Real Madrid’s instantly iconic midfield trio may finally be coming into the twilight of their dominance.
Everyone knows the names: Luka Modric, Toni Kroos and Casemiro. The three icons that won three straight Champions Leagues together, with the middle title being part of Real Madrid’s first European Double since 1958.
They are literally one of the greatest midfield trios football has ever seen, but everything comes to an end. Modric is 36 years old with a contract due to expire in the summer and can only continue to defy his age for so long.
Toni Kroos is somehow only 32, but his contract expires in 18 months and his laconic style of play makes him seem much older and of course while he is the pass-master, he isn’t much of a defender which becomes more of an issue the more Modric ages.
Then there’s Casemiro who, at 29, is in the prime of his career and with a contract running until 2025, is firmly in place for a while. But he’s a combative player and having a backup you can reliably call upon is always a smart idea.
We’ve had a look at each player and come up with dream, realistic and wildcard options for replacing each of these magnificent midfielders.
As the youngest member of Madrid’s midfield it’s unlikely that Los Blancos will need to replace Casemiro any time soon. But a backup is always good, and if you sign the right backup, a young enough player with enough potential to grow, then you might even come to replace your club legend without even realising it and seamlessly regenerate a crucial area of your team.
Dream: Aurelien Tchouameni
As luck would have it for Real Madrid, there is a near-perfect replacement for Casemiro likely to come onto the transfer market this summer: Monaco’s Aurelien Tchouameni.
That’s not to say he’s the only option, but comparing their league data since the start of 2020/21 on radars, it’s clear that Tchouameni is an honest-to-goodness perfect fit to replace Casemiro.
A ball-winner that is more than capable of recycling possession either with simple forward passes or even more searching through balls. What’s more, he’s a more ferocious dribbler than Casemiro.
Tchouameni’s price tag is allegedly going to be around €80m, but even if it hits triple digits, Real Madrid should be able to afford it considering they will likely snag Kylian Mbappé on a free transfer.
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Realistic: Eduardo Camavinga
Of course, Madrid will also be contemplating using the resources already at their disposal, which will lead them to Eduardo Camavinga, the French teenager they signed in the summer.
Camavinga’s tackling ability is superlative, he is a tremendous defensive presence in duels. Moreover he is a sensational dribbler, making him press-resistant. He needs to work on other aspects of his game, but the base of a prolific tackler was enough to get Casemiro started on his journey to being a world-class defensive midfielder.
Wildcard: Renato Tapia
The Peruvian midfielder has been linked to Real Madrid in the past and you can absolutely see why when you look at his radar since the start of 2020/21.
Renato Tapia matches Casemiro across the board, even outdoing him in terms of dribbling and tackling. His release clause of €30m makes him eminently affordable should Los Blancos wish to spend their money elsewhere. He could do the job.
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First thing’s first: there’s no replacing Toni Kroos like-for-like. The only elite talents with the metronomic consistency to match the German (and there are less than a handful around the world) are safely ensconced at clubs Madrid cannot prise open. So Los Blancos have to look at what is it that Kroos primarily does for them? Well, he passes the ball.
Kroos doesn’t defend very much, either. Which goes some way to explaining the consistency behind Casemiro’s obscene defensive numbers. So Madrid need a midfield playmaker, and it doesn’t matter if they aren’t much of a defender.
Dream: Paul Pogba
Real Madrid need a laconic midfield genius? Oh wow is that Paul Pogba on a free transfer in the summer? It is! Of course, given Pogba is 28 years old it’s more likely that he would take Modric’s place in the XI and play with Kroos, at least for a while.
Pogba can pass phenomenally, definitely on the Modric and Kroos level. He can sweep passing lanes and win headers. He’s not much for tackling, but paired with Tchouameni or Casemiro he wouldn’t have to be, Kroos certainly isn’t!
Despite the criticisms from social media and a fanbase that seems drunk on José Mourinho’s Kool Aid, Pogba is a superb footballer who usually saves his best for the biggest occasions, which makes him very Zinedine Zidane and very Real Madrid.
