Category Archives: Transfer News

On Moussa Dembélé’s Transfer to Atlético Madrid

Best for all involved?

The first of Olympique Lyonnais’ Champions League heroes looks to be out the door, as young French striker Moussa Dembélé looks to be close to sealing a transfer to Spanish giants Atlético Madrid. As reported by Sky Sports’ transfer guru Fabrizio Romano, the deal will be a six-month loan deal with an option to buy in the summer for around €35 million. He was specifically targeted by Atléti manager Diego Simeone, who was in personal contact with the player urging him to join Los Colchoneros. It is a logical move, one that I am sort of surprised happened now instead of in the summer, but the more you consider the needs of all parties involved, the more it makes sense for everyone.

Atlético Madrid have been looking for a striker to act as a proper back up to Luis Suárez. With Diego Costa’s departure this month, they needed to sign someone quickly. Dembélé provides them with immediate relief in that position, as a player who is able to play in Atléti’s 4-4-2/4-2-3-1 attacking system and do many of the things Suárez can as a target man, while also providing a bit more in the way of off-the-mark pace than the 33-year-old Uruguayan can provide at this point. As a player, Dembélé has grown quite a bit as a complete forward, able to play as a target man and off the shoulder of the center back, able to play in a two or as a lone striker. It is this flexibility in deployment that will give Atlético plenty of options in using the Frenchman either as a back up for Suárez or playing him alongside Suárez. He also acts as the long-term replacement for the aging Uruguayan, who is only signed on for one more season in the Spanish capital. Dembélé is only 24 and is entering the prime of his career, and he fits the mold needed to lead the line for Atléti for years to come, able to bag the goals when needed but also act as a target man and combine with the likes João Félix and Marcos Llorente. As an added bonus, they have seemingly got him at the nadir of his value, having not been a consistent first-team fixture for Lyon this season, and on a six-month free trial to boot. This is a home run of a deal for Atléti, one that shows that, despite their financial limitations, they are still able to make the moves to keep them competitive not only for this season, where they are still top of La Liga, but also for the years to come.

So why would this move make sense for Lyon, you might ask? Dembélé was great for them, right? He scored those goals against Manchester City in the Champions League Quarterfinals! Why would Lyon sell him now, and for so little?

And yes, you are right. Dembélé has been a fantastic player for Lyon since he moved to the Rhône from Glasgow Celtic in 2018. He has scored plenty of goals, including very important ones against Saint-Étienne and the aforementioned double against Man City. As a player who seemed like a panic buy after Mariano Díaz returned to Real Madrid, he turned out to be a fantastic signing. However, he no longer fits into the plans of the team. Under Rudi Garcia this season, the team has moved to an inverted 4-3-3 system, with Memphis Depay acting as the false nine center forward with Karl Toko-Ekambi and Tino Kadewere play as the inverted wingers. Dembélé is a great player, but he does not fit that central role as well as Memphis, and he does not play the inverted winger role better than Toko-Ekambi or Kadewere. It is this system that has made Lyon title contenders in France, so it does not make sense to hang on to Dembélé if he does not fit the system. Even if Lyon do win the league, it is unlikely that manager Rudi Garcia will continue on in that role after this season, meaning a large upheaval will likely happen at the club this summer that would have likely meant the sale of Dembélé anyway. It is not ideal for Lyon to lose Dembélé now instead of in the summer and at this price point, but ultimately it is not the end of the world.

While it is an option to buy and not an obligation, it seems unlikely that the option will not be exercised by Atlético Madrid, which allows Lyon to use those funds to boost their chances of winning Ligue 1 and getting back into the Champions League next season. Former Sporting, Leicester, and Monaco striker Islam Slimani has seemingly been identified as the short-term replacement, and while he is not as talented as Dembélé, he does at least fit this 4-3-3 better. Slimani is a striker known for his ability to also drop into space and play passes, combining well with Wissam Ben Yedder in Monaco last season to amass a respectable nine goals and seven assists in the league. He can fit better in that center forward position in this 4-3-3 than Dembélé, so, at least in the short term, it makes sense. Lyon have also been one of the teams seeking the signature of Stade Brestois midfielder, and arguably Ligue 1’s biggest breakout star this season, Romain Faivre, a player with incredible creative quality and the potential to become a capped France international very soon. While they could lose out to PSG in the hunt for his signature, Faivre is still a player they now have the ability to pursue and one that I would absolutely give up Dembélé in order to sign. There are also rumors connecting Lyon to several players in South America, with a move for River Plate’s Julián Álvarez being the most likely to happen in January. The point is it gives Lyon options to start their rebuild early. Sporting director Juninho has become a more influential individual behind the scenes at the club, and it is clear he has the long-term vision of where he wants to take the club. Selling Dembélé now, even if at a less than ideal price, allows him to move ahead with his plans.

For the player, this obviously makes sense. He now goes to a club where he will not only play fairly regularly, but one that is clearly a step up for his career from Lyon. Diego Simeone specifically wanted the Frenchman, which says quite a bit, and this move makes sense for Dembélé to advance his career, especially at the international stage. Dembélé never really got the deserved credit for his talent and performances for Les Gones, having yet to make his senior team debut for France despite his clear talent and good performances, as well as the lack of many top quality French strikers in good form. Being on the outside looking in when it comes to the Euros team, Dembélé needed a move away to a top quality club where he could play fairly regularly and catch the eye of France manager Didier Deschamps. While this move might not be in time to make the Euros team, this is still the exact move Dembélé needs to move forward in his career. After his failed move to Manchester United in the summer, a big move was inevitable, and now it came.

The summer window started with a bang, with Dominik Szoboszlai moving to RB Leipzig, and this seems to be the next domino to fall this window. Dembélé will be a miss for Lyon, but it is a logical move that allows them to kick on with their title challenge, as well as their eventual rebuild in the summer. He is a perfect signing for Atlético Madrid, and this move could be a major cause in the player becoming a capped international. This is the next logical move for a young up-and-coming player who many may have forgotten about.

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Donny van de Beek is a quality signing but is he a priority for United?

I have mixed feelings about Manchester United signing Donny van de Beek. Recently, BBC Sport reported that Manchester United have agreed to personal terms with the midfielder and have negotiated a £40 million move with Ajax. On paper, it represents a well-calculated move by Manchester United. Like Bruno Fernandes, United haven’t overpaid for the Dutch international, who has been brilliant for Ajax last campaign. Van de Beek scored 10 goals and made 11 assists across all competitions last season and can play as a central, attacking, or defensive midfielder. On paper, he is a quality player who can play in the Premier League.

