Benzema, Modric, Kroos and the contracts that could shape Real Madrid’s future

Karim Benzema, Luke Modric, Tony Kroos, Marcus Asensio, Dani CeballosNacho Fernandez and Mariano Diaz.

Seven of real Madrid‘s 23 first-team players — 30 per cent of Carlo Ancelotti’s squad — have been free to negotiate and sign a pre-contract for a summer move to another club since January 1. The reason is simple: all are playing on deals that expire on June 30.

And, although a large window of change beckons with so much uncertainty, Madrid have accepted this because their approach to renewals is based on an established method.

For some time now, there have been rules, codes at the Bernabeu – and nobody at the club seems willing to break them.

Players are paid for what they can do rather than for what they have already done, and those in their 30s extend their contracts on a yearly basis. Even Madrid’s ‘Popes’ — those players who are established legends; Sergio Ramos the best example – have failed to get around this rule.

When looking at Ramos’ case, you have to go back to the beginning of 2021. The centre-back, whose contract was due to expire that summer, asked for a two-year extension with a pay rise. He was not satisfied with the club’s initial – and also definitive – proposal. That was a big mistake. When Madrid’s then-captain later wanted to accept that offer, the 35-year-old was told it no longer existed and that he had no choice but to leave for Paris Saint-Germain.

It was Santiago Bernabeu, the long-time president who gave his name to Madrid’s stadium, who was the first to opt for the policy of not extending contracts for more than one season for players aged 30 or over.

In the 1960s, players experienced an earlier decline compared to those of today – from age 26 to 30 they were already considered to be on a downward slope. The club were obliged to follow a more orthodox model in those days than the present one, bearing in mind that footballers have improved their habits and are now enjoying longer careers.

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It is no surprise the club have continued with this policy, given its proven success – as exemplified by the downturn of Cristiano Ronaldowho hasn’t been the same since he left for Juventus in the summer of 2018 at age 33, and Ramos himself.

It is also a policy that allows Madrid a certain flexibility in terms of salaries and other expenses, giving them greater financial muscle to rejuvenate the squad. That is the opposite of what their great rivals Barcelona have done in recent years with Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and, most recently, Jordi Alba.

This year is different, however, as not all the players coming to the end of their contracts listed above are into their 30s, so the club will approach possible renewals from different angles.

As The Athletic has learned, this is how the puzzle fits together.

Karim Benzema

Age: 35. Real Madrid appearances: 619. Real Madrid trophies: 23

There is little doubt about Benzema’s future. Spanish media outlet Relevo reported that he had automatically renewed his deal for another year when he won the Ballon d’Or last October, although the word within the club is that they still have seven first-team squad players who are soon to be out of contract.

What is clear is that there are expected to be no problems in getting negotiations off the ground.

Benzema has been Madrid’s leader since Ronaldo’s departure to Turin and he now has the captain’s armband on experience and merit. That is shown by his seasons played at the club (this is his 14th by him) and goals scored (he is the second-highest scorer in the club’s history with 332, behind only Cristiano Ronaldo’s 451).

Luke Modric

Age: 37. Madrid appearances: 456. Madrid trophies: 21

There are even fewer doubts about Modric – the club consider him to be exemplary – but the talks, as they take place year by year, always have different schedules. At the end of 2020, for example, both sides assumed that their link would come to an end the following June, but the Croatia stalwart eventually signed a renewal and stayed. The feeling was more positive last year, but negotiations took a while to start. But Modric did end up staying, having helped win a 14th European Cup (his fifth of him) for Madrid.

There has been no movement on Modric’s future so far, but there is total confidence and a willingness for him to stay and extend for another year. The club, however, prefer to wait.

Modric’s salary, which has not changed since he first took a 10 per cent reduction to help Madrid out due to the financial hit of the COVID-19 pandemic, should not be a problem either.

Luka Modric and Toni Kroos are two of the Real Madrid players who are out of contract in the summer. (Photo: Diego Souto/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images).

In the meantime, the midfielder has been inundated with offers from Saudi Arabia, including one to join Ronaldo’s new side Al Nassr, and mls. Modric feels he has plenty of years left in him, as demonstrated by his performances of him and his intention of him to play on for Croatia and add to his 162 caps of him. He will play in June’s UEFA Nations League finals, having confirmed that himself after their recent defeat in the World Cup semi-finals by Argentina.

Modric is also seriously considering playing on to help Croatia qualify for the next European championshipwhich is just 18 months away.

The 37-year-old is so focused on Madrid and Croatia that he has not decided whether he wants to be a coach or a sporting director whenever he eventually hangs up his boots. The only thing that is clear is that he wants to stay involved in football after his retirement.

Tony Kroos

Age: 33. Madrid appearances: 385. Madrid trophies: 18

Another player who is thought of as exemplary in every respect by those at Real Madrid. The club praises the fact Kroos retired from international duty with Germany in the summer of 2021 and that he has only renewed once (in 2019) since he arrived in the Spanish capital eight and a half years ago: a true sign of how he handles himself. Kroos is not driven by money and stands out for being very honest and direct — traits which have impressed club president Florentino Perez.