Pogba and Madrid have been dancing around each other for years now, and the chance to join what could well be a French revolution in the Spanish capital might be too perfect. Given his status as a free agent this is one bargain Madrid cannot ignore as they look to rebuild their midfield. They could sign Pogba, Tchouameni AND Mbappé while only spending a transfer fee on the Monaco man!
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Realistic: Boubacar Kamara
Despite the hype around “Galacticos” – Real Madrid have a modern history full of smart signings of talented youngsters. They haven’t always worked out, but Madrid do make those kind of moves.
And so with Toni Kroos aged 32 and likely to renew, his replacement should be someone with youth on their side. So we come to Marseille’s 22-year-old French midfielder, Boubacar Kamara.
Not only is Kamara a quality passer of the ball, comfortable driving it forward and breaking lines, but he is a sensational defensive presence as well. Signing Kamara would allow Madrid to be so much more defensively solid in the middle, especially if they were to pair Kamara with Tchouameni; a move that would be entirely possible as Kamara’s contract expires in the summer so he could come on a free.
Wildcard: Teun Koopmeiners
When it comes to Dutch midfielders you can imagine starring for Real Madrid, one suspects Koopmeiners wouldn’t even make the top three suggestions (Frenkie De Jong, Georginio Wijnaldum and Donny van de Beek) but he actually could be a very good fit in Kroos’ role.
Koopmeiners is a fantastic passer of the ball, learning all about rhythm and drive from Gian Piero Gasperini’s high octane Atalanta side. Moreover he is a more prolific defender than Kroos and, at 23, could develop into a wonderfully rounded presence.
You leave the best ’til last. How can Real Madrid replace Luka Modric? Is such a thing even possible? Arguably the fourth-best midfielder in the world over the last 15 years (and when the top three are Xavi, Andrés Iniesta and Sergio Busquets, plus you’ve knocked Andrea Pirlo to fifth, fourth is pretty damn great) and a peerless force of simultaneous defensive cover, match control and goals.
Modric is no regular goalscorer, but his ability to perform the spectacular when shooting from range has got Los Blancos out of many scrapes over the years. His defining trait, besides match control and excellence, is the ability to turn games out of nowhere. The 2017 Club World Cup Golden Ball winner, the 2018 Ballon d’Or winner, four Champions Leagues, two La Ligas… Modric is magic.
Dream: Nico Barella
Given Madrid will have money to burn, mostly because their marquee signing is going to be on a free transfer, Florentino Perez could really go crazy this summer. Nico Barella recently signed a contract extension with Inter and is booked to stay until 2026, but when has something like that ever stopped Perez before? When you dream, dream big!
Barella is an almost perfect match for Luka Modric, a midfielder capable of operating deep both in a defensive and offensive capacity whilst also translating his skills into being effective higher up the pitch. He can pass, he can shoot, he can dribble and he can recover the ball.
But mostly, like Luka Modric, Nico Barella has a persistent knack of making decisive actions in the final third. So long as he settles in Spain, could be a tremendous success for Madrid.
Realistic: Federico Valverde
But maybe Madrid want to look within to replace Modric, in which case the powerhouse Uruguayan Federico Valverde is the man for the shirt. Valverde is nothing like Modric, he is not a player of great elegance but instead brutal sound and fury.
If Modric is a ballet dancer, then Valverde is a freight train. However, not only can he match Modric’s defensive prowess and dribbling skill, but his chief ability here is that he can turn games at the drop of a hat, just like Modric.
Wildcard: Renato Sanches
Real Madrid don’t typically sign rehabbed young superstars, but they could surely make an exception when it comes to Renato Sanches? The Portuguese midfielder flopped at Bayern (and Swansea) but has rebuilt himself excellently at Lille, where he even won Ligue 1.
Sanches’ radar matches up well to Modric’s. Obviously he’s not as prolific a passer but he still is adept at getting the ball forward and, what’s more, he is a better defender and a dynamic and delirious dribbler. Watching Renato Sanches get moving and slalom through an entire defensive unit is a genuinely thrilling sight.