Yet, I can’t help but feel like he will be misused at United. Don’t get me wrong, I think van de Beek can excel in United’s set up if he is played correctly – a free-roaming central midfielder. Why does that sound familiar, you might wonder? Well, that’s cause Pogba currently plays in that role for United in a midfield set up where Bruno is an attacking midfielder and Matić plays as a defensive midfielder that sits back.

This raises an important issue for United: what do they do with their new acquisition? Where does he play?

One thing is for sure – Donny offers United depth because he can slot in and fulfill either Bruno’s or Pogba’s role. While Fred is a good player, he struggles in Pogba’s position, and van de Beek offers something different in that regard. Similarly, Manchester United do not have a proper back up to Bruno. Jesse Lingard, Andreas Pereira and Juan Mata pale in comparison to Bruno, but the Dutchman has shown a lot of promise in that central attacking midfielder role at Ajax. Hence, van de Beek is an excellent signing in this regard – someone who is brought in to provide cover for both Pogba and Bruno.

However, I have two main issues with this transfer. Firstly, it is highly likely that Ole might field a midfield trio of Bruno-Pogba-van De Beek, with the Dutchman sitting behind the other two. Secondly, van de Beek is not a priority signing given the issues in other areas in the squad. Allow me to go through both points.

Donny van de Beek is not the defensive midfielder that Manchester United needs.

If he is brought in to play as a defensive midfielder mainly, then United are not only under-utilizing the player but also will suffer in big matches. Yes, van de Beek can be deployed as a defensive midfielder, and he can do a decent job in that position, but to harness his full capability, he needs to play higher up in the field. Even if he does play as a defensive midfielder, I am doubtful that the player can sit back and ensure that the defensive line is covered. After enjoying the freedom to roam and express himself at Ajax, van de Beek would probably need a lot of time to adapt to a Fabinho-type role that Manchester United need for Ole’s system to work properly.

It is bewildering because there are other options out there. Wilfred Ndidi would have been the perfect signing for the Red Devils. Also 23 years old like van de Beek, he has the potential to become a main fixture in United for the next decade. Sure, United will have to fork out a fortune to purchase a promising player from a rival Premier League club (I mean we paid £80 million for Harry Maguire, so yes, Ndidi won’t be cheap). However, I believe he would be a worthy investment, and the massive fee paid would pay dividends because he is a significant upgrade from Nemanja Matić, who is the best player suited to that defensive midfield role under Ole’s tactics. Let that sink in a bit, Matić is 32 years old and past his prime. Yes, he has experienced a revival in form at the start of the year, but the aging Serbian cannot be starting every single game.

The thing is, given his playing style, I do not know if van de Beek would do a significantly better job than Matic. Maybe he could? I do not know. It’s times like these when I kind of regret selling Daley Blind. No, I am not joking. Blind has shown his defensive prowess at Ajax and has established himself as a solid centre-back but is also capable of executing long-range passes. Wilfred Ndidi may not possess the same calibre of passing, but I’d argue that he defends better than Blind, and by extension van de Beek, in that defensive midfield position. Manchester United are in dire need of this defending ability.

Not the Red Devils’ Priority

Secondly, while van de Beek is a fine addition, he isn’t a priority for United right now. Let me list our priorities in the order of what we need.

  1. A Right-winger
  2. A Centre-back
  3. A Left-back
  4. A Defensive Midfielder (that fits Ole’s tactics)
  5. Quality Depth in midfield [This is what the van de Beek signing accomplishes]
  6. A Forward (to replace Ighalo once his loan expires)

What we need now, more than ever, is a right winger. Yes, we also need a centre-back, a left-back, and a defensive midfielder are important but relatively less so. Daniel James is our only natural right winger Daniel James is not good enough to start every match, and I do believe a loan to another Premier League club would do him a world of good. Jadon Sancho should have been our priority signing, but it looks like we are going to miss out on him. There have been rumours circulating that united may pursue Kingsley Coman and Ousmane Dembélé. However, there have been no concrete developments just yet.

I’m afraid I have to disagree with the notion that United do not need to invest in a world-class right-winger because they already have options within their academy prospects. Yes, Tahith Chong played brilliantly in his first few friendly matches for Werder Bremen, providing an assist in his debut scoring an impressive solo goal against FC Groningen in his third match. However, he still needs time to develop. The same goes for Mason Greenwood, who even though has played well in that right-wing role, would probably fare better up front. The same goes for the other positions and United need to reinforce the squad before the start of the season.

Donny van de Beek is by no means a bad signing, and I am thrilled that Manchester United have finally made a transfer, especially since other clubs have already secured multiple targets. What I am fearful of is Manchester United misusing the Dutchman or, even worse, not signing anyone else. The club has done well so far in securing hot prospects for the United Academy and Reserves. They need to replicate this success of acquiring talented youth players for the first-team setup. I sincerely hope that van de Beek’s acquisition will open the flood gates and United go on to secure other priority targets. Only time will tell. Ed Woodward please, I beg you, do not screw this up…

Featured Image by Image by bertholdbrodersen from Pixabay

Is Willian’s Transfer to Arsenal a Costly Gamble or a Smart Piece of Business?

Arsenal have signed Willian from Chelsea on a free transfer. However, details have emerged that the Gunners will be potentially paying Willian a staggering £35 million if the Brazilian sees out his three-year contract with the club. Even though Willian would be earning a base weekly salary of £100,000, which is slightly lower than the £120K he earned at Chelsea, Arsenal have offered him a colossal signing-on fee on top of the appearance fees and loyalty bonuses he will receive. It makes the Brazilian the second-highest earner at the club, only behind Mesut Özil.

The move has left me feeling divided.

On one hand, Willian is a fantastic Premier League player who will add value to any Premier League team. Why? He is both a clinical finisher and a creative influence for setting up chances. Last season, the winger scored 11 goals and made 9 assists in all competitions for the Blues. Let’s put that in perspective. Only Tammy Abraham has scored more goals (18), and Christian Pulisic has made more assists (10) than the Brazilian. Also, 9 of his goals and 7 of his assists came in the Premier League, indicating that Willian still has a juice in his tank to play in the English top-flight despite turning 32 years old five days ago, on the 9th of August (coincidentally, Singapore’s National Day). Which sort of brings me to my other point…

I’m not at all convinced that a 3-year deal was best for a player who’s best days might soon be behind him. Of course, I may be wrong, and Willian would go on to become an even better player. In this day and age, footballers are breaking boundaries, and several stars are still playing at the highest level well into their mid-thirties. However, other issues make me apprehensive about this move.

