The future would appear to be now for a select coterie of elite footballers whose collective value arguable exceeds £1 billion. The current close season could be like no other in recent times, with seismic shifts in personnel more likely than not at many of Europe’s perceived big hitters, some who’ve dropped far behind the curve and have seemingly refused to proactively address replacing the aging and waning, opting to instead live in denial and rage against the dying of the light.
With Liverpool and Manchester City threatening to take a hegemonic grip both domestically and in European competition over the next decade, there is also a pressing need for local and continental rivals to respond. This inevitably gives a group of 10-12 players further power over their employers and potential alternative paymasters, strengthening yet further their influence, and that of their agents, over the modern game.
With the potential for so much world class talent to be on the move it does seem that the whole chain of events, perhaps more resembling a domino effect, hinges on who will blink first by moving or alternatively reaffirming a commitment to their current club. The names are well-known but where they will start the 2019/20 season is anything but clear cut, with countless flow charts of likely and alternative scenarios only serving to muddy the picture, rather than lend any clarity to the proceedings. There is also the not inconsiderable matter of Chelsea’s two-window transfer ban on incoming players, in theory preventing the sourcing of replacements for Eden Hazard from outside the club’s already bloated roster.
Notwithstanding the overrated Toni Kroos somewhat surprisingly signing a new four-year contract with Real Madrid, perhaps retained on a lengthy deal as a pragmatic option to funding the transfer of an alternative, there hasn’t as of yet been any significant pointer who will jump start the process resembling something between a game of chess and musical chairs. Eden Hazard’s seemingly imminent transfer to Real Madrid would in any other season be the catalyst but Chelsea cannot plan to recruit his successor from outside the club until all attempts to overturn the transfer ban have been exhausted. Could it instead be left to the combined efforts of Callum Hudson-Odoi, Mason Mount, and January signing Christian Pulisic to pick up Hazard’s virtually irreplaceable slack, or will circumstances eventually allow Chelsea to move for Philippe Coutinho or Real’s Gareth Bale?
Seeking to re-establish their preeminence in both La Liga and the Champions’ League Real have already flexed their muscles with the signing of Eintracht Frankfurt’s Serbian striker Luka Jovic – adding to Hazard’s impending arrival. Coupled with tying down Kroos on a long-term deal and the return of James Rodriguez from a two-season loan stint at Bayern Munich, the options available to boss Zinedine Zidane are plentiful. Will Bale be brought in from the cold to strengthen the Frenchman’s hand yet further, or could the Welshman be swapped for Tottenham’s Christian Ericksen? Bale’s next move could hinge on Chelsea’s transfer ban being lifted but a return to Spurs would be logical, especially should Mauricio Pochettino lose Ericksen to Real or Manchester United, the latter themselves representing another viable option for Bale. Zidane also has the option of reintegrating Mateo Kovacic following his return from loan duties at Stamford Bridge. Kovacic, Kroos, and James Rodriguez are though unlikely to dovetail either on the pitch or in a squad that could arguably do without any of the three. With Kroos re-signed to presumably figure prominently in Zidane’s matchday plans rather than be sent out on loan, there is a compelling case for both Kovacic and Rodriguez to be moved on to accommodate the possible arrival of Ericksen. From just this handful of permutations it would seem events at the Santiago Bernabeu, both confirmed and theoretical, will go a long way to shape events across the continent.
Carelessly discarded but expensively reacquired Paul Pogba remains an enigma – as what the World Cup winner but serial underachiever at Manchester United can only be described. On his day a good, perhaps very good midfielder the Frenchman does though fall short of genuine world class status and can drift out of games that he has failed to even drift in to. It is understood that his relationship with Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is strong; compare though to the divisive reign of predecessor Jose Mourinho little should be read into improved relations with the Old Trafford hierarchy. I could foresee Pogba signing for Paris St. Germain, where he could decisively effectuate play in what is an inferior competition to the Premier League but it is in Europe where the 26-year old needs to prove his worth, if he is to be considered one of the very best in the modern game. A rumour, perhaps not without substance, that the Frenchman could return to Juventus, the side who effectively acquired the player for a free from Manchester United before selling him back for £89 million highlights in many ways the absurdity of the modern game.
