MADRID: Real Madrid thought they had a signing to define an era and the heir to Cristiano Ronaldo. Instead they got humiliation and a reminder of football’s new world order, after Kylian Mbappe decided to stay at Paris Saint-Germain.
The boy who plastered posters of Ronaldo onto his bedroom walls had been applauded by Real Madrid’s fans when PSG played at the Santiago Bernabeu in the Champions League in March.
There was even a degree of appreciation for his two goals, which left Madrid on the brink of defeat. This was at least a preview, they thought, of the player that would soon belong to them.
Those expectations have been swelling for years, the protracted nature of this saga creating a longing at Real Madrid and a fanfare in the media.
The hype made Mbappe joining Madrid feel both inevitable and, at the same time, absolutely essential.
The club have been obsessed by Mbappe. The pandemic restricted spending but there has also been method in their restraint, a building up of funds for the biggest signing of all.
Last year, Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane were let go to reduce the wage bill while in 2020, Real went without a single summer signing for the first time in 40 years.
More recently, they stepped back from the possibility of signing Erling Haaland from Borussia Dortmund, so convinced were they that Mbappe would come. They briefly thought they could buy both. Instead, they have ended up with neither.
In the short-term, Madrid will cope. They have won La Liga this season at a canter without Mbappe and they will win the Champions League without him too if they defeat a fatigued Liverpool in Paris next Saturday.
This season they have beaten Manchester City, Chelsea, PSG, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid.
And few would say Real’s weakness is their attack. Vinicius Junior has emerged as one of the world’s most frightening wingers and Karim Benzema established himself as the clear favourite for the Ballon d’Or.
With Mbappe in the team, would Vinicius and Benzema have shone so brightly?
But the longer term is where Real Madrid will surely feel the loss. Mbappe could have been a catalyst for change, a focal point for a new era, the kind of signing that forces a squad to update and tactics to be modernised.