The biggest one is probably the fact that Arsenal have recently let go of 55 members of their staff so that they can open the door for squad development after a “significant” loss in match-day revenue. Neil Humphreys from The New Paper says it really well: “Arsenal’s job cuts simplified matters. Their priorities are clear. It really is about the money.” I agree with him. Arsenal’s actions are a disgrace, and Stan Kroenke should be ashamed of himself. Don’t get me wrong. If the Arsenal board believe that Willian deserves £35 million, I have no qualms that they paid him that amount. What i take issue with is that he was acquired at the expense of the full-time jobs of 55 people.

Besides the moral and ethical principles behind this deal, there is also the question of where will Arteta deploy Willian. The Brazilian is most effective if he plays down the right flank. Despite a shaky start, Nicholas Pépé has blossomed in the right-wing role towards the end of the season. Even though he has not replicated his goal-scoring form at Lille, the Ivorian has been an outstanding player for the Gunners overall. His displays in the latter stages of the FA Cup have shed light as to why Arsenal shelled out a club-record £72 million for his signature. The Ivorian can play as a left-winger, but his playing style has always been one where he cuts in and unleashes powerful shots with his preferred left foot. If Willian comes on board, would he be content to play as a left-winger?

If Willian can indeed be an effective left-winger, then Arsenal would have solved a huge issue. Arsenal currently only have Saka who is good enough to play on the left. However, I think Saka plays better as an attacking left-back rather than a winger. Saka and Willian on the left flank is a scintillating prospect for Gooners and a frightening one for the opposition defenders.

That, unfortunately, raises another question: where does that leave Kieran Tierney? Yes, Injuries are inevitable and chances will be aplenty since last season’s FA Cup triumph means that Arsenal will be in next season’s Europa League. Yet, Tierney and Saka are at a ripe age where regular first-team football is necessary for them to develop and fulfill their potential.

If Arsenal are bringing Willian as a backup option, then this would not be a huge issue, but it is clear that he is not a bench warmer. On paper, Willian left Chelsea because they were unwilling to meet his demands of a 3-year contract. Let’s be real, though. That was not the only reason why. With the signing of Hakim Ziyech, Willian was more or less replaced before he left.

On top of that, Chelsea are currently overloaded with attacking options. Currently, Chelsea have Christian Pulisic, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Timo Werner, Tammy Abraham, Mason Mount, Olivier Giroud, and Michy Batshuayi. Add Hakim Ziyech, and potential new arrival Kai Havertz to the mix and that’s 9 players to occupy the attacking berths in the formation.

Yes, I am well aware that only Hakim Ziyech is a natural right winger of the lot. However, Lampard tends to start matches with a 4-3-3 formation. With only 3 to 4 starting places (RW, LW, CAM, ST) up for grab, Lampard may have to field some players out of position to placate their needs for playing time. Hudson-Odoi was fielded as a right midfielder in the recent Champions League tie with Bayern Munich. We could see Tammy Abraham deployed there as well since Werner will most likely play as the starting forward.

I think signing Willian on a short-term deal would have been the best move. Willian still has at least another good season left in him and he is an excellent addition for the gunners for the 2020/21 campaign. However, he is not a long-term option for Arteta and the Spaniard needs players who can be part of a long-term rebuild of the club. Willian’s impact is likely to be a short term one but I think it is more important that the club use Willian’s acquisition to buy some time in finding the right kind of winger to lead the club forward for the next few years. I still think it’s appalling that Arsenal dished out that much on Willian after laying off 55 members of their staff, especially since it would only cost a fraction of Willian’s wages to keep them on board.

Featured Image by patrick Blaise from Pixabay

Yes, Nathan Aké is worth 41 million pounds.

Is Nathan Aké worth 41 million? The short answer is yes.

Manchester City have recently signed Nathan Aké from Bournemouth for 41 million pounds. It is hardly surprising that Aké chose to leave the Cherries following their relegation. A player of his calibre should not play at the Championship, and it was only a matter of time before other Premier League teams swooped in to sign him. Before the end of the season, rumours began to circulate that Manchester United and Chelsea were interested in the defender. Both clubs have had issues with their defence, and Aké would have been a valuable reinforcement for either club, especially since Bournemouth’s relegation meant he could leave on the cheap. An offer around the region of 25 million pounds was expected from Manchester United. However, in the last hour, their noisy neighbours swooped in and bid a pretty hefty 41 million pounds to thwart off any potential competition. However, it begs the question as to whether City overpaid for the defender.

Before diving into the main question, I think it’s essential to look at why Aké was highly sought after by City. Like Manchester United and Chelsea, albeit to a lesser extent, the Citizens have issues in defence. Unlike Chelsea and Manchester United, City have a world-class centre-back in Aymeric Laporte. However, they have no one of sufficient quality to match him. In other words, no one has effectively replaced Vincent Kompany since his departure at the end of last season. Nicolás Otamendi is past his prime and will probably only feature sporadically next term. John Stones has fallen out of favour with Guardiola and a move away seems best. A reunion with David Moyes at West Ham and a move to Leeds United are just some of the possibilities. Eric García is highly promising but has recently conceded that he is looking for a move away and intends to run down the final year of his contract if he fails to seek a move away from the Etihad this transfer window. Hence, Aké was brought in to shore up a dwindling defence, but only time will tell if he can truly become Kompany’s heir.

Personally, I think the Dutch international is an excellent addition to any defence. Aké has demonstrated how good he is defensively at Bournemouth. However, I don’t think he’s at the level of Kompany in his prime. He could certainly reach that level in due course, but the City hierarchy does not seem to believe he’s ready to assume that mantle just yet. For some time now, there have been reports that Manchester City are targeting Napoli’s Kalidou Koulibaly. If Koulibaly does link up with City, Guardiola would surely opt for a Laporte-Koulibaly centre-back partnership with Aké providing cover. Many have argued that City have grossly overpaid for the Dutchman. One person who firmly believes this is Paul Merson. Merson recently has mentioned how he was shocked by City’s acquisition of the defender. He believes that Aké is not the right choice to propel them back to the league’s summit because “Bournemouth got relegated and they let in about a million goals.” I disagree entirely with Merson’s assessment and believe that 40 million pounds is a reasonable figure for Aké.

