Leroy Sane one of five players Real Madrid should sign before transfer ban
Real Madrid president Florentino Perez said in an interview with France Football published Tuesday that there will be no signings at the Bernabeu during the January transfer market. "We have the best players and the best coach," he said.
As a general rule, Real are not huge operators in the winter window. However, Perez is playing a game of brinkmanship against FIFA, with a transfer ban hanging over the club. Real are betting the farm on having the sanction overturned entirely or securing a stay of execution via the courts.
An initial appeal was lodged on the day Perez said transfer activity would be ignored, according to AS, with a decision expected in six weeks or so.
If that fails, the club can take its case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, the body that granted Barcelona a grace period in summer 2014, when the same sanction was imposed at the Camp Nou. However, in Barca's case, the initial sanction was handed down in April. Considering Real have an open window to exploit now and the appeals process could be concluded by the summer, it is a risky approach from a president unaccustomed to having his chequebook taken from him.
With that in mind, here are five players Real could snap up before Feb. 1 to get ahead of the crowd:
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Jose Gaya (left-back, Valencia)
Real Madrid made a serious play for Gaya in the January window last year, which prompted the Mestalla board to table an improved contract that was accepted by the then-19-year-old in May. Gaya's star has waned a little this season, after his breakthrough in 2014-15, but he remains one of the brightest prospects in La Liga, and there is every chance in the long term that he will cement a place as Spain's first-choice left-back.
The player might be less keen to remain at Valencia beyond the end of the current season, with European football in 2016-17 an increasingly hopeful objective for Los Che. Gaya's release clause reportedly rose from €18 million to €50m when he put pen to paper on his new deal, but that won't worry Perez too much. After all, the Real chief shelled out €30m for right-back Danilo this time last year.
Serge Aurier (right-back, Paris Saint-Germain)
Aurier is one of the most sought-after defenders in Europe, and the 23-year-old ran rings around Real's defence in the Champions League group stage. The Ivory Coast international provided both assists in his nation's 2-1 victory over Japan at the 2014 World Cup, and he pops up with the occasional goal as well. He is exactly the sort of tireless, driving full-back admired at the Bernabeu.
Aurier arrived at the Parc des Princes just last summer for a very reasonable €10 million, but it would likely require a sweeter offer to pry the Ivorian out of Paris. If Real could offset some of that cost by selling Nacho and persuading PSG to sell, it would be an excellent piece of business. Aurier's versatility -- he can play in the centre of defence and put in a shift in midfield in a pinch -- would be an added bonus.
Grzegorz Krychowiak (midfielder, Sevilla)
Krychowiak has been linked with a move to Arsenal for some time, but the Gunners' acquisition of Mohamed Elneny and the emergence of Francis Coquelin have probably closed Arsene Wenger's chequebook for now. The Poland international lavished praise on manager Unai Emery when he decided to stay at the Sanchez Pizjuan last summer, but that would have carried more weight if another club had met the €30 million release clause in his contract.
Krychowiak is a pure defensive midfielder who can fill in at the heart of defence when needed and is one of the most formidable players in Europe. His strength in the air would be a huge addition to Real's squad, and he leads Europe in interceptions this season. Real already have Casemiro, who is clearly an excellent prospect, but the Brazilian hasn't gotten off the bench under Zinedine Zidane. Whether Perez decides to stick with one of the club's most astute acquisitions in recent years remains to be seen, but his manager apparently isn't that impressed.
Leroy Sane (midfielder, Schalke)
The darling of the Bundesliga has been linked with just about every team that has the cash to tempt Schalke to sell. The 20-year-old is a fixture for the club and Germany's under-19s and earned a senior call-up for a friendly against France in November. His explosive pace and incisive dribbling would not look out of place at the Bernabeu, and with half of Europe sniffing around, Real could make a steal by offering a bid before the end of the week.
Sane can play anywhere across the front line and in the hole. While Lucas Vazquez has garnered something of a following among Madridistas, Zidane clearly isn't among them, and Sane would be a serious upgrade on the former canterano.
Inaki Williams (forward, Athletic Club)
The Athletic forward has 10 goals in 27 appearances in all competitions this season and is one of La Liga's hottest properties. Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester City have been linked with the Spanish under-21 international, who signed a new contract earlier this month with a €50 million buyout clause. That might be prohibitive to most clubs, but Real are not among them, and Williams' star continues to rise on the back of some scintillating stuff for the Lions.
Williams is a wildcard to sneak into Vicente del Bosque's squad for this summer's European Championship on current form -- likely at the expense of Jese Rodriguez. The Basque is going to be huge, and Perez might decide he would like the youngster's progress to be a matter for the Bernabeu to enjoy. Negotiations will of course be tricky, given the political implications of a Bilbao-Real move, but Aitor Karanka set a precedent and went on to serve as assistant to Jose Mourinho at the Bernabeu.
Rob Train is a freelance writer who lives in Madrid and covers Real Madrid for ESPN. Twitter: @Cafc13Rob.