“My name is Aurélien Tchouaméni, OK?” Real Madrid’s new midfielder smiled, told the media what to call him and how – a guide to pronunciation – and then told them about the men who inspired his approach. Neither were footballers. Instead, he said, the analysis, ambition and attitude that had brought him here came from across the Atlantic: from US sporting culture, basketball especially.
“Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan: I watch videos of them, legends who got the best from themselves, who perfected their play,” he said. “You can’t ever rest: you have to do everything, and that’s what I will do here.”
If that was a little unexpected, it had started with a classic: Tchouaméni lying on the bed, shirt off, the name of the clinic that carried out his medical splashed across the board behind him, suckers on his chest and thumbs up.
Next came the visit to the trophy room where the 14th European Cup was added last week. Then his presentation alongside the president, Florentino Pérez – as it turned out in the appropriate setting of the basketball hall at Valdebebas. There, Tchouaméni spoke briefly in Spanish, Pérez appearing to accompany his words at one point. Happy to be at Madrid, he said it was time to write his history.
It needn’t have been written here and much was made of the fact that it will be. There had been negotiations with other clubs, he said. Liverpool had pulled out as the price rose, pushed higher by the other, more significant bidder who also had a very significant negotiator.
“Kylian [Mbappé] stayed at Paris Saint-Germain; he knew that I was going to go from Monaco at the end of the season and he wanted to see if maybe I would go to PSG,” Tchouameni said. “But my first decision was always Real Madrid, and he respects that.”
Madrid paid €80m for the 22-year-old, a fee that could rise to €100m, but Tchouameni said he wasn’t interested in that: that was between the clubs. All that mattered now – and not just to him – was that he was where he wanted to be.
“I had the chance to choose other teams but when I found out that Real Madrid were interested in me, I didn’t doubt for a second,” he said. “I want to leave my mark on football history and I think Madrid is the best place to do that: the biggest club in the world, with incredible players and the best club for me.
“I spoke to other clubs but a part of my head was always waiting for the call from Madrid and when they came to my door, I didn’t hesitate. I spoke to my agent, my family and the club [Monaco] to try to get the best deal for everyone.”
If he wavered, watching the Champions League helped, he said. “When I was watching the final against Liverpool there were already negotiations with Madrid and other teams, but it is true that when I saw [what happened against] PSG, Chelsea, [Manchester] City, I was messaging people saying: ‘Please do all you can to take me to Madrid. I can’t not go there.’”
This club still has something others do not and that was cause for celebration. Pérez’s speech was short but he repeated a line about Tchouaméni having chosen to come to Madrid that appeared rather pointed. Emilio Butragueño then said something very similar: they knew he could have gone to PSG and were grateful he had not, unlike a certain someone.
Madrid feel Mbappé had let them down and feared his decision could be a glimpse of the future. That made this signing an even bigger success. There was even a question, upon which Tchouaméni did not bite, as to whether he had chosen glory over money. The “unlike Mbappe” went without saying.
That he was here not there mattered and not just emotionally. These are foundations laid for the future, Tchouaméni the most sought-after midfielder in Europe and part of a succession plan for the men Pérez calls “the three tenors”: Casemiro, Toni Kroos and Luka Modric, winners of 14 European Cups between them at Madrid, a history unmatched and unlikely to ever be matched either. He joins Fede Valverde, 23, and Eduardo Camavinga, who is 19, a new generation, the identity evolving.
It won’t happen immediately and certainly not all in one go – Casemiro is 30, Kroos 32 and Modric has just signed another one-year extension three months from his 37th birthday – but even they can’t resist time for ever and the transition is under way. Valverde played 46 games last season and a recurring theme of Madrid’s European Cup comebacks was the introduction of Camavinga. By the end of the semi-final victory over Manchester City, none of the tenors were on the pitch. All three started the final.
For now, Tchouaméni comes to complement and compete, not necessarily replace, providing depth and something different, cover for Casemiro, who had none. But that is not all he is. He talked about lessons learned from Cesc Fàbregas, his teammate at Monaco, and defined himself as an intelligent player who has the physical condition to win the ball. No one in Europe had more recoveries this season.
He took No 18 because it was the nearest to his favoured No 8, which Kroos owns, and said he watched and learned from Casemiro. Having played most of his career in a midfield pair, in Madrid’s 4-3-3 he believes he can operate as “a 6 or an 8”, knows that even getting in the team is a “challenge”, and said he took inspiration from the teammates who await him and from whom he will one day take over.
This, after all, was his first day, the end a long way off. “If I win five European Cups, it means I won’t have done too badly,” he said.