Why?

Well for starters, let’s look at what Manchester City are getting for that price. A 25-year-old who has played reasonably well in the highest level for both club and country. Bournemouth may be relegated this season, but you cannot blame Aké for that. In fact, the defender was out injured for a lengthy spell. When he has played, he has been mostly reliable. Sure, Bournemouth have let in a ton of goals, but is Aké to be blamed for all of them? If anything, his marvelous zonal awareness and tackling ability have helped prevent Bournemouth from letting in more goals. On top of that, he is very good on the ball, and while he still needs some work to polish this aspect, he can pass from the back.

Also, people always focus on the fact that Bournemouth got relegated and this, therefore, means that Aké’s value significantly drops. However, many fail to realize two things here: the fact that other clubs were interested and that the market value for defenders is significantly inflated. With Manchester United and Chelsea both seemingly interested, it was important for City to avoid getting themselves into an unnecessary bidding war. They paid a reasonable amount for the player that they wanted. Furthermore, the current market value for good defenders has skyrocketed. Harry Maguire’s 85-million-pound move from Leicester to Man United is the perfect example of this. In relation to that, Aké’s transfer fee makes sense.

I think the real underlying issue behind this move is that Manchester City somehow managed to overturn their 2-year European ban, and this move appears to be a blatant attempt to show the rest of the world their financial muscle. Yes, they were imposed with a fine of 10 million Euros for failing to cooperate with investigators, but really what is 10 million Euros to a club like Manchester City? Even though I believe that City haven’t overpaid for Aké, I do think that they are showing the rest of the footballing world that they can do whatever they want (and yes, it is infuriating).

Is Nathan Aké a good signing? Of course, he is. Even if a big-name defender like Koulibaly arrives, Aké will still feature for the first-team. His ability to play as left-back and a defensive midfielder could prove to be handy for City as well. As with every transfer, there is always an element of risk involved. It is possible that Aké turns out to be a flop. I mean, just take a look at John Stones – he came in and did well initially but now is a shadow of his former self. What I can say for sure is this: the Dutchman’s arrival at City is sure to turn the cogs in other transfer deals. United and Chelsea will have to look elsewhere for defensive reinforcements and perhaps initiate transfer merry-go-rounds. For Bournemouth, they lose an integral member of their squad – someone who has characterized their defence for the past 5 years. The Cherries are bound to lose a ton more players, and their rebuild has just begun.

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An Absolute Bargain: Ferrán Torres’s Transfer to Manchester City and Wider Implications

For 23 million Euros, Ferrán Torres’s move to Manchester City is an absolute bargain. He comes in as a replacement for Leroy Sané, who moved to Bayern Munch on July 3, 2020, for an initial 45 million euros (that could potentially rise to 60 million euros with add ons). He may be only 20 years old, but Torres is a real talent and has played incredibly well for Valencia. A move to City is a definite upgrade for the player. Yet, I don’t know if it is the right time for him to move to the Etihad. 

Why? Let’s look at why Leroy Sané moved to Bayern in the first place – a lack of playing time. There is a good chance that Torres may face a similar predicament. Most of the time, he will probably find himself on the bench at City. Raheem Sterling and Bernardo Silva are above him in the pecking order and have cemented their positions in the wings. He also will face competition from Riyad Mahrez and Phil Foden (if he stays) for a spot on the bench.

Thankfully, Manchester City are a club that have a winning mentality – they want to win every competition they play in and therefore need to rotate their team for the different competitions. Chances will come for the highly-rated Spaniard to shine, but he will not likely be playing the same number of games he did for Valencia this past season. Torres may not be playing weekly, but he will learn a lot under the tutelage of Pep Guardiola as well as under the mentorship of senior players like Riyad Mahrez.

Torres publicly announced that one of the key reasons why he wanted to sign with the Manchester club is because of their attacking mentality and style. That was not the only thing that he revealed to the press and went on to publicly criticize teammate and Valencia captain Dani Parejo’s leadership ability. Speaking of Valencia, Torres departure could be the first of a mass exodus of players after the controversial end to their season, which saw Albert Celades was sacked and replaced by Javi Gracia. As a result of missing out on European competition altogether and ramifications of the Covid-19 pandemic, the club will reduce its operating cost by 40%. Part of this reduction involves potentially selling upwards of 100 million euros worth of players during this window. Torres himself did not want to leave Valencia but instead, was forced out of the club. While that may be, it is safe to say that Torres has escaped from a sinking Valencian ship, where Peter Lim is the captain.

Guardiola had one for the future in mind when he was making this deal. Perhaps the not so distant future. Mahrez is approaching his 30th Birthday early next year, and City need to look at long-term replacements for the Algerian. On top of that, Guardiola doesn’t seem to rate Patrick Roberts highly, and the English winger could be transferred out this window. Roberts had loan spells with Celtic, Girona, Norwich, and, most recently, Middlesbrough. Now 23, a move away would be best for the player where he can establish himself at a club as opposed to spending another season out on loan or featuring as a fringe player for City.

Torres is by no means a finished product. In 44 appearances across all competitions, he has racked up 6 goals and provided 8 assists, which is a fairly average return for a player slated to become the next breakout star. However, his low goals and assist return rate could be due to the formation he is being deployed in. At Valencia, Torres often plays in a 4-4-2 system, where he is played as a wide midfielder, as opposed to a conventional winger.

Under Pep’s system, Torres could better use his pace, dribbling skills and creativity, as he is given much more freedom to cut inside. Sterling is an example of a clear benefactor of Pep’s system and Torres could follow suit. At the same time, given his experience at Valencia, he can assist and contribute from wide positions as well. It makes him a useful player to have because he offers the Manchester City options in-game. Comfortable with both feet, Torres might develop into a hybrid between Sterling and Bernardo Silva, having the pace of the former and the creativity of the latter. What he needs, however, is time to adapt to the playing style in England. With a relatively low transfer fee involved, there is less pressure on the player to produce immediate fireworks. However, because of the hype surrounding the player, many will monitor his development, and Torres would be expected to develop into a quality player.

