Real Madrid Keep or Dump: Big decisions on Rudiger, Lunin

How Kylian Mbappe could transition into Real Madrid (1:24)

Rodrigo Faez discusses Kylian Mbappe's imminent arrival at Real Madrid and what it means for him as a player and the club. (1:24)

Real Madrid are in fine financial health and have actually turned a profit for the past two decades, which denotes a highly disciplined approach to the way the club is run. The stadium deal with Legends/Sixth Street -- which gave them a €360 million up-front payment in exchange for splitting some stadium profits 70-30 in future years -- helped offset COVID-19 losses and finance part of the stadium renovation.

The big news, obviously, is the arrival of Kylian Mbappé as a free agent, as well as that of teenage sensation Endrick from Palmeiras, whom they secured a few years ago but is only able to move now that he is 18. They bolster an attacking corps that looked somewhat depleted at the start of last summer but, with the help of on-loan veteran Joselu, ended up as LaLiga top scorers.

In midfield, they are losing Toni Kroos to retirement, but their other veteran star, Luka Modric, is staying for one more year. If there is a silver lining here to Kroos' exit, his salary (around $26m a season) will go some way to covering the cost of Mbappé.

Most question marks are at the back, where Nacho is a free agent and two other central defenders and both right-backs are the wrong side of 30. They'll have some flexibility, though the investment on Mbappé will impact how much they can do in the short term.

Real Madrid also have one huge advantage over virtually every other club. With most teams, when their stars enter the final two years of their contracts, it's imperative that their deals be extended for fear of losing them for a reduced fee when they only have a year left, or for nothing at all if they become a free agent. But that's less of an issue at Madrid, partly because most of their stars are already so highly paid that it's difficult for them to get significant raises elsewhere, and partly because most are genuinely happy at the club, both personally and professionally. After all, some of their competitors might claim to be as big or as important, but none are actually bigger.

When you leave Real Madrid, you're making a sideways move at best.

Editor's note: This is the fourth in this year's series of Keep or Dump over the coming weeks, looking at which players to keep, extend and move on from for all the top clubs in the Premier League and Europe.


Remember: This is our assessment of what we think the club should do, player for player, with the squad at their disposal. It's not what we think they will actually do, though sometimes the two will align. That said, we take into account what we know of the club, coaching staff and player preferences, as well as their financial situation and any other factors that we think will impact personnel moves.

Where we disagree, or where we think our rationale is worth explaining, we've noted below.


Thibaut Courtois, (32 years old, contract expires 2026)

Marcotti: He wants to stay, but there's no rush to give him a new deal. Where is he going to go? I think you can take your time and broach the subject of an extension around January, when you'll have a clearer sense of whether he's fully recovered and back to his best.

Verdict: Keep and wait to extend

Andriy Lunin, (25, 2025)

Kirkland: It's in everybody's interest. He'll never have the market value that he has now if he stays. He played all season while Courtois was injured and was generally brilliant. You can't imagine he'll be happy as a No. 2 now, and Courtois likely has plenty of years left in him. You can probably get €12m to €15m considering he's close to free agency and will be on low wages.

Verdict: Move on

Kepa Arrizabalaga (29, on loan from Chelsea)

Marcotti: He's too expensive to keep as a backup, and he was an emergency signing who couldn't beat out Lunin for the job. Let Chelsea deal with him until 2025, when his contract expires.

Verdict: Send back


Éder Militão (26 years old, contract expires in 2028)

Verdict: Keep

David Alaba (31, 2026)

Kirkland: He suffered a serious injury, and he needs to prove his fitness first before you can consider giving him a new deal, especially since he'll be 33 when his current one expires and he's one of the top earners at the club.

Verdict: Keep and wait to extend

Antonio Rüdiger (31, 2026)

Marcotti: He has been phenomenal this season but, like Courtois, he's a great example of the Real Madrid effect. At his age and with his wages, it's not like he's going to threaten to leave as a free agent in 2026 to force a move next summer. Sit tight, see where you are in 12 months' time, and if he wants to stay, offer him another year.

Verdict: Keep and wait to extend

Nacho (34, 2024)

Kirkland: He has been a great servant to the club since joining at age 11 in 2001, and he showed this past season he's still useful. He has earned the right to decide what's best for him. If he wants another year, I think you can give it to him, especially since he's not on a big salary.

Verdict: Up to the player

Ferland Mendy (28, 2025)

Kirkland: My thinking on him has changed radically. On the ball he may be average, but a defensive-minded left-back is necessary if you have Mbappé playing ahead of you. And he played well in the second half of the season.