Last year, Kroos made clear he would not make a decision on renewing his contract until 2023. Now 2023 is here, sources close to the former Bayern Munich midfielder maintain nothing will happen until February. Madrid’s competitiveness in the Champions League knockout phase, where they will face Liverpool in the round of 16 in a repeat of last season’s final, and competition for his place in the team from youngsters Aurelien Tchouameni, Federico Valverde and Eduardo Camavinga will be key.


For their part, the coaching staff are delighted with Kroos and have said so both privately and publicly. “As a fan, it’s impossible to think he’s going to retire,” Ancelotti said in a press conference at the start of the year.

All that said, Kroos does not intend to extend his playing career much longer – as he has stated to the media. His idea is to retire while still a Madrid player and then continue developing projects he is still working on, including the Toni Kroos Academy (his football training app for children) and Einfach Mal Luppen (Just Go For It), a popular podcast that he hosts with his brother Felix, a former midfielder for clubs such as Werder Bremen and Union Berlin. Those at the Bernabeu also enjoyed the appearance of the new European Super League chief executive Bernd Reichart on his podcast.

Marcus Asensio

Age: 26. Madrid appearances: 253. Madrid trophies: 15

Much like his left-footed striking ability, Asensio’s Madrid career is difficult to decipher.

He was on his way out of the club last summer when he was frustrated with the board, given he had been expecting to be offered better terms. No such proposal was made, however, because the board would have preferred that he left as they thought there was not much room for improvement in his game. The forward felt he was being given few minutes and getting regularly replaced in early-season matches because of a demand from the club’s top brass to the coach, as a way of showing him the door.

Having changed agents – he is now represented by Jorge Mendes – Asensio opted to stay at the Bernabeu. But that does not mean he is happy with his limited participation by him: he has played just 574 minutes this season, in contrast to fellow attackers Vinicius Junior (1,936) and Rodrygo (1,506). Although Asensio’s entourage say Ancelotti has let him know that he is counting on him and that Madrid would be willing to negotiate an extension.

Marco Asensio opted to stay last summer, but his minutes have been limited again this season. (Photo: Angel Martinez/Getty Images).

Talks about his future have begun and Asensio, who turns 27 this month, is hoping they will resume when Madrid return from the four-team Supercopa de Espana, which takes place in Saudi Arabia this week.

Dani Ceballos

Age: 26. Madrid appearances: 87. Madrid trophies: 8

Ceballos’ future is less clear. The club have not called the midfielder and have no plans to do so, because they want to promote younger players who they consider to have brighter futures. Yet Ceballos has chosen to wait, hoping that his options will change as the season progresses.

A return to Real Betis – the club where he came through the youth ranks to start his senior career – is not feasible due to economic factors, as it would require him to take a substantial reduction in salary. That is something which affects most teams in La Ligawho are unable to offer a proposal in line with his present wages.

Given this backdrop, Ceballos, who spent the 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons on loan at arsenalis aware that the best possibilities may come from mid-range to high-end suitors beyond Spain’s borders.

Nacho Fernandez

Age: 32. Madrid appearances: 287. Madrid trophies: 19

Nacho, one of the few active one-club men in the game whose haul of 21 titles includes five Champions Leagues, could leave in the summer. Both parties were confident about agreeing a renewal just a few months ago, but the whole process has come to a standstill. According to the defender’s camp, they are not receiving good feedback from the club and their initial optimism has cooled.

A graduate of the club’s academy who turns 33 in just over a week’s time, Nacho has been on the pitch for only 141 minutes in La Liga this season, and 504 in all competitions, and is unhappy with that lack of playing time.

Another factor influencing his situation are the calls he has received from other clubs. He has interest from a long-time follower in Spain and other sides in the big leagues, as well as million-dollar offers from Saudi Arabia. If Nacho does not renew his contract with Madrid, however, his main option would be Major League Soccer, and there has been contact made behind the scenes from that direction.

Real Madrid are keen for Mariano Diaz to move on, but the player wants to stay (Photo: Oscar J. Barroso/Europa Press via Getty Images).

Mariano Diaz

Age: 29. Madrid appearances: 78. Madrid trophies: 8

This is the case which requires the least effort of the seven to explain.

Madrid have spent years making it clear that the exit door is open for Diaz. But the Spanish-born Dominican Republic international has always closed off that possibility, so he is not expected to leave in the current window either. This is despite the fact the coaching staff do not support him and that he has played just 25 minutes this season in all competitions, having also seen the fewest minutes among the senior strikers in the squad last season (397).

His net salary of around €4.5million is a heavy burden for the club and Madrid are clear that they want that sum off their books. They will not make a renewal offer – a decision also influenced by Diaz’s poor performances when he does get a game as well as his frequent injuries. His lack of commitment is also much-discussed in the dressing room. Diaz’s representatives did not respond to a request for comment.

(Main graphic — photos: Getty Images/design: Sam Richardson)


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