It was the will-they-won't-they saga of last summer that ended with an emphatic 'won't', but the Aurelien Tchouameni links are back again.
After a charm offensive that saw Jurgen Klopp meet the France midfielder in Monaco last year, Tchouameni eventually turned down the Reds in favour of a move to Real Madrid.
The Ligue 1 Young Player of the Year 2021 rubbed salt in Liverpool wounds during his presentation at the Santiago Bernabeu by saying: "As soon as Real Madrid arrived on the scene, I did not hesitate."
However, despite signing a six-year deal and costing Los Blancos up to €100m (£86m) with add-ons, rumours around Tchouameni's future have continued deep into 2023.
The Telegraph's Chris Bascombe wrote that the 23-year-old "is the one [defensive midfielder] Klopp really wants if Real Madrid decide to sell. Should Real finally secure Kylian Mbappe, they may need cash, but that saga looks like it has a few miles to run."
Could Real Madrid sell Tchouameni?
Mbappe remains Madrid's number one objective for 2024 — having loaned 33-year-old former Stoke man Joselu as a stop-gap following Karim Benzema's exit. Some reports even claim that Madrid already have a deal sorted for Mbappe to arrive next year upon expiry of his PSG contract. But even if that move comes without a transfer fee, it will cost the club a fortune in wages, agents' fees and bonuses.
The 14-time European champions may not be in as financially secure position as would immediately appear. While they sit behind only Manchester City in Deloitte's Money League rankings, Carlo Ancelotti's side have largely been overtaken in the transfer market by the new state-backed super clubs.
Real Madrid's recent policy has instead been limited to one major signing per summer — with €100m Jude Bellingham bought from Dortmund this year — and (like at rivals Barcelona) the financing of big-money deals has become increasingly tricky.
The club did a deal to sell 30% of the future revenue of the new Bernabeu earlier this year in order to boost their finances in the short-term. Meanwhile, a Telegraph report earlier this summer uncovered that €122m out of €135m in 'other operating expenses' had not been accounted for in the club's latest financial reports, adding to uncertainty.
If Real Madrid do need to sell first-team players to balance the books, Tchouameni could become a viable candidate.
While he played 50 times in his debut season for the club, he only started 24 times in La Liga. After a strong start in Spain, his form seemed to nosedive in the second half of the season. The midfielder was even left out of the starting lineup by Ancelotti for both legs of the Champions League final defeat to Manchester City.
With Eduardo Camavinga, Federico Valverde, Dani Ceballos and now Bellingham complementing veterans Toni Kross and Luka Modric, Real Madrid are almost laughably well-stocked with midfield talent. If Liverpool were to receive any indication that Real Madrid would be open to do business, a serious bid could bring them to the table.
Real Madrid's stance
All that said, Real Madrid's public stance remains that Tchouameni is not for sale, with Fabrizio Romano among those reiterating as much this summer.
Tchouameni himself seems keen to stay in the Spanish capital and was even spotted liking a tweet distancing himself from a move away from Real Madrid.
The post from a Real Madrid fan account @RMadrid_actu read: "Tchouameni is not for sale. Do you understand Liverpool?"
— Madrid Zone (@theMadridZone) July 15, 2023
Pouring even more cold water on the idea of a rekindling of Liverpool interest is the player's potential price tag. Even if they did consider a sale, Real Madrid would surely seek a profit on the player that paid upwards of £80m for last summer.
It's the kind of money Liverpool have only ever spent on Virgil van Dijk and Darwin Nuñez.
Whether the Reds could and would be prepared to front that kind of cash this summer — they are also in the market for a left-sided centre back in addition to a new 'number six' — remains to be seen.