Real Madrid need a new star. The surprise sale of Cristiano Ronaldo to Juventus has left a void that must now be filled before the start of the new season. And signing the right replacement will be of the utmost importance.
Ronaldo scored 450 goals in 438 games as a Real Madrid player, helping Los Blancos to four Champions League crowns in that time, including three in a row under Zinedine Zidane.
Zidane was the very first of the ‘Galactico’ signings by president Florentino Perez and, as Ronaldo's coach, the two men made history at the Santiago Bernabeu.
But now a new era starts, with Zidane having left at the end of May and Ronaldo recently having departed as well . The new coach will be former Spain boss Julen Lopetegui, of course, although the team’s star player is still to be decided.
Neymar is one option and the Brazil forward has long been admired by Perez, who almost signed him as a teenager as part of Robinho’s transfer from Santos in 2005, only to lose out to Barcelona.
The Brazilian spent four years at Barca in the end, leaving the Catalan club last August in a shock switch to Paris Saint-Germain, a move which many believed may have been a stepping stone towards an eventual transfer to Real Madrid.
Perez would still like to bring in the former Santos star, having missed out on his signing twice in the past, but Madrid are also considering his PSG team-mate Kylian Mbappe, who will be in action against Croatia for France in Sunday’s World Cup final in Moscow.
And the former Monaco forward may just be the better choice for Madrid’s new-look forward line. At 19, he is already the world’s most exciting young player and his tender age means he could star for a decade or more at Real. And if not, his youth means he would at least retain a good resale value.
Neymar, meanwhile, is already 26. The Brazilian, exactly seven years younger than Ronaldo, is also showing signs that he is somewhat off the rails since swapping Barca for PSG, with reports in Paris claiming he has his own rules and does near enough what he wishes.
Even if only half of the stories are true, it is not the type of attitude which is conducive with success at the biggest club in the world and Madrid should be wary of his lifestyle choices, including those trips to Brazil for his sister’s birthday, the arguments with Edinson Cavani because he wanted to take the penalties at PSG and more.
Mbappe has no such baggage. Although the France forward appears to have picked up some gamesmanship from Neymar, his antics are nothing like the Brazilian’s at this World Cup, where he has been mocked for constant play-acting, antogonising rivals and rolling around theatrically on the turf.
Some of that was evident at Barcelona, but the move away from Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and the disciplined environment at the Blaugrana has brought out the worst in Neymar and now, arguably, a transfer to Madrid would be the best thing for him personally.
However, Mbappe is younger, looks to be just as talented with pace, power and plenty of trickery, while he is also far less high-maintenance and would therefore represent Real’s best bet for replacing Ronaldo in their forward line this summer.
Former Madrid man Christian Karembeu has said as much, urging Perez to make his move quickly if he wants to land one of the true stars of the 2018 World Cup.
But there doesn't seem to be a huge rush on Madrid's part - for now, anyway.
"Given the constant information linking the PSG player Neymar with our club, Real Madrid CF wants to clarify that it has no plans to make any offers for the player," the Spanish side said in a statement on Friday.
"The relationship between the two clubs is extraordinary, so if at some point Real Madrid were considering signing a PSG player, the first thing it would do would be to go to his club."
That is another interesting twist in the tale, but whatever Madrid say, the reality is they are interested in two PSG players. And if they were to sign only one this summer, it should be Mbappe and not Neymar.