Let me end off with this point; the transfer fee surrounding the player. 23 million euros is slightly lesser than the wingers market value. It raises questions on why the fee was so low. Granted, Torres was entering into the final year of his contract and Valencia may have been desperate to cash in. It doesn’t explain why he was bought for a fee lower than his market value. As I mentioned earlier, missing out on Champions League football and disruptions caused by the global pandemic meant that Valencia needed funds. I raise this point because it supports the notion that we might see an overall reduction in transfer fees for players. Many clubs need to recoup their losses and might be less inclined to hold out for higher fees because of the urgent need for cash. We saw this with Werner moving for only 48 million pounds. It is concerning because the pandemic might usher in a greater imbalance in leagues, with richer clubs exploiting cash strapped sides and buying their star players for significantly lesser fees than their market value.

Image by jorono from Pixabay

On Leroy Sané’s Move to Bayern Munich

Super Bayern 2.0

A long-rumored and long-teased transfer has finally been made official. Leroy Sané, after three very solid years of lighting up the Premier League, with a fourth basically ended through injury, has returned to his native country to sign with Bayern Munich. Due to his contract winding down at Manchester City, Sané’s move to Bavaria was for a cut rate fee of about €50 million (£54.8 million). What does this move mean for Bayern? For City? For Sané? Let us take a look at everything related to this blockbuster transfer.

As you can tell by the subtitle of this piece, yes, this is a fantastic bit of business for Bayern Munich. Sure, they did not get him when they wanted, having initially enquired about this move last summer, but they finally got their man and for much cheaper than they initially thought they would have had to pay. Before his injury in the FA Community Shield, the discussed fee between the clubs was around €100 million, and Bayern have now got him for about half of that. Bayern are adding an incredible talent, a winger who is world class on his day, and a player that slots in perfectly into their team. Sané will play on the left for Bayern, as he did for City, taking the place that Kingsley Coman filled in the team. Since the departure of club legends Arjen Robben and Franck Ribéry, Bayern have looked for attacking players that are able to have the level of influence on a match that the famous “Robbery” pairing did. Serge Gnabry has really cemented himself on that right side, but the rotating fixtures of Coman, Ivan Perišić, and others on that left side has been a key missing link in the Bavarian attack. The Bayern front four of Sané, Thomas Müller, Gnabry, and Robert Lewandowski now becomes one of the best in European football, cementing Bayern’s place as a Champions League contender for next season (Sané is not eligible to feature for Bayern in the resumed Champions League next month). Bayern also made this move on the relative cheap, meaning that if they are able to sell some players, they can still sign players in other positions. A €50 million move puts a significantly lesser strain on the Bayern books than a €100 million move, and that added financial breathing room allows them to continue upgrading the team and move better should some formerly key players, such as David Alaba or Thiago Alcântara, leave the club. This is undoubtedly a winning move for Bayern, and one that will launch them into the levels of Europe’s elite teams once again. They were dominant in the early 2010s, contending for the Champions League nearly every season, and this move will seemingly bring them to near that same level.

For Man City, this move is unfortunate, especially for how little he went for, but it is not the end of the world. It was no secret that, for some reason, Sané had fallen out of favor with manager Pep Guardiola. The German was always immensely talented and was exceptional when he did play for City, but near the end of his time in Manchester, he found himself riding the bench more often than not. He was living life as an attacking super sub instead of being a regular starting player. Guardiola preferred a set up utilizing Raheem Sterling and Bernardo Silva as his wingers, and the arrival of Riyad Mahrez and emergence of Phil Foden demonstrated that there were several other players ahead of Sané in Pep’s mind. This likely motivated Sané’s desire to leave City, refusing to sign a new contract and outwardly pushing for the move to Bayern. Sané was not going to heavily feature for this City side, so it is in Pep’s best interest to allow an unsettled player to leave the club. This move opens up some financial flexibility to allow City to make the upgrades they need to challenge Liverpool for the title next season. City’s attack, even without Sané, is still among the best in the league and the continent, but their defense was exposed several times this season, especially after Aymeric Laporte was injured. City could use the extra money to bring in an upgrade a center back over John Stones or Nicolás Otamendi, or possibly an upgrade at left back over Benjamin Mendy and Oleksandr Zinchenko. Obviously, City’s wealthy owners do not need the money, but with many more eyes on them following their FFP violations, they would be wise to abide by UEFA’s financial regulations. Bringing in money from a player sale is important in balancing the books and their ability to make a big name signing when the transfer window opens. Football-wise, this move opens the door a little bit wider for Phil Foden, who has shone in his chances with the first team since the league season resumed. Foden was always immensely talented when he emerged from the City Academy, with Guardiola calling him one of the best young talents he has ever seen, but he has lacked any chances in the ultra-talented City first team. Debates have raged over whether he should leave the Etihad for first team opportunities, and while that debate might still be valid, it is undoubted that Sané’s departure, along with the imminent departure of David Silva, has opened the door for the young Englishman to earn opportunities to feature with the first team. Foden could become a future superstar shining in the role in which Sané once played, and he did not cost City a penny. Yes, Sané is still a world-class footballer, and his departure is still unfortunate for City. They will also rue their inability to get more than €50 million for the talented winger, possibly having gotten more had he not gotten injured in the Community Shield, but his departure is ultimately not a massive loss for City or for Guardiola’s vision for the team.

So what does this all mean for Sané? Well, football-wise, he leaves a team where he possibly felt under-appreciated and like a bit-part player and goes to a team where he is the main guy, or among the two or three main guys. Sané will be a star player in Bavaria, playing every week and being among the biggest names in the team. He will be working with Hansi Flick, a man whom he worked with in the German National Team set up. Fit-wise, he is returning to his native country and to a league he is very familiar with. Adaptation to England never seemed to be an issue, but this return to familiar pastures may be even more beneficial for the player.

