When Kylian Mbappe announced he was staying at Paris Saint-Germain by signing a new three-year contract last week, there was one club in Europe impacted more than others. Real Madrid had pinned all their transfer hopes on persuading the 23-year-old striker to move on a free transfer this summer, so much so that they did not pounce for Borussia Dortmund's Erling Haaland, allowing him to agree a €60 million deal with Manchester City. (Though some reports suggested that Haaland wasn't willing to wait for Karim Benzema to retire to become the club's first-choice striker.)
Mbappe's decision has put the LaLiga champions in a dilemma. Do they now use the money they had set aside for his wages -- and remember Madrid were ready to spend €200m in transfer fee to land him in January as their finances have been hit less hard by COVID-19 pandemic than others' -- on a different target? Or do they try to find a cheap stop-gap striker until they can launch a fresh assault to sign Mbappe?
Real Madrid certainly need to find some help for 34-year-old Benzema ahead of next season, as Mariano Diaz and Luka Jovic have managed only 24 appearances and two goals between them. Madrid won LaLiga and the Champions League, but next year might offer a tougher challenge without some recruitment.
AS Monaco midfielder Aurelien Tchouameni (€80m) and Chelsea centre-back Antonio Rudiger (free) are expected to move to the Bernabeu this summer, but here are some options up front Real Madrid might wish to consider in the summer now Mbappe has snubbed them.
A ready-made superstar
Not a central striker in the same vein as Benzema, but Salah's ability to score goals from the right wing (he netted 31 in 50 games this season) makes him one of the world's best players. The 29-year-old has a contract that expires in 2023, and though he has already gone on record to say he will be staying at Anfield next season, he will continue to be linked with a big move until he signs new terms. With Vinicius Junior on the left, Benzema centrally and Salah on the right, Madrid's attack would be one of the best ever.
The 33-year-old wants to leave the German club this summer after spending the past eight seasons in Munich. He has shown no signs of slowing down, with 50 goals in 46 games this season, and has been closely linked with Barcelona. Madrid could steal a march on their rivals, and though Lewandowski would not be a long-term solution, he is top class.
Probably the one player Real Madrid would choose to sign after Mbappe if they could, but Tottenham will play hardball over a transfer fee and the club can now offer him Champions League football next season. Still, the 28-year-old is growing tired of not winning trophies and his contract expires in 2024, so it might not be long before he leaves.
A future star
With 34 goals in 41 games for Benfica this season, Nunez has shot to prominence in Europe and is one of the most sought-after young players around. The Uruguay international has an unconventional style as a central striker but uses his pace and movement to capitalise on transitions. The 22-year-old would want to play regularly, though, so his game time would have to be managed well alongside Benzema.
Reports have linked the Portugal international with a €120m move to Madrid, even though he has a €150m release clause. In all likelihood, if Milan were to get an offer of around €80m, they would probably let the 22-year-old go. A left winger who can also play as a central striker, Leao had 14 goals and 12 assists in 42 games on the way to the Serie A title this season, but Madrid could make use of his versatility and ability to improve in the coming years.
Having come through Lyon's famed youth academy, making his first-team debut as a teenager and representing France, of course Gouiri drew stylistic comparisons to Benzema. His time at Lyon didn't work out, due partly to an ACL injury, and he moved to Nice in 2020 for around €7m. But there he has thrived, with 12 goals and 10 assists in 43 games across all competitions this season. The 22-year-old boasts fine agility, movement and an eye for goal. He would relish learning from Benzema, while not expecting to immediately replace him.
Endrick, Palmeiras -- €60m
No player is too young to be linked with a move to Madrid, and the 15-year-old Brazilian sensation signed his first professional contract last week, with a €60m release clause. He continues to light up Brazil with his performances, but Madrid would have to wait until he's 18 to complete a transfer due to FIFA rules.
A safe option
Serge Gnabry, Bayern Munich -- €60m
A far cry from the player who struggled at Arsenal between 2012 and 2016, Gnabry has become a superstar at Bayern yet is struggling to agree a new contract. The 26-year-old right winger is a key part of the first XI, and managed 17 goals and 10 assists in 45 games this season, but his deal expires in 2023 and Madrid could land a bargain.
Riyad Mahrez, Man City -- €40m
Mahrez, 31, is out of contract in 2023 and could be available for around €40m, and his City teammate Raheem Sterling is also reportedly unhappy with his playing time and could possibly be persuaded to try a new challenge for €80m. One of the pair will likely leave the Emirates, and Madrid could take advantage, with Mahrez the better fit right now as he could slot in on the right wing.
Lacazette's contract at Arsenal expires this summer, and he won't sign a new one, which means Madrid could land themselves a bargain. The France international is still only 30 and has tons of experience, while he has 71 goals in 206 games for the club. Lacazette is versatile across the forward positions and would probably be OK acting as a backup to Benzema if it means playing in the Champions League.
A wild card
The homecoming. Ronaldo left Madrid for Juventus in 2018 but could return to the Bernabeu after watching his Manchester United side struggle all season. The 37-year-old managed to score 24 goals in 39 games, and although United would miss his goals, they might consider it the best time to move on and focus on rebuilding their team.
Griezmann is still a Barcelona player but Atletico have a €40m obligation to sign him permanently in summer 2023 if he plays more than 50% of games during his loan. However, the 31-year-old reportedly isn't wanted by Atletico, so he might return to Barcelona this summer. The Catalans could move him on to their Madrid rivals in a controversial but potentially effective deal.
Luis Suarez, Atletico Madrid -- Free
He might be 35, but Suarez scored 13 goals in 35 games last season for Atletico and didn't want to leave the club this summer. The Uruguay international could stay in Madrid for another season, but he would have to put his Barcelona attachments to one side if he were to join.