Angel di Maria's uncertain future looks set to be determined in the days ahead after the midfielder's agent met with Real Madrid president Florentino Perez on Monday to discuss the Argentine's exit from the Bernabeu, according to AS.
But let's momentarily step away from the minute-by-minute details of his potential transfer to examine Di Maria's situation with Real Madrid, one that appears to make little sense.
In one corner, there's the world's dominant club, handsomely polishing a 10th European trophy while preparing for an assault on six titles in the upcoming season.
In the other, there's a brilliant, 26-year-old Argentine who sits among the world's elite footballers, having played an instrumental role in his club's continental dominance in 2013-14.
The two parties, therefore, should be a natural fit: Few clubs—whether they be in Spain, Europe or the far corners of the globe—can provide an equal platform to that owned by Real Madrid, while an equally select few players can match Di Maria's unique blend of technical proficiency and devastating running power.
Thus, the apparent divide between the player and club this summer is puzzling.
Just how has the situation reached this point? What has caused one or both parties to look elsewhere? Given that some sort of fallout between Di Maria and Real Madrid appears to be the driver of the current transfer speculation, what is behind that situation?
Rift with the President?
Perez is an extravagant, impulsive and often frustrating character, chasing an unattainable footballing perfection through the acquisition of the game's hottest properties.
Caring little for balance and the inner workings of a squad (see the 2003-04 season, the culmination of the president's first Galactico era), Perez has again sought more attacking firepower in James Rodriguez and Toni Kroos this summer.
Lamentably, such a path cannot be navigated without casualties; players already within the club's possession must be edged out or moved on to accommodate the incoming stars.
Last season, Gareth Bale's arrival at the Bernabeu temporarily jeopardised Di Maria's place in Carlo Ancelotti's lineup, only for the Italian to tinker with the system to incorporate both players into a dynamic XI.
But Real Madrid's dual capture of Rodriguez and Kroos may have been one blow too many for Di Maria. Somehow, despite being among the finest attacking midfielders in the game, despite being unquestionably the standout performer in the Champions League final in Lisbon, the Argentine's regular starting place has been put in doubt again.
Reports—such as one from Phil Dawkes of The Mirror—have inevitably surfaced, suggesting Di Maria is far from content with the developments of the summer.
Yet, this is an issue that has lingered for quite some time.
Back in December, it was reported by AS, as relayed by ESPN FC, that a rift between Di Maria and Perez was the cause of the 26-year-old's uncertain future in the Spanish capital.
"[Di Maria] has a contract which runs until 2018," the midfielder's agent Eugenio Lopez said. "Many clubs want him. There is a presidential issue there. But I do not want to talk about it."
Increasing the sense of unrest, Di Maria's wife posted an image of her husband on her Instagram account in the wake of the Argentine's stellar performance against Galatasaray in November. As interpreted by ESPN FC, the image was accompanied by: "And you want to sell him? What a pity..."
While the support of Ancelotti toward Di Maria last season was able to quell the uneasiness, the player may believe that he's destined to be yet another of Real Madrid's influential, but lesser acclaimed, stars to be discarded far too soon.
Real Madrid's Possible Outlook
Carlo Ancelotti was the key figure in ensuring Di Maria's services were retained by the European champions last season, according to Goal's Stefan Coerts.
Again this summer, Los Blancos' boss has been desperately trying to prevent the Argentine from seeking an exit from the Spanish capital, according to El Confidencial (as relayed by GiveMeSport).
But the wishes of Real Madrid's managers have often been contradicted by the business activity of president Perez throughout his tenure. Just ask Vicente del Bosque.
So if Perez and the club's hierarchy—regardless of Ancelotti's desire—are prepared to let Di Maria go, what is the underlying rationale for such a position? What makes Real Madrid appear to be believe that Di Maria is expendable in the big picture?
The most obvious answer, perhaps, is money.
Last October, a report from AS, as relayed by ESPN FC, suggested Real Madrid were €541 million in debt, and that Perez was hiding the true scale of the club's financial concerns.
While the signing of Rodriguez from Monaco, then, could be viewed as another monetary burden, the sale of 345,000 replica shirts in the aftermath of his arrival, per The Telegraph, already netting £20 million in sales, was perhaps as much a venture to stimulate revenue as it was about capturing elite talent.
The possible sale of Di Maria for a fee potentially approaching the £50 million mark, per Goal's Ben Hayward, could then see Real Madrid net a profit from the transactions involving Rodriguez and Di Maria.
Another possible scenario could centre on concerns regarding the Argentine's playing style.
With his game predominantly based upon his relentless work rate and near-unrivaled running power, it's conceivable that Di Maria's influence will decline sharply when his athletic capacity begins to crack.
In short, Di Maria's style means he's unlikely to age as gracefully as some of his contemporaries.
Although the versatile midfielder is up to four years away (or maybe more) from enduring the effects of that potential physical decline, Perez and Co. may be weighing that possibility when looking at the current position of the player's contract.
Indeed, the length remaining on a contract plays a large role in the size of any transfer fee: The more years there are still to run, the higher the figure must be to prise the player away.
Thus, with Di Maria tied to the club until 2018, per Transfermarkt, Real Madrid can command an exorbitant figure for the Argentine, given that four years still remain on his current agreement.
Of course, it seems absurd that the decisive figure of the Champions League final is viewed as expendable after such an outstanding 2013-14 season. But if Perez is intent on—or at least open to—selling Di Maria, his current reputation in Europe and the position of his contract mean Real Madrid will never get a higher figure for the Argentine than they will right now.
All of which could potentially explain why both parties are looking elsewhere, why a gradual fallout appears to have transpired between player and club.