Is the fit in the team perfect? Well, sort of. Adding a world-class talent like Sané is clearly not going to make Bayern worse, and replacing Coman with Sané in that front four does make the Bavarians a much more imposing attacking team, but the one question I have is about the potential relationship between Sané and left back Alphonso Davies. Coman and Perišić, as right-footed left wingers, have the natural tendency to cut inside on their stronger foot, which allows Davies to overlap into the wide areas and cross the ball into the box. Davies also built a good understanding with the wingers, especially Coman, to know when to stay wide and overlap and when to cut inside or attack the channels on forward runs. Comparatively, Sané is a left-footed left winger, and while he is adept at moving wide and inside, his movement will lead to him wanting to end up on his preferred left foot. While this seems to be a minor detail, this can lead to a much different dynamic between Sané and Davies, and it is possible that the same wide overlapping space that was available for Davies this season will not be there for him next season. With Davies being billed as among the best attacking left backs in the world at the minute, it is in Bayern’s best interest to get the most out of his incredible technical and physical abilities. Sané and Davies will need to build a strong relationship and understanding on the pitch for Bayern to get the most out of the talent at their disposal. I do not doubt that Sané will be brilliant for Bayern, but this one seemingly small question could make the difference between Bayern becoming the best team in the world or missing out on another Champions League title.

Leroy Sané’s move to Bayern is a very big deal in European football. I have no doubts that it will elevate Bayern to another level as a team, and it will help City restructure their team for another title challenge. I have some questions about how Sané and Alphonso Davies will function in the same team, but if that minor issue is sorted out, the Bayern become an absolutely terrifying team. Sané will enjoy his time in Bavaria; he will be a success in Hansi Flick’s reformed Super Bayern.

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On the Arthur-Miralem Pjanić Swap Deal

And what it tells us about…well…a lot, really…

So a week or so ago, rumors started to come out around a very peculiar deal. Barcelona and Juventus were in discussions over a deal for Bosnian midfielder Miralem Pjanić, which is not necessarily old news. People had been covering Barcelona’s potential interest in Pjanić for a few weeks, if not a few months, now, but the terms of this arrangement were significantly more peculiar.

A few days ago, we got confirmation of those rumors. Two separate transfer deals were agreed, sending one Barcelona player to Turin and one Juventus player to Catalonia, almost like a faux swap deal. Pjanić would be making his way to the Catalan club for a €60 million + bonuses fee, while Barcelona midfielder Arthur Melo went the other way for a €72 million + bonuses fee. While they were two separate deals, the end result was the players swapped teams and Barcelona made €12 million. This deal seems very weird at face value, especially when looking at the fees for those players in a COVID-impacted market, but when digging deeper, the deal begins to make much more sense as long as you accept one reality:

The primary motivation behind this deal was financial, not sporting.

This motivation can be said for both teams, but very much so for Barcelona. Barcelona have been in a very serious financial strain for the last few years, but it was rapidly accelerated by the acquisition of Antoine Griezmann last summer. As a result, the club was put into a pinch to sell players and make that money back, and they have been actively trying to sell quite a few players in the team, mostly focusing on younger and fringe players. Samuel Umtiti, Jean-Clair Todibo, Ivan Rakitić, and Philippe Coutinho were among the names linked with moves away, and youngster Marc Cucurella recently made his loan to Getafe a permanent deal. However, there were no significant moves made, and they were in a pinch to make around €60-70 million in player sales before the end of the financial year on June 30th. Should that fundraising not happen, the Barcelona board of directors would be personally liable for a portion of the losses, in accordance to laws governing football clubs in Spain. I encourage you to read anything Sid Lowe has written on this for the Guardian or for ESPN to get the details, but long story short, Barcelona needed money and needed it quickly.

Along comes Juventus, a team that, if rumors are to be believed, are also not in the greatest of financial situations. The signing of Cristiano Ronaldo in 2018 was a landmark moment for the club, but it was also a very expensive moment for the club. Ronaldo made the move to Turin for around €117 million, and when adding on the €31 million net wage that the Portuguese forward commands, the move has put significant pressure on the Juventus finances. I, personally, would argue that the move for Cristiano made the Juventus team around him weaker due to the lack of money Juve could spend in the transfer market (apart from one large Dutch outlier), which led to the increased struggle for the Scudetto this season, but that is for another day. The point is that they needed to lighten the financial strain. The situation is not as dire as the one in Catalonia, but if Juve wanted to bring in players to upgrade their team and challenge for the Champions League title they brought Ronaldo in to win, they needed to balance the books, and there were a few outlier players on high wages that the Bianconeri looked at moving on. One of them was Miralem Pjanić, a midfielder who was among the best in Serie A for several years, but age and changes in manager and system seemed to take him past his prime. Despite his reduced role in the team, especially this season under manager Maurizio Sarri, Pjanić still has the fourth highest net wage of any player in the club, ahead of several crucial players such as Paulo Dybala, Wojciech Szczęsny, and Rodrigo Bentancur. He was a player the club wanted to part ways with, especially in their goal to find another midfielder to upgrade the Achilles’ heel of their team. Barcelona have had at least mild interest in Pjanić for a significant amount of time now, so when the deal evolved into the final “swap” deal, it was hard for Juve sporting director Fabio Paratici to say no.

So this is where we are at. Two clubs came together to give each other a little bit of help balancing the books. I am almost convinced that this deal could have been a number of different players and still would have gone through. Despite this, there is at least still some form of sporting impact and reasoning for this deal, especially on Juventus’ side. Barcelona have long searched for the “next Xavi” in midfield, and initially thought that person would be Arthur. The board seemed to have given up on that dream, opting for the more experienced Pjanić to try and fill that void instead. Juventus have been searching for ways to upgrade their midfield, easily the weakest area of their team, in order to counteract the growing title challenges from Inter and Lazio. Their attempts to sign Paul Pogba and Houssem Aouar have so far failed due to financial restrictions, but the move for Arthur allowed them to get a solid, young midfielder who could develop into a great player, with the added bonus of moving Pjanić out of the team.

But that is not really the point, now is it? It is clear that this was not for sporting reasons, especially for Barcelona. While it does make sporting sense for Juventus, it shows that they are starting to get a bit nervous and desperate. They know the move for Ronaldo was massive, and they need to at least get to a Champions League Final before he leaves, but they have steadily declined as a team overall since his arrival. They now have two genuine challengers for a title, with Inter looking like the most formidable over the next few years. Arthur could genuinely become a great player, and they got him for basically a paltry €12 million, but their desire to move on from Pjanić for very little concrete monetary value is a sign of panic regarding their wage bill and desire to scrape money from anywhere to build a team around Ronaldo.