Marcotti: I get the point about a defensive left-back and it might be that your more attacking full-back will be down the right, particularly if Mbappé and Vinicius end up on the left. However, we don't know how Ancelotti is going to play. If you need a left-back who can defend, stick Alaba there if necessary. Or ask Eduardo Camavinga to do a job. My issue with Mendy -- in addition to not being particularly good -- is that he gets injured: he has started just 53% of league games since he arrived. At a minimum, listen to offers if they come in and he wants more playing time.

Verdict: Split between keep/extend and listen to offers

Fran García (24, 2027)

Marcotti: I don't know that there's a big upside to him, but he's happy to be a squad player and is on low wages. Maybe in time he can become a left-sided Lucas Vázquez. That's your best-case scenario, but it's low-risk.

Kirkland: You won't get much for him -- maybe €5 million? -- but if they get another left-back, there's no point keeping him.

Verdict: Split between keep and move on

Dani Carvajal (32, 2025)

Marcotti: He's another case where the club can exercise its Real Madrid "X" factor. Is it likely, at his age, that he starts sulking if he has a good season, gets a bunch of massive free agent offers in January and leaves a gaping hole behind? I don't think so. In fact, if he has a good season, you sign him up for another year. The year-by-year approach was good enough for Modric and Kroos; it's good enough for him.

Verdict: Keep and evaluate

Lucas Vazquez (32, 2024)

Kirkland: He has played a valuable role over the years, and I think it makes sense to keep him around. Extend him for one season; everyone will be happy.

Verdict: Keep and extend

Jesús Vallejo (27, 2025; on loan at Granada)

Kirkland: I don't know what you can do here. He was highly rated as a youngster, but he's always injured. He has made nine appearances in the past three seasons. It doesn't make sense to loan him out with a year left, and I'm not sure who would take him if he's injured. Maybe you have to keep him around, try to nurse him back to fitness and see what happens. Cancelling his contract and releasing him isn't just a bit heartless, it also won't save you much money.

Verdict: Keep

Rafa Marín (22, 2026; on loan at Alavés)

Kirkland: He had a great season at Alavés; he can come back and be your fourth-choice central defender. Maybe he'll grow into a Nacho-type player over time.

Verdict: Keep and extend


Aurélien Tchouaméni (24 years old, contract expires in 2028)

Verdict: Keep

Federico Valverde (25, 2029)

Marcotti: I love his flexibility; he has done well both in midfield and when called into right-wing duty. I do wonder whether his long-term future might be at right-back if they don't sign one and go with Vazquez and Carvajal next season.

Kirkland: I don't see him as a right-back at all, but feel free to make the case.

Verdict: Keep

Eduardo Camavinga (21, 2029)

Verdict: Keep

Toni Kroos (34, 2024)

Verdict: Retired

Luka Modric (38, 2024)

Kirkland: He wasn't happy with a diminished contribution earlier in the season, but as the year wore on, he assimilated to his role off the bench and often provided the team a spark. He extended his contract for another season, which I think is good for the club provided it reflects his new reduced role, since he was one of the biggest earners on the team.

Marcotti: I'm glad he re-upped for another season, and I agree that hopefully it was at a team-friendly price. I never get why players who have earned so much in their careers would choose to quarrel over money in their final year or two when they have a genuine chance to help the club they love and have served for 12 seasons.

Verdict: Keep, as they have done

Dani Ceballos (27, 2027)

Kirkland: His new contract was a mistake; he has picked up injuries again and he hasn't been useful in a substitute role. He'll be tough to shift because few LaLiga clubs have money, but you have to try, whether on loan or on a permanent basis, because I don't see him suddenly turning into a valuable contributor next season.

Marcotti: I agree that ideally you move him on, though that's going to be hard to do. He played 597 minutes in LaLiga this season, but nearly half of them were in May, after Madrid had won the title and they were playing their reserves. Factor them out and no first-teamer -- other than those who were out all year like Courtois and Militao -- played less, other than Arda Güler. That said, with Kroos gone you might not have a choice, because you're short on midfielders. And rather than panic-buying someone, you might be better off trying to get something out of him.

Verdict: Move on

Jude Bellingham (20, 2029)

Marcotti: One thing to say about him is that if Real Madrid end up playing a front three, he'll likely shift back into central midfield. It shouldn't be an issue; it's where he played for three years at Borussia Dortmund. But it will be like having a wholly different player.

Kirkland: He's smart enough to adapt to a variety of positions. And it's clear he has faith in Ancelotti, because the manager won him over last season.

Verdict: Keep


Brahim Díaz (24 years old, contract expires in 2027)

Kirkland: He proved me wrong. I wasn't convinced when he came back, but he was brilliant in the second half of the season. And he's different to the other forward options.

Marcotti: He offers nice balance down the right, and he can spark the side into life when he comes on. Could be even more important next season.

