Covid, so if they spent big, how would that come back to hurt them if their major income streams continued to be hit by the consequences of the virus? Secondly, I think the board genuinely came to the conclusion, for better or for worse, I’ll leave that for you to decide, that Eden Hazard, Marco Asensio, and Luka Jovic will feel like ‘new signings’, while Rodrygo Goes, Vinicius Junior and Martin Ødegaard will all be one year wiser, and will all make that difference and impact which Zidane required. And thirdly, I think Madrid are at a phase in their transition, where they can’t sign players for the sake of spending money, which is something I totally am on-board with. The targets for the club are clearly Kylian Mbappe, Paul Pogba, Eduardo Camavinga, Erling Braut Haaland, Dayot Upamecano and Jules Kounde – just to name a few. None of these players were available this past summer, and therefore, the club chose to trust in the squad they already have, and will instead wait for the right time to splash the cash, the aim being 2021.
Now, how does Alaba fit into all of this? Madrid are trying to get younger, there’s no question about it. It’s an ageing squad, with a lot of investment already made into some top youth players. The philosophy is certainly not going to change, and the aforementioned young targets aren’t going to come cheap.
But there are most certainly positives and negatives to any potential move for Alaba. Let’s hone in on the positives first, shall we? There’s clearly an appetite and need for more experience to be added to this squad, and for a player who’s entering his peak, having achieved so much already, that’s what you pay the money for; decision making, leadership and know-how in those tough moments on tough nights. You also have to consider how versatile the 28-year old is. Having began his career as a left-back, he can play as a left wing-back, he can play as a left-sided central defender, and he can also play in midfield, in either an anchoring role or in a pivot. Versatility sells, and for a team which struggles with so many injuries, would it be such a bad thing to have three, maybe four positions, covered by one new signing?
However, there is a caveat, and that’s the salary he’s reportedly demanding from Bayern. BILD say that Bayern gave Alaba’s camp an ultimatum of responding before a 3pm deadline on November 1st, or there would not be any further discussions. The salary offer that the German club reportedly offered was worth up to €20 million (with performance bonuses and agents fees included) and the deal would run through until the 2023/2024 season, taking the player up to the age of 32. This means Bayern offered him a very high salary, to play out the peak of his career at the club, but talks have since broken down.
So do Madrid really want to bring this issue onto their wage bill? With the potential signing of Mbappe, and the need to replace the likes of Luka Modric, Toni Kroos and Sergio Ramos in the coming years, is it really worth the risk to pay Alaba and his agent what Bayern are unwilling to?
There is also another discussion to be had. Would Alaba walk into the starting XI? Ferland Mendy has been crucial at left-back, so he wouldn’t get in front of the Frenchman. Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane are Zidane’s go-to starters, would either of them make way? Unlikely. And although Alaba can play in midfield, when he plays any other role other than in defence it’s usually in circumstances such as injuries or suspensions where the manager’s hand is forced and options are otherwise limited. But why can’t Madrid have Alaba for squad depth? Because a player of that quality and experience won’t settle for a rotational spot, and neither would any of Real’s current starters in the positions which Alaba would potentially occupy, and therefore, the acquisition doesn’t make as much sense as one would hope.
Alaba appears to be a luxury signing, one which I would have jumped on in the not too distant past. But for now, Madrid can’t afford to lose three players – Mbappe, Camavinga and Haaland. And therefore, their entire focus, budget, and resources should have one sole purpose, which is to bring them to the club, it’s really as simple as that. And who knows? Alaba may even settle for a lot less if he was to move to Madrid, and perhaps Zidane might convince the board to sign him, especially on a free and if his wages are considerably more affordable for Madrid. That for sure is a totally different discussion, for a different day. But at present, Alaba to Real is a curious case, and I’m leaning towards it not materialising.