For Barcelona, it seems to confirm what many already know: there just is not a plan. Barcelona’s leadership act on whims, panics, and guesses, especially in the last few years. Let’s look at how they handled Arthur, because it is a microcosm of a larger issue. Arthur arrived in Catalonia in 2018 riding sky-high expectations following his shining three seasons at Grêmio. The Barcelona board considered him the Xavi’s rightful heir, a player who they never really fully and effectively replaced when he left the club in 2015. Two years later, Arthur showed flashes of what he could be but could never consistently reach at or near that level, which, naturally, should be expected for a player who is still only 23 and having only played two seasons in Europe. The Barcelona board however, to cover up for their other litany of financially irresponsible decisions, decided that this was not good enough, and they considered him excess to requirement, which is patently absurd. If you are comparing him to Xavi, you would not say that Xavi really “arrived” on the scene as a world-class midfielder until 2008, when he was named in the FIFPro World XI. He was 28 years old. Setting that level of expectation on Arthur is insane, but again, this is just Barcelona’s board seemingly mortgaging future assets to save from personal financial trouble. Neither manager Quique Setién nor his teammates wanted Arthur to leave, but the board needed to dig themselves out of a hole. This hole was accelerated by the departure of Neymar, a player they viewed as the one to take the mantle from Messi when he left. The quite expensive acquisitions of Ousmane Dembélé, Philippe Coutinho, and Antoine Griezmann were quite knee-jerk reactions to Neymar’s departure, and, so far, none of those players have found really any success in a Barcelona shirt. They have been actively searching for clubs to sign Dembélé and Coutinho and, if the rumors are to be believed, might be trying to move on from Griezmann after just one season.

The Neymar saga was really just the tip of the iceberg, though. Just think about the laundry list of players Barcelona has signed since 2015, and there are a lot of them. How many would you say were actually successful signings? Dembélé was not fully successful but could still come good, but outside of him? Maybe Arturo Vidal? Clément Lenglet? Nélson Semedo? Samuel Umtiti had his moments, but is he really a success? This is me clutching at straw here, because there are way more players on this list who were not successes. Remember Kevin-Prince Boateng’s loan move? They took on his very high wages for him to score no goals in four games. Remember Malcom? I remember his dazzling goals for Bordeaux, but I will not lie, I genuinely had to google him because I forgot he had ended up at Zenit. Barcelona paid €41 million for him to play maybe a little more than a dozen games. They paid combined fees upwards of €75 million to sign Lucas Digne and André Gomes, only for them to make about 70 combined appearances and both end up at Everton. There are so many more names, so many more embarrassing moves that chipped away at Barcelona’s bottom line. This has left them with this deeply flawed team, led by a manager with seemingly no sense of an attacking plan outside of let Messi do everything. They have yet to find a replacement for Sergio Busquets and Gerard Piqué, who are both rapidly approaching the end of their careers. They went through an embarrassing hunt for a back-up striker to fill the void of the injured and still rapidly-slowing Luis Suárez, having to use loopholes in league rules to get around the transfer window rules and sign Martin Braithwaite because their cheapskate plan to sign Rodrigo did not work. Their obsessive, panicked pursuit of a Neymar replacement left them really having to rely on Messi and 17-year-old Ansu Fati to be the dynamic attacking players in the team.

The end result is that the Barcelona board have seemingly wasted away most of Lionel Messi’s prime. Yes, they won their fair share of La Liga titles over the last few years, but their main prize, one more Champions League for Messi, has eluded them. Since winning the trophy in 2015, they have only reached the semifinal stage once, that one time being their infamous meltdown at Anfield last season. After each failure, there is no measured discussion over how to improve the team overall or improve the system, it is just panic and buy, and the panic seems to continually get worse while the team gets more flawed. With Messi’s contract expiring at the end of the 2020-21 season, it is very possible that Leo decides to get away from the madness in pursuit of that one last Champions League triumph.

Yeah, we covered quite a bit here, didn’t we? A simple swap deal between two players tells us everything wrong with the current Barcelona management. Sid Lowe said this deal would be a failure regardless of outcome because of the reasoning behind it, and he is exactly right. Barcelona have learned nothing in the last five years, and this deal is just a signal of them continuing to try and get out of their mess by digging themselves deeper into it. Juventus could have gotten a steal in bringing in Arthur, but this was really motivated in trying to fix their broken wage structure. Two clubs trying to fix financial messes agreed to help each other out. Voila! One of the weirdest swap deals in football was born.

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“Ole Mismanaged Angel”: My thoughts on Angel Gomes leaving Manchester United

Alas, it has happened. In hindsight, it was bound to occur, but still, I kept faith that things would work out between both parties and he would eventually agree to a contract extension. I guess I was being naïve but it’s official. Manchester United have confirmed that Angel Gomes has parted ways with the club, ending his 14-year association with the Red Devils.

It is honestly such a shame. I still remember when Gomes made his debut for the club on May 21, 2017, in a match against Crystal Palace. He replaced Wayne Rooney in the 88th minute, and at 16 years and 253 days, he officially became the club’s youngest ever player since Duncan Edwards in 1953. The son of former Portuguese Under-21 player Gil Gomes and the godson of United cult hero Nani, there was a lot of hype about Gomes following his debut. He appeared destined for great things, and United fans eagerly awaited to see him in action for the club. Yet, that never happened.

While Jose gave him his debut, he hardly featured under the Portuguese after that. He only appeared once more, as an 88th-minute substitute for Marcus Rashford against Yeovil Town in the FA Cup. When Ole took charge, it was widely expected that more opportunities would be given to academy prospects, and, to a large extent, he did fulfill those expectations. Mason Greenwood and Brandon Williams have benefited immensely from regular first-team playing time. Players like Tahith Chong and Axel Tuanzebe seem to be in the long term plans of the Norwegian and have played a fair bit as well. The same can’t be said for Gomes.

In short, I think Ole has mismanaged the player. He offended Gomes by saying that he was “too small” to be playing in the Premier League. Standing at 1.61m (5’3″), Gomes certainly isn’t the tallest player you’d ever meet. However, he makes up for his short height with his pace, dribbling ability, and fantastic balance on the ball (no surprise given his lower centre of gravity). While Ole has demonstrated to his other academy peers that they would feature in his plans, he has done nothing to suggest the same for Gomes. The young attacking midfielder has only played six times (3 starts & 3 substitute appearances) this season. By contrast, Tahith Chong, whom I believe pales in comparison to Angel Gomes in technical ability and natural talent, has featured 11 times (4 starts & 7 substitute appearances) for the Red Devils. Gomes felt that it was time for him to leave and head somewhere he would be better appreciated.

