Real Madrid are poised for a blockbuster summer of transfers

The last time we will see Toni Kroos in a Real Madrid shirt will be at Wembley on June 1, when his club take on Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League final. Kroos will retire from football after the European Championships this summer, he has announced.

His deal at the Bernabeu was due to expire on June 30, but many assumed he’d stick around, especially because he played such a big part in Madrid’s run to the LaLiga title, and in pushing past Bayern Munich and Manchester City in Europe.

But no. Kroos and Real Madrid are moving on. And you wonder how his adios will impact the man who stood side-by-side with him in the Madrid midfield for 10 years, including four (possibly soon five) Champions League titles, four LaLiga crowns and a Copa del Rey: Luka Modric.

Modric’s tribute to Kroos on social media — a three-world caption, “That was fun,” with a photo of the pair hugging — can be read as a mere thank you, or as an acknowledgement that it’s over for him as well. Modric’s contract is also up on June 30, and he too met with club officials in the past few days.

– Stream on ESPN+: LaLiga, Bundesliga & more (U.S.)
– Read on ESPN+: The USMNT’s 120-player depth chart

Unlike Kroos — who had made it clear that Madrid would be his last stop — Modric is reportedly open to continuing elsewhere if he doesn’t get the sort of contract extension he wants. And while the ways of Real Madrid president Florentino Pérez are infinite and sometimes unexpected, it’s possible Modric could also be on his way after 12 years at the club. (Sources tell ESPN he’s still keen to remain in Madrid until retirement, though nothing is yet decided.) The midfielder turns 39 years old in September and his minutes were sharply curtailed this season — he didn’t start a single Champions League knockout game for Madrid.

With Kroos moving on and Modric’s status uncertain — along with another stalwart, Nacho, whose tenure is even longer given he joined the club as an 11-year-old — it would mark the end of an era.

Coach Carlo Ancelotti, who excels at squeezing production out of veterans, most likely would have liked all three — and especially Kroos — to stay for another year. The fans, no doubt, will be teary and emotional. But the fact is, this is the right time to turn the page — and do so with another LaLiga title and maybe another Champions League and plenty of goodwill. All three players are going out at or near the top, and that makes a difference because legends who leave a year too late always hurt more than ones who leave a year too early.

There’s a financial angle to this as well. Kroos and Modric are among the club’s highest earners, costing more than $50 million a year between them. That goes a long way towards covering what it will cost — in terms of salary, signing bonus and commissions — to secure this summer’s marquee free agent, Kylian Mbappé, who (everybody seems to agree) is on his way to the Spanish capital from Paris Saint Germain.

For all the glitz, glamour and bling of Real Madrid, there’s a financial discipline to the club. They have been profitable every single year since 2003 (even during COVID) for a reason: they’re more careful with throwing money around than most of their big-club peers.

Yet this summer promises to be an expensive one. It’s not just Mbappe — Madrid will likely add one fullback (Ferland Mendy is one year away from free agency and could move on), or maybe two (Dani Carvajal and Lucas Vázquez will be 32 and 33 at the start of next season).

With Nacho gone, their centerback corps will consist of 31-year- old Antonio Rüdiger, 32-year-old David Alaba (out since December with a cruciate injury) and Éder Militão, himself only recently back from an ACL tear. That means you’ll probably need another central defender too — though if it’s a versatile guy who can also play rightback, then you might not need the extra fullback.

Then there’s midfield, where Kroos and Modric leave a void in terms of quality and experience. The good news is that Jude Bellingham (20), Eduardo Camavinga (21), Aurélien Tchouaméni (24), Fede Valverde (25) and Dani Ceballos (27) all have plenty of years left of quality.

But unless you’re going to play some funky 4-2-4 scheme (and, heck, you may have to if you want to shoe-horn all your talented attackers on the pitch) five central midfielders aren’t enough. Especially if many are often asked to deputize elsewhere: Camavinga at left back, Tchouameni at centerback, Valverde on the right wing. Somebody else will need to come on board, if only in terms of depth.

All told, in addition to Mbappe (and Endrick, assuming they decide not to leave him at Palmeiras on loan a little bit longer), you’d expect another three or four new signings at the club. Two of them you imagine would need to be starter quality (and, therefore, cost starter money), if not straight away then within a year or two.

All of which could add up to Real Madrid’s biggest transfer summer in years, probably since 2019 when they picked up Eden Hazard, Luka Jovic, Mendy, Militão and Rodrygo.

Sad as it is to see Kroos (and Modric) go, it’s going to be a whole heck of a lot easier to make it work and to have the flexibility needed in terms of both playing time and salaries, without the pair of legends who underpinned the last great Madrid era.

But don’t fret. There are plenty of guys already on board (and more on the way) to write the next chapters.