Verdict: Keep

Arda Guler (19, 2029)

Marcotti: He's hugely talented, and obviously he scored goals in limited minutes. But with Endrick and Mbappé arriving and Joselu potentially renewing, the front line is crowded, and I don't think Ancelotti sees him as a midfielder. Best to loan him out and let him develop if you can't get him minutes.

Kirkland: He wasn't happy when he wasn't playing, but he finished the season strong. I'd wait until January before considering a loan move

Verdict: Keep, evaluate loan options in January

Nico Paz (19, 2027)

Kirkland: He's the most highly rated youngster coming from Castilla of this generation. But he's another attacking midfielder, a Guler type, and there's just no room for him. Best to loan him out.

Verdict: Loan out

Vinícius Júnior (23, 2027)

Verdict: Keep

Rodrygo (23, 2028)

Kirkland: You keep him, obviously, but there's a conversation to be had going forward. He's probably the most threatened by Mbappé's arrival. In a year's time it might be him pushing for a move, especially if Endrick develops quickly. That's not a bad thing; he'd fetch a big fee.

Verdict: Keep

Juanmi Latasa (23, 2025; on loan at Getafe)

Kirkland: He's not good enough, and in two seasons at Getafe he couldn't really establish himself. Time to move him on, though you won't get much.

Verdict: Move on

Reiner (22, 2026; on loan at Frosinone)

Marcotti: He was supposed to be the next big Brazilian star through the pipeline after Vinícius and Rodrygo. Instead, he achieved little in his loan spells at Borussia Dortmund and Girona, and last year at Frosinone, despite playing a little more, he was relegated. With two years left, you're not going to shift him for money, so best to look for another loan solution.

Verdict: Loan out

Joselu (34, 2025)

Kirkland: He had a great season, he wants to stay and it only costs €1.5m to make the deal permanent. He brings size and physicality the other forwards don't have.

Marcotti: It's a no-brainer. They need him or someone like him who will be more expensive, so why not him? He ended up playing in 48 games and scoring 18 in all competitions this season. Only Bellingham and Vinícius scored more than he did, and they played many more minutes. And in a reduced role, he could be even more effective.

Verdict: Keep and make loan permanent


The attention this summer will be mostly on Mbappé and how his arrival affects the side tactically. We won't know what that will look like, but odds are that neither will Ancelotti, until after the transfer market closes. With this in mind, there are obvious steps to take.

Joselu's return adds variety to the attack. They will likely need to add another midfielder following Kroos' departure, possibly two if Ceballos goes (as we'd like to see) as well. Bellingham, Camavinga, Modric, Tchouameni and Valverde give Madrid five talented (and versatile) central midfielders. But they'll need a little more depth to deal with the rigours of a long campaign, especially since Camavinga and Valverde often deputise in other roles. They don't need to be stars, either: just competent players who accept squad roles.

At the back, if they can move Lunin -- and they should be able to -- they would need a reliable young reserve for Courtois. Rafa can be their fourth central defender and would cost them nothing. The more interesting situation is with the two full-back roles, where an upgrade will likely be necessary in the next year or two. We think it makes sense to look at them together.

If they can get someone they really like and believe can have a major impact -- whether left (Alphonso Davies?) or right (Trent Alexander-Arnold?) -- then go for it. Both will be expensive in terms of wages, but both are one year away from being free agents so you can get them at below market value (or, if you're willing to wait a year, for free.)

If it's a left-back they acquire, they can certainly get away with Carvajal and Vazquez on the right for another year. And if it's a right-back, you might want to extend Mendy after all. But if those opportunities aren't there -- or aren't there at the right price -- we'd suggest bringing back Miguel Gutiérrez from Girona, who has a relatively low re-sign clause of €8m.

The bottom line is that Real Madrid have been clever with their squad-building and generally excelled at letting guys go at the right time. From Casemiro to Karim Benzema, from Marco Asensio to Raphaël Varane, from Sergio Ramos to Cristiano Ronaldo, most of their departed stars do worse after they move on. (Of course, they're not infallible, but when they do get it wrong it's mostly with younger players who never really got a shot at the first team: Achraf Hakimi, Marcos Llorente, Theo Hernández.)

As a result, they have a lot of flexibility, not just in terms of big-name signings, but also with what they can do with their current squad. There are possibilities that might seem remote now (but no more so than, say, Bellingham playing as a No. 10 a year ago) but could become a reality in the next year or two. Like Valverde at right-back. Or Alaba as a defensive left-back.

Longer term, Real Madrid will need a genuine centre-forward -- unless Mbappé or Vinícius can reinvent themselves, or Endrick turns out to be that player -- and another top-drawer central defender. But there's no rush. And, as so often happens, the club will be in a strong position to make things happen on their terms.