Lucas Silva's arrival at Real Madrid in January was one of the more curious recent transfer decisions at the Bernabeu. It was fuelled more by the media than any other factor. Reports in Brazil of interest from Arsenal and Real Madrid led to a phony war between the clubs over the potential of Silva, who had shone for Cruzeiro during the their back-to-back Serie A title wins in 2013 and 2014 and was voted the best defensive midfielder in the Brazilian top flight during the latter.
But there was never a great deal of conviction in Carlo Ancelotti when he was endlessly drawn on the subject during December. "We have an interest in Lucas Silva," was about all the former manager would allow, and even then he managed to sound less than enthused.
Meanwhile, Silva's father said a summer move would be preferable: "The idea is to close the negotiation now but that he leaves in half a year's time. The important thing for him is to have pre-season with the rest of the team and also play in the Libertadores with Cruzeiro."
In the end, a deal in the region of €13 to 14 million was pushed through and Silva was officially announced as a Real Madrid player on January 23, but it remains difficult to understand exactly why. Florentino Perez's penchant for pet projects is well-known, but the idea that the president foisted a 21-year-old with no European pedigree on Ancelotti as the answer to the team's defensive midfield void seems unlikely.
Perez sanctioned deals for Sami Khedira in 2010 and Asier Illarramendi in 2013, for a total outlay of around €44 million. Despite Luka Modric's injury woes last season, Perez probably wasn't the driving force behind Silva's arrival. That Illarramendi remains at the club is largely due to El Presi's reluctance to admit a lost cause.
Initially, it seemed that the gamble might have paid off. On his full debut against Schalke in the Champions League on February 18, Silva looked the part on the right of a 4-3-3 in a 2-0 win in Gelsenkirchen, operating in the area of the pitch that is kryptonite to Illarramendi. Silva started the next two Liga matches against Elche and Villarreal, the latter a 1-1 draw in which the Brazilian was brought off for Jese before Ancelotti threw on the Basque to shore things up moments later. It was a decision that would mark the rest of Silva's season: he started just one more game and in total played a further 159 minutes. When he wasn't on the bench, he was in the stands.
Much like Illarramendi, who never recovered his manager's trust after a disastrous performance in the Champions League in Dortmund, Silva had clearly shown Ancelotti enough for the Italian to dispense with the idea of playing him. The death knell sounded loud and clear when Modric went down injured in La Rosaleda in April with the Champions League derby second leg against Atletico looming. "As soon as Modric was injured I started to think about Sergio Ramos as his replacement against Atletico," Ancelotti said.
But why was Silva signed in the first place? Ancelotti may not have fancied either Khedira or Illarramendi to fill in for Modric in the medium-term, but had said earlier in the season that he could see Isco in the engine room and he eventually used Ramos in midfield, a job Pepe has done before although more with a hatchet than a harp.
It is widely acknowledged that South American players take time to adapt to the different demands of the European leagues. If Silva was to be signed as one for the future, why not wait until the summer, if at all? There was already a prospect performing to his potential at Porto and Real wasted no time in exercising their buy-back option on Casemiro when the season ended, bizarrely forking out €7.5 million euros to bring their own player back to the Bernabeu.
The 23-year-old's performances under Julen Lopetegui at the Estadio do Dragao earned him a call-up to the Copa America squad this summer. The chances of Silva finding himself ahead of his compatriot in next season's pecking order are slim indeed and if rumours of a move for Geoffrey Kondogbia are accurate Illarramendi should be eyeing the door as well.
Furthermore, the March signing of Brazilian full-back Danilo means that Real now have four non-EU players on the books. The maximum permitted by UEFA is three.
Silva's Real career never really had a chance to get off the ground but the manner in which he was snapped up -- as though only because someone else was having a look -- was speculative in the extreme. When Illarramendi arrived it was after a stand-out season in La Liga with Real Sociedad and with the idea of learning his trade under, and eventually replacing, Xabi Alonso, even if the fee was extortionate. But who can blame La Real for that?
The trouble with Perez is that he will always pay whatever is asked. It doesn't really matter when all is said and done in Perez's book. Another player can always be bought. In the meantime Illarramendi's promising career has ground to a halt and Silva's could do likewise. To the Brazilian's credit he said as early as March that he would be open to a loan move. The capture of Danilo has made that a necessity for both club and player. Porto would probably be more than happy to oblige.