These seven days should be a dream for Real Madrid.
Announce the signing of Kylian Mbappe – arguably the most desirable player in the world – at the start of the week and end up winning the Champions League.
That was the expectation of club president Florentino Perez, who had been extremely confident a deal would materialize for the World Cup-winning French striker.
This Mbappe chose Paris St Germain didn’t arrive well. The Madrid press was so stunned that earlier this week all the coverage was about the non-deal rather than the minutiae of Saturday’s final against Liverpool.
The fallout has seen Karim Benzema courted but could actually be good news for some of the Bernabeu club’s key players.
In any case, it certainly wasn’t the preparation for their bid for the 14th Champions League title that Real Madrid were expecting.
While Liverpool’s preparations for the final in Paris consisted of coming to terms with the disappointment of missing out on the Premier League title by a point against Manchester City, the Real Madrid side had to cope with a very different setback.
There is certainly an element of disappointment within their camp at the failure to sign Mbappe, with many in the group looking forward to the chance to play with him, not least having been assured that his arrival was a done deal.
The Madrid media saw it too and the main reason for the ensuing excitement was that they had recently only heard or believed Perez’s version of events.
According to sources close to the President, everything was agreed. Mbappe had started looking for a property in Madrid, his presentation in front of the ecstatic fans was already organized and Perez had actually said in private meetings and dinners that everything was done.
Perez told everyone the player was counting down the days before coming and PSG’s rejection of a new contract offer over the last eight months only confirmed their belief that this was indeed the case.
But Mbappe always said unequivocally that he would make his decision at the end of the season.
Real Madrid told him he had to choose between money and fame and there was a lot of talk this week about his choice of money.
His motivation was certainly more than just financial.
Despite what you may have read or heard, in his eyes Mbappé didn’t say ‘no’ to Real Madrid, but rather “Yes” to PSG and to stay in his native France. That was clear to me when I met him in Paris this week Interview him for BBC Sport.
In the end, there was very little choice between the offers on the table from both clubs and the player firmly believes he has unfinished business in Paris.
Money was of course an issue for the 23-year-old, but it’s also about love – which he has in abundance in Paris – and power, the three things people crave. The player is now the focus of the club and everyone has to adapt to that. And yes, that includes Lionel Messi. Let’s see how this works.
Mbappe is also well aware that by the time his lucrative new contract comes to an end, he will be just 26 and likely to be at his absolute peak. Then anything can happen; Never say Never.
Current Real Madrid star Karim Benzema is 37 and may not be with the club once that contract expires. Maybe that helps explain his strange instagram post a picture of Tupac Shakur, with a picture in the background of one of the rapper’s “friends” who allegedly betrayed the artist before his assassination in 1996. This was seen as a less than subtle signal to highlight Mbappe’s own “betrayal”. .
The two are, of course, France team-mates and Mbappe was quick to point out that he felt this infantile reaction had more to do with the powers that be wreaking havoc at Real Madrid than anything that had come from Benzema himself.
Benzema certainly wasn’t impressed at being involved in the saga and it actually took his intervention to change the mood this week.
He effectively hit the reset button during a Champions League media day on Tuesday, saying the moment was long gone to discuss those minor matters and that now was the time to focus on the game.
Saturday’s final involves two people who are unlikely to be heartbroken by Mbappe’s non-appearance in Madrid, namely Vinicius Junior and Rodrygo.
Vinicius has played more minutes than any other Real Madrid player this season and has been a standout player in the Champions League. Rodrygo was used less often but arguably delivered the moments of the season in European football, scoring twice in the dying moments of the Champions League semi-final against Manchester City to keep the tie alive.
More support for Vinicius – who incidentally was told as a 16-year-old that the club were looking at him rather than Mbappe as the future – is now inevitable. Suddenly, his potential importance for the Spanish champions has grown significantly. Vinicius will likely benefit from not having to look over his shoulder.
As I write this, new contracts are being negotiated for him and Rodrygo. Neither is ‘an Mbappe’ but Real Madrid now realize this is the coat they need to cut their clothes to. They can’t keep up with the buying of superstars anymore and have to start the path to sign amazingly talented youngsters like the couple mentioned above and also Eduardo Camavinga and turn them into superstars.
The big question now is where does this whole off-field saga go with Real Madrid and its president?
There’s no doubt it’s time for a reality check for Perez and the club as a whole. Neither are used to being second best in transfer negotiations, but even they have to accept that the timing of these huge deals is now in the hands of the players as Mbappe deals with the situation – allowing his contract to expire and waiting until the end of the season to announce his decision – the transfer landscape has changed.
Perez is an extremely smart leader with a killer instinct and previous deals have shown the footballing world that what he and Real Madrid want, they invariably get.
But not anymore.
The arrival of pro-state clubs like Manchester City (Abu Dhabi) and PSG (Qatar) on the scene has fundamentally changed European football. The pecking order has shifted both on and off the pitch and football’s two young superstars have chosen to entrust their futures to these clubs, at least for now – Erling Haaland to Manchester City and Mbappe to PSG – rather than Real Madrid and Barcelona.
Real Madrid’s inability to get the Mbappe deal through the line means that in the eyes of the watching world they have not only lost weight and prestige in the market, but more importantly, they have lost face. It’s not a nice feeling for a club that thinks it’s the most important in the world.
But despite everything, the disappointment of missing out on Mbappe shouldn’t hide the fact that Real Madrid are still very well run, with manageable debt despite the stadium’s remodeling, with a squad that’s developing and will be younger this summer.
And let’s not forget that they are just one game away from making a La Liga/Champions League double.
Spending time with them in Madrid on Tuesday they seemed to have the composure of serial winners, the calm minds of those used to being in big finals. The players went into the biggest week of the season like they were walking on the beach in flip flops. It’s not arrogance. It’s the feeling that in a way they have nothing to lose – but with the confidence that they have a good chance of winning.
Yes, they lack the extra dimension that a Galactico would give them in the commercial world.
But how much do they even need on the pitch itself? Maybe we’ll find out against Liverpool on Saturday.
Guillem Balague appears on BBC Radio 5 Live’s Football Daily podcast every Thursday when the focus is on European football.