However, Ole might be faced with another potential Paul Pogba situation. Back in the summer of 2012, Paul Pogba left Manchester United on a free transfer to Juventus after his contract expired. The Frenchman left Old Trafford after he believed that Ferguson didn’t trust in his abilities. Ferguson will forever be known as one of the best managers of all time, but he has his flaws. Letting Pogba go would be one his biggest mistakes and one that cost Manchester United dearly. Pogba went on to shine at Juventus. Realizing what they missed out on, the Red Devils paid the Italian giants £89.3 million to bring Pogba back to Old Trafford. With Chelsea reportedly interested in signing Gomes, Manchester United could see a repeat of one of their best talents playing brilliantly for another club, or worse, a rival one.

I felt the need to re-look at his time at United, and by doing so, I started to ask myself a few questions. These are questions that Ole needs to ask himself to prevent more instances of the “Pogba Situation.”

Even if Ole believed that Gomes wasn’t big enough to play in the Premier League, why was he never loaned out? Even during the past January transfer window, Gomes was denied the opportunity of a loan move to another Premier League side. The United hierarchy could have provided a loan opportunity subject to an agreement of a new contract. More importantly, why wasn’t Gomes loaned out when it became clear that he was not going to feature in Ole’s plans. A move would have helped the hot prospect demonstrate what he could offer United.

Furthermore, I can’t entirely agree with Ole that Gomes’s small stature would be a significant hindrance. Does size really matter? Personally, I don’t think so. The Manchester United squad has enough tall players, and some of the world’s best attacking players are of small stature. Besides Messi, Atlanta’s Papu Gomez, Argentina legend Diego Maradonna, and ex-Liverpool stalwart Samuel Peter Lee are just some players who come to mind. If he was given a better chance like his peers and if he was given some guidance, he would have certainly stayed at United.

Now, if Gomes joins Chelsea, you can be sure he is going to show United what they missed out on and potentially, come back to haunt the Red Devils. Don’t think Lampard won’t feature him as well. If it’s one thing that we’ve seen Lampard do, it’s that unlike previous Chelsea managers, he wants to offer more opportunities to young English players. Angel Gomes fits that bill.

To conclude, let me say this. Gomes could have developed into a proper first-team player for United had he been given the proper development. Even though United have signed Bruno Fernandes, who plays in a similar attacking midfield position, Gomes would have had chances galore in a season or two. Juan Mata would probably have retired by then, and Ole would have probably offloaded Jesse Lingard and Andreas Pereira. When these players do leave the club, I hope United don’t regret that they had someone like Gomes within their ranks that could have replaced them and instead splurge an enormous amount of money on a replacement. It’ll be a case of déjà vu for the club if that replacement happens to be Gomes himself.

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On the crossroads facing Arsenal and their young French midfielder, and why the right choice may not be the obvious one…

Mattéo Guendouzi arrived in North London as an unknown, rose to be a promising and exciting young prospect in an Arsenal team with several exciting young talents, but just as quickly as that all happened, he may be on his way out.

For those not caught up with the situation, I will fill you in. Guendouzi was more of a regular fixture in the Arsenal team under the management of Unai Emery, but upon arrival of Mikel Arteta in December, he has seen his role dwindle. Guendouzi has always been a bit of a hothead on the pitch, prone to episodes of frustration and anger that have never completely gotten out of hand, but have came close. The most famous prior example was his rugby tackle on Crystal Palace winger Wilfried Zaha in October, a foul equally born out of tactical necessity and sheer frustration at the situation Arsenal found themselves in. In Arsenal’s match against Brighton last Saturday, however, it seemed to elevate to a step worse than before. Following the Gunners’ frustrating 2-1 loss on the South Coast, Guendouzi was shown grabbing at the throat of Brighton forward Neal Maupay, leading to a scuffle between the two teams. This seemed to be the start and finish of the situation, but Maupay’s interesting post-match interview, seemingly targeted at Guendouzi, hinted at other issues throughout the match. It would come out later that Guendouzi was taunting the Brighton players throughout the match, insulting them and stating that he and his Arsenal teammates will earn more money than they ever will. According to some accounts, this is not the only time that the young Frenchman has engaged in this type of behavior.

Mikel Arteta has responded by dropping Guendouzi from the team. The Frenchman did not feature in the starting XI or on the bench in Arsenal’s league win over Southampton or FA Cup Quarterfinal win over Sheffield United. Arteta probably did this to send a message to the youngster, as well as his whole team, that the behavior Guendouzi displayed against Brighton is immature and unacceptable in his team, but instead of deescalating the situation, things took another turn. According to French outlet L’Équipe, Guendouzi has approached the Arsenal hierarchy and demanded to leave the club, stating that he feels his development as a player has stagnated since Arteta’s arrival. Arteta and the player held private discussions to “clear the air”, but the rumors seemingly have not subsided. In Arteta’s pre-match press conference before their FA Cup tie, he said he only wants players at the club who are fully on board, and anyone who is not is free to leave with his blessing. The fact that this could have been targeted at multiple players is not a great thing for Arsenal fans to think about, but it is likely that one of the main intended recipients of this message was Guendouzi. Arsenal next play on Wednesday, hosting bottom of the league Norwich City, so we will see if Guendouzi is brought back into the fold for that much, but for now, that is all of the developments.

Mattéo Guendouzi is quite an interesting figure. The kid is clearly talented, and he has shown this talent in brilliant flashes while wearing an Arsenal shirt, to the point where it earned him a call-up to the French national team. However, he has also been very inconsistent, at times being just a player who runs everywhere without actually contributing much to the team or, worse, getting into needless trouble with officials or other players. Inconsistency is not unusual for a young player. Development is rarely a straight line, so it is natural for a young player to experience bumps in the road and setbacks. The trouble comes in the environment he has been in. The insanity of Arsenal has probably taken its toll on his development, and Unai Emery did not do a good job at forming an environment and dressing room that is conducive to developing a young player suffering from maturity issues. In the right environment, Guendouzi will likely develop into a fine player and have a great career, but he is at a major crossroads now, with the wrong choice potentially derailing a possibly stunning career.

So what should Guendouzi do? Let us look at the options.

There are three clubs reportedly heavily interