Real Madrid brought an end to what appeared to be the last remaining transfer saga of the summer with the arrival of Mesut Özil at the Bernabeu.
The German playmaker, who was rumoured to be garnering interest from both Manchester United and Chelsea, has been the subject of much speculation after a star turn at the World Cup, but opted for a move to Real Madrid under Jose Mourinho.
Already a high-class player—as Argentina and England discovered at the World Cup—Özil’s ability, and indeed potential value, is further heightened by the fact that at 21 he is likely to improve for some time yet.
As Jose Mourinho told Marca after securing the German international, "He's a player who can play for Real Madrid for 10 years. His contract was running out so we could get him at a lot less than his actual market value.”
The theme of youth and potential has been a key part of Real Madrid and Mourinho’s spending strategy this summer.
Özil is merely the latest in an ever growing list of Europe’s brightest young prospects to turn up at the Bernabeu this summer, joining Angel di Maria and Sami Khedira, along with homegrown duo Pedro Leon and Sergio Canales, who have signed from Getafe and Racing Santander respectively.
None of them are older than 23, and all are likely to enjoy their best years at Real Madrid, as conceivably will the likes of Gonzalo Higuain, Ezequiel Garay, Karim Benzema, and Marcelo, all of whom are just 22.
Throw in the fact that Mourinho has already presided over the departure of veterans Christoph Metzelder, Guti, and Raul, and that relative seniors Mahamadou Diarra and Rafael Van der Vaart are favourites to follow them, and there is a real sign of a clear and coherent strategy at the Bernabeu this summer.
As Jorge Valdano stated at the presentation of Özil to the world’s media, "We have made a huge effort to bring young players into the side. Five of our six signings are 23 and under, and we are very pleased with the outcome for the club's future."
The one exception to this is Ricardo Carvalho, who at 32 is a relative pensioner compared with his fellow new signings, but the importance of Carvalho is not only what he offers on the pitch, but off it as well.
While the likes of Canales and Di Maria have both Kaka and Cristiano Ronaldo to lean on in terms of experience, by contrast Real Madrid’s younger defenders have plenty of ability, but few mentors in this defence to guide them.
Carvalho, a Mourinho favourite since his days at Porto, offers both experience and a guiding hand in terms of the art of defending, which should help develop the likes of Garay and Raul Albiol, and even Pepe, further.
This sustained interest in putting faith in young talent is rather ironic given that it is Mourinho himself has presided over such a strategy, especially given the relative success he had in building an experienced unit at Inter Milan.
There, he strengthened often through experience, as his signings of Lucio, Wesley Sneijder, and Samuel Eto’o last summer showed, while few talents—bar the exceptional Davide Santon and Mario Balotelli—got much of a look in.
At Real it is a very different story, but one suspects that the reason for that may lie in a different model of club construction that Mourinho has in mind.
Rather than follow the blueprint of his days in Italy, what he is building in Madrid perhaps harks back to his formative days at Chelsea.
There, rather than simply building on an experienced and successful team which were already in situ as he did at Inter; Mourinho assembled an ever-developing team of players who had not yet reached their potential, including John Terry, Didier Drogba, and Frank Lampard, and turned them into winners.
At Real Madrid, a club which boasted a talented, if underachieving, group of players, Mourinho has another opportunity to do the same.
Thus this summer has been about adding to what he has and setting in place longer-term foundations, which he hopes will eventually see this team overhaul Barcelona in La Liga and conquer Europe once again.
The signing of Mesut Özil is simply another piece which fits into this jigsaw, but adds further proof that Jose Mourinho and Real Madrid have a long-term strategy that they believe can eventually lead them both to an even brighter future.