With or without Pogba Manchester United are themselves in dire need of quality reinforcements, the likes of which will not come cheap. It is astonishing that at a club of the might and standing of United there are few players who could be classed as untouchable, with most of the first team squad not being of a standard expected at Old Trafford. Aside from retaining goalkeeper David de Gea, Marcus Rashford, Luke Shaw, and perhaps Anthony Martial the rest of United’s roster resembles mere padding created by a succession of failed managers in the wake of Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement. Assuming Antonio Valencia, Ashley Young, Romelu Lukaku, Alexis Sanchez, and Pogba all depart Solskjaer is left with an unenviable rebuilding programme that will require adequately replacing the aforementioned and to ease out and supplant the considerable deadwood remaining within the club. To say the Norwegian isn’t the man for the job is without substance; such is the enormity of the task facing ‘the baby-faced assassin’ that few can realistically envy or resent him.
A summer of musical chairs-inspired intrigue wouldn’t be the same without the now annual debate where Antoine Greizmann, Neymar, and Kylian Mbappe will be plying their respective trade in the following season. Greizmann appears to be an ideal candidate for Barcelona as a replacement yet-to-be-acquired for the now long-departed Neymar. Alternatively the Frenchman could form a formidable attacking tripartite with Rashford and Martial and offer the substantive contribution to United lacking from Alexis Sanchez’s disastrous time in Manchester. I doubt, even at his young age, that Mbappe is content to be a flat-track bully in the French League for any great length of time; whilst PSG affords the 20-year old guaranteed Champions’ League football nowhere that has benefited from Middle Eastern petro-dollars feels more of an artificial construct than what has transpired at the Parc des Princes. A poor league dominated by one club with unimaginable wealth, once the preserve of Monaco, is hardly likely to enthuse the likes of Mbappe and Neymar over the long-term, although if a player is paid an increment to clap his club’s own supporters one wonders if that individual would play in a deserted car park if his salary was matched.
Neymar appears to be a troubled soul. Fits of on-field petulance are understandable when all means fair and foul are used to prevent the Brazilian racing through the gears. Although referees are tasked with sifting out cynical fouling from robust defending the player, often prone to exaggerated histrionics and instances of simulation, ultimately fails to aid his own cause. The reported terms of his contract do not portray the player as anything but a ringer, a mercenary. If this isn’t true it is being very well concealed. Coupled with numerous injury setbacks including the latest, occurring in a Copa America warm up game against Qatar, of all teams, is the last thing Neymar needs amid ongoing media reports linking him to an offence of rape. If the current mindset of the player could ever be summarized the dent to his pride precipitated by Cruzeiro teenager Weverton ‘nutmegging’ his illustrious teammate, demonstrated by grabbing the player in the immediate aftermath, shows a player lost in a sea of money, sycophancy and perceived entitlement. There is little to suggest anyone would take a chance on Neymar in his current condition, but football being what it is don’t be surprised to see the Brazilian reappear at Barca.
Predicting the movements in and between Europe’s top leagues over the next few months borders on the futile. Deals might appear to be shoo ins or logical but without perhaps a whole chain of events, similar to the potential long line of parties needed for a house purchase to become reality, they can fall at the first or final hurdle. Nevertheless, for what little they mean my transfer predictions can be found below, assuming Chelsea’s incoming transfer ban is upheld:
Eden Hazard – Chelsea>Real Madrid
Luka Jovic – Eintracht Frankfurt>Real Madrid
Gareth Bale – Real Madrid>Manchester United
Romelu Lukaku – Manchester United>Juventus
Paul Pogba – Manchester United>Paris St. Germain
Christian Ericksen – Tottenham>Manchester United/Manchester City/Barcelona/Real Madrid
Mateo Kovacic – Real Madrid>Inter Milan
Alexis Sanchez – Manchester United>Chinese league
Antoine Greizmann – Atletico Madrid-Barcelona/Manchester United/Manchester City
Kylian Mbappe – Paris St. Germain-Barcelona
Neymar – In consideration of his current injury and off-field issues I doubt any club will want to part with the money necessary to prise the player, and his attendent baggage, from PSG.
Adrien Rabiot – Paris St. Germain>Manchester United