Here Guillem Balague in Part Two of a two-part article, looks at some of the major players that may – or may not – be on the move this summer.
David De Gea (£0.61)
David de Gea has been at Manchester United now for eight seasons and has been involved in top-flight football for so long it’s hard to believe that he is still just 28-years-old. Of the current playing staff, only Antonio Valencia and Chris Smalling have been there longer. After a difficult start, he has gone on to become one of the most consistent and popular players at the club and has been voted the players’ player of the year three times and the fans’ player of the year on four occasions. But recent form would suggest that now the cracks are beginning to show and maybe the time is now right for him to look towards taking on a new challenge.
Solkskjaer has tried to convince him to stay, while no doubt looking around and what is out there should he need to replace him. It’s also worth noting that he also has available to him a more than capable deputy in Sergio Romero, Argentina’s number one keeper who many believe to be the best goalkeeper in the Premier League currently without an automatic starting place.
For De Gea a change of environment might be just what he needs to re-kindle the fire in his game. For a long time now he has been very much in his United comfort zone and now despite dropping his level still finds himself in the goalkeeping pole position because of a knee injury suffered by Romero in training recently.
But he has clearly dropped his focus and when that happens it inevitably manifests itself into below-par performances on the pitch. He is much better than what we are seeing. PSG are certainly looking for a goalkeeper and have already approached him. So now it’s make your mind up time. Is he ready to commit to what will be Solksjaer’s a medium rather than a short term project or does he think the time is right to look to pastures new?
The United boss will be looking for top players away from the top six clubs in England who may not be the biggest names but will have what he considers to be that quintessential Manchester United DNA running through them. Physically strong, possessing of quality and talent, bursting with enthusiasm, eager to learn and hungry to succeed. Does David de Gea still tick those boxes for him? For sure. Will he have to change his style a bit as Ole wants a more offensive United? Yes, and that could be the move out of the comfort zone that he needs. Will he be prepared to risk waiting for Ole to rebuild that winning mentality at the club? That is a hard question to answer.
Matthijs de Ligt (£2.72)
Semi-final heartbreak for Ajax and their young skipper, Matthijs de Ligt will almost certainly mean that if the precociously talented 19-year-old is going to win the Champions league then it probably won’t be with the Dutch club that he has been a part of since he was nine years old.
De Ligt skippered Ajax to their first Eredivisie title since 2014 and now an orderly queue, headed by Barcelona and comprising much of the world’s footballing elite, is currently forming outside the player’s door as they look to entice him away from Amsterdam.
Among them, Liverpool, Bayern Munich, PSG, City, United and Juventus have shown interest in the last 18 months, while Real Madrid say they are not interested at the moment, although if they are looking for a centre back to dominate for the next ten years then they most certainly should be. The final shortlist now includes only three teams. Juventus, Bayern and Barcelona
Barcelona will have the job of trying to persuade the youngster that while they are unable to pay him the sort of money that some of the competition would be willing to, that Barcelona is the right move for him in the next stage of what promises to be a stellar career. Meetings in Amsterdam between his representative and Barcelona directors have left the Catalans confident of convincing him. Ajax, are not about to give the player away but would nonetheless be prepared to sell him to Barcelona at a reduced price of around €70-80m if he feels that is where he wants to play.
He is not yet the best centre back in the world- that honour belongs to Liverpool’s Virgil Van Dijk – but if there’s a better prospect in this position anywhere in the world then I haven’t seen him and under the tutelage of the likes of Gerard Piqué and Lenglet he will only get better.
His main concern is probably that he won’t get enough playing time and he will need to know that he will if he is to leave his beloved Ajax. I sense that Barcelona are optimistic even if currently he is yet to decide what turn to take at this most crucial stage of his career. Time will tell.
Rodrigo Hernández, Rodri, (£1.10)
Rodrigo Hernández Cascante, or Rodri to me and you, currently plays for Atletico Madrid and is very much on Manchester City’s radar as they look for a defensive midfielder as a long term replacement for Fernandinho.
Suddenly, however, the performances of Ilkay Gundogan in that position over the past five games suggest that City have had his replacement available to them all along. Not that Fernandinho will be going anywhere just yet, as City will almost certainly be looking to convert him into a centre back. Those doubting the wisdom of such a tactic should be reminded that Pep Guardiola has some commendable previous in this department having successfully achieved precisely the same thing with Javier Mascherano while at Barcelona.
Rather than simply just happen, transfers very often evolve when all the pieces slot together as seems to be the case here. City will need another holding midfielder and have indicated that they are prepared to meet Rodri’s €70m buy-out clause condition while Rodri’s dissatisfaction with an Atletico style that does not play to his strengths mean the move could be more a case of if rather than when. But they have to convince the player too and he told Atletico only a month and a half ago that he was staying. City hope he can change his mind.
Personal terms will need to be agreed and should it go belly-up for whatever reason then City could well turn their attention instead to Bruno Fernandes at Sporting.
Antoine Griezmann (£2.09)
We thought we had finally drawn a line under the continual ‘stay or go’ saga surrounding the future of Antoine Griezmann only for it to have started up again following the news that his buyout clause will go down to a ‘bargain’ €120m from the beginning of July.
I know that Barcelona are keeping a careful eye on what is happening at Atletico but they would prefer not to be spending that sort of money on any player at the moment – not even Griezmann if they can help it – and will be looking to try to persuade Atletico to come to some sort of amicable deal. It will probably not happen and the 120 million will have to be paid. They reached the conclusion that Griezmann should be a target even before the Liverpool fixture and they will look for potential buyers of Coutinho. Would any club pay 100 million euros for him? That is the question.
Meanwhile, while the official line coming out of Atletico is that he is going nowhere, they know that if push came to shove then Barcelona could invoke the buyout clause. And his teammates feel that he is seriously thinking of leaving.
Paul Pogba (£7.60)
And finally where to begin with Paul Pogba? Manchester United are adamant that he is not for sale and that they want to rebuild the team around players like him. Unfortunately, when I look at him I don’t see any of those characteristics that Solksjaer will demand from any one of his players, never mind his leaders.
His display in United’s final humiliation of the season, a 2-0 home defeat to relegated Cardiff City, was the perfect example of the frequent loss of concentration all too prevalent in his game this season.
Can Solksjaer keep him at that level and consistently show the quality that we suspect he has? Or do they say enough is enough and sell him for €160m always assuming that someone is prepared to come up with that sort of money?
Zidane at Real Madrid wants him. Unfortunately for him, club President Florentino Perez most certainly doesn’t. His eyes are focused more on the likes of Cristian Eriksen of Spurs and Tanguy Ndombele of Lyon and he doesn’t believe that Pogba would be a good fit as a typical Real Madrid player.
When Zidane came to Real Madrid it was on the condition that he could do more or less as as he wished on the transfer market, although that was then and this is now, and as we all know, Florentino is a man that normally gets what he wants.
Most of the talk regarding his future would seem to be emanating from the general direction of his agent, Mino Raiola who is keen to ascertain who’s out there that wants to talk.
For the time being, United are responding with a consistent ‘not us’ which leads to me to believe that Solksjaer will probably feel that he will be able to do something with the player as he sets about a massive rebuilding job at Old Trafford.
Solksjaer will also be the first to realise that the club will not be able to attract as many of the top players as he would like not just because there will be no Champions League football next season but also because they know they will be going to a club in the process of being rebuilt rather than to one on the very edge of success.
Perhaps then this is the time to try to maximise your prize assets rather than looking to sell them.