Five Madrid stars playing for their future
If reports of Real Madrid's summer targets are to be taken as gospel then Carlo Ancelotti's "wanted list" is not just the back of a restaurant napkin, it's one of those endlessly unfolding ladder of sheets usually reserved for comic sketches.
It's silly season in the transfer rumour stakes and not even the World Cup can save us from it. First it was Luis Suarez but now add Toni Kroos, Paul Pogba, Ramires, Arturo Vidal and Marco Verratti to the names linked with a move to the Santiago Bernabeu this summer. As Tom Jones once sang, it's not unusual, but Ancelotti will be looking to add quality, rather than quantity to his Champions League-winning squad this summer.
Madrid will spend in this transfer window. Even if the Italian does not want to splash the cash, president Florentino Perez will. He is not a man to rest on his laurels and while Los Merengues enjoyed a fine first season under the leadership of the now three-time European Cup-winning manager, Perez believes there is always room for improvement. Change, in his eyes, is good.
It seems like a central midfielder and a direct replacement for the expected departure of young striker Alvaro Morata are the priorities, but what of the players who played a bit part in Madrid's success last term. What about the futures of players such as Isco and Asier Illarramendi who are already at the club?
Here are five names who will be watching Madrid's spending this summer with particular interest as it has their own futures with the capital club at stake, too. Ancelotti insisted he was "very happy" with his squad on completion of La Decima in Lisbon last month but there will be changes within his playing staff ahead of the new campaign. How will it impact on those looking to enjoy more first-team action with the European champions next season?
Although Madrid enjoyed an impressive debut season under Ancelotti, for the most part Khedira was not part of it. An injury sustained early in the season kept him out for the majority of the campaign although he did return in the nick of time to provide suitable cover for the suspended Xabi Alonso in the Champions League final.
With Los Blancos excelling with a midfield three of Alonso, Luka Modric and Angel Di Maria, Khedira's days at the Bernabeu may well have been numbered through no real fault of his own, especially with youth such as Illarramendi and Casemiro waiting in the wings, too. His return at the end of the season suggested otherwise, with Ancelotti opting for Khedira ahead of Illarramendi in Lisbon.
Now the Italian has said Khedira will be like a new player for Madrid next season, pouring some cold water over links with a number of midfield men. The German is expected to be a starter for his country in Brazil and a good competition could prompt his club manager to make more use of him next season. Khedira suffered his knee injury just as Madrid were clicking into gear with Ancelotti and Los Blancos should nullify possible cut-price offers for the midfielder from Premier League duo Arsenal and Chelsea and keep him in the Spanish capital next season.
The young Brazilian was never going to be a key part of Madrid's side in his first full season with the squad and that probably won't change next term. The best option for Madrid, and the player, would be to allow him to move out on loan and get more first-team experience.
Having played primarily in Real Madrid Castilla, the club's second team, after his move from Sao Paulo in 2013, Casemiro has shown signs that he's capable of cutting the mustard at the Bernabeu but his time is not now. Just one league start was forthcoming last season and that came only in the 2-0 defeat at Celta Vigo last month with Madrid seemingly throwing the towel in on their La Liga aspirations. Eleven more came from the bench but the midfielder will benefit from more regular action elsewhere.
A number of Spanish clubs would be interested in a loan deal, while Italian giants AC Milan also have shown interest. At 22, the defensive midfielder needs to be playing and he won't get the minutes he needs at the Bernabeu. Illarramendi, Alonso and Sami Khedira are all ahead of him so a season-long loan next term would do the world of good for his career.
Next season will be a big one for the former Real Sociedad man, even more so given he was left out of Madrid's starting lineup in Lisbon despite Ancelotti hinting that he would get the nod to fill in for the suspended Alonso in the weeks leading up to the game.
Bought as a direct replacement for Alonso, with the former Liverpool man's legs getting no younger, his manager's decision to opt for Khedira in the Champions League final would have been hard to take, but it was a decision he will need to take firmly on the chin.
The arrival of any new midfielders this summer would be a further blow to the 24-year-old but Illarramendi showed enough in his first season at the capital club to prove he is up to the task of replacing his fellow Basque in the middle of the Madrid midfield -- as well as for Spain. Not at the level of his peer just yet, Illarramendi started 15 matches in the league for Madrid and was a substitute in 14 more. He provided more than adequate cover and while shining against La Liga's lesser teams and not exactly being trusted in the bigger matches, that trust should improve a year on. Illarramendi should still be a very useful component in Ancelotti's squad next season.
Madrid have already confirmed that they will allow the young striker to leave the Bernabeu in search of more regular first-team action next season and the move will be a good and long-awaited one for the Spanish under-21 international.
Last season was an especially frustrating one for the former Castilla man with just three league starts forthcoming, although he did score eight goals with the help of 20 more appearances from the bench. The form and fitness of Karim Benzema meant that Morata was hardly required and another season on the bench would not be good for his career.
A wise move, as usual from Madrid, would be to include a buy-back clause in his move. They did the same with full-back Dani Carvajal and that worked well. Morata has yet to get a good run of games and a full season elsewhere could see his true qualities unveiled. Madrid may still want a bit of that yet; Juventus, Wolfsburg, Arsenal and Manchester United are the names being linked with him.
Isco should be especially concerned by the rumours of players such as Kroos and Vidal arriving at the Bernabeu next season but the former Malaga man has at least showed that he can adapt to fit into Ancelotti's formation and that has won praise from the Italian as the season has progressed.
He started his Madrid career well with the winner in their 2-1 win over Real Betis on the opening day of the season before contributing two more goals in the 3-1 success over Athletic Bilbao that followed in Madrid's next home game.
As Ancelotti tinkered with his formation, however, Isco was the one to get the chop. He was given more chances in the Italian's preferred 4-3-3 but drew criticism from his manager for not helping out defensively, something that was required for all three of the midfield men in the new-look lineup. To his credit, Isco took that on board and starred in the Copa del Rey final as well as numerous other matches towards the end of the season.
The skilful attacking midfielder was bought last season to help form a young Spain-centric nucleus of the squad alongside Carvajal and Illarramendi and he should remain a part of Ancelotti's plans next season. A year on the formation and tactics should be clearer from the off and that should help Isco enjoy a more consistent season.