With the season coming to an end it’s time for the money men and the movers and shakers to step into action in what promises to be a very busy transfer window. Here Guillem Balague in Part One of a two-part article looks at some of the major players that may – or may not – be on the move.
Alexis Sanchez (£1.10)
When I met up with Alexis Sanchez at Carrington a couple of months ago he seemed full of fire and eager to prove a point, yet with a guardedness about him that suggested he wasn’t exactly in his comfort zone.
He isn’t playing regularly, and most importantly – and incidentally no one knows this better than him – he isn’t delivering.
He will almost certainly be on the lookout for somewhere to shine and that somewhere is increasingly looking to be in Italy.
Wages will certainly be an issue and he is going to have to get his around his head the fact that he is going to have to take a pay cut if he wants to play regularly.
Before he joined United there was a plan in place for him to sign for Manchester City, and he was happy to go there because he felt he could add something to the side.
But in the end, the huge amounts of money offered by Manchester United trumped his natural footballing instincts and he is now living the consequences of his decision. In the right side, Alexis Sanchez can win you games without doing everything that is expected of many other players in terms of things like work rate, tracking back etc.
What you have is a player that can be very effective in the last third always assuming you have a team around him capable of doing the donkey work, dominating and letting him be the star of the show. Expect the likes of Roma, Napoli, Inter and AC Milan to fight amongst themselves to try to secure his services.
During Zidane’s last year in his previous spell as Real Madrid coach, Isco was very much one of his first picks, since when, to put it mildly, the wheels seem to have fallen off his career.
Julen Lopetegui initially gave him a lot of confidence but when he was shown the door new man Solari was completely underwhelmed by the player’s lack of professionalism, unwillingness to train properly and public displays of insolence and disrespect to a coach who, not surprisingly, responded by sidelining him.
With Zidane back, he probably now feels that he can go back to how things used to be except of course that the powers that be at Real Madrid might now feel that any new found desire exhibited might be a case of too little too late and that the time is now right for a parting of the ways.
Real Madrid’s much talked about proposed upmarket shopping spree (they want Hazard, Eriksen and Luca Jovic from Eintracht Frankfurt, but have not bought them yet) means that they aren’t about to be giving him away and unfortunately there are currently no big offers on the table for him.
Much has been made of the interest of Manchester City which may well have been the case when Manuel Pellegrini was at the helm but certainly isn’t now Pep is in charge.
His major problem is that any team he plays for has to play their entire game around him. He wants the ball a lot but spends too much time flattering to deceive in areas where he can not be seen to be most effective and not in the final third of the pitch where he should do most of his best work.
And while there are no offers for him on the table, the likely arrival of Hazard would mean that the chances for him to play will be minimal and even though he has told the club he wants to stay, the club will push him for his departure. I don’t see a club in Spain that will go for him due to his wages and to him wanting to be with one that fights for Champions League, I don’t think he fits the pace and physicality of the Premier League, but he has fans in Italy.
Samuel Umtiti (£0.75)
Following the signing of Frenkie de Jong, the next player very much on Barcelona’s radar is his Ajax teammate, the precociously talented central defender, Matthijs de Ligt. He would cost around 80 million euros to the Catalan club.
That is a lot of money and the reality is that this Barcelona outfit is not as flush with cash as some might think.
Barcelona would have loved to sign Luka Jovic but ultimately realised they simply didn’t have the money. Eintracht Frankfurt wanted €80m while Barcelona offered €40m plus the chance to allow the German side to keep him for another season after he had signed.
In the end, Eintracht is waiting for Real Madrid or others to upper their offers.
If they want de Ligt they are going to have to sell someone and with Piqué and Lenglet established as a centre back pairing and Todibo available as another option all eyes are turning towards the Frenchman Samuel Umtiti.
As always things are never that simple, in this case because Umtiti has been – and still is – suffering from a knee injury that has not been operated on when perhaps it should have been.
He is currently playing but looks far from fit and it remains to see if he can get to the fitness levels that he has previously enjoyed.
That is unlikely to put off Premier League clubs – Manchester City for one – who will be monitoring the situation very closely if he can prove that physically he can return to his best.
City are looking for another centre back with Fernandino being looked to as someone to learn the role so he can work along Laporte and Stones. Otamendi could be sold while I believe Vincent Kompany is almost certainly approaching the end of his career at the top level.
But Umtiti will almost certainly be on Manchester United’s wish list too and probably that of about everyone else in the Premier League.
Ivan Rakitic (£0.54)
Back to the signing of Frenkie de Jong who was told by the club before he signed that if he put pen to paper then one of the top midfielders at the club would be sold to guarantee him his place in the first team starting line up.
Ivan Rakitic was generally perceived to be the man most likely to be dispensed with to accommodate the Dutch midfielder. His sale would also provide those much-needed funds for the latest Barcelona project.
Rakitic has previously received a massive offer to move to PSG and it would have suited Barcelona perfectly for a deal to be brokered apart from one rather significant detail, namely that club coach, Ernesto Valverde who is gaining importance and influence by the day at the Camp Nou doesn’t want the Croatian to leave.
So for the time being Rakitic remains a part of Valverde’s plans but as with Umtiti, the club needs the money and something eventually is going to have to give. Watch this space.
Mauro Icardi (£1.67)
Back in February, Mauro Icardi, somewhat miffed at having had the captaincy taken away from him at Inter informed the club that he had no intention of playing for them in their forthcoming Europa League match at Rapid Vienna.
An embarrassed Inter manager Luciano Spalletti announced to the media that, “the decision to remove the captaincy from Icardi was difficult and painful, absolutely shared by all the club members and taken for the good of Inter,” and that Icardi would not be involved in Austria because ‘he didn’t want to be there.”
To say therefore that his current situation at Inter is untenable is an understatement even though he is currently back in the squad and has a contract until June 2021.
So, if he goes, where will he go?
Well, where he won’t go is Real Madrid who, despite the rumours, have never been interested in signing him.
Nor is he attracting any of the English top sides who would probably take a cursory look at this recent spat with his current club before placing his name in the section entitled ‘Who needs this?’
But more than that his general level of play would also be a matter of huge concern.
He is unquestionably a good finisher, he moves very well, but outside of the box he has little relevance to any game. In this day and age, as important as scoring goals is, strikers have to do much more to attract the biggest clubs.
With two years left to run on his current deal, the likes of Juventus and Milan who are supposed to be sniffing around him are the most likely contenders to sign him but whether or not they would be prepared to take the risk and shell out big money for him remains to be seen.
Despite his desire to leave the likelihood is that he will be unable to do so at this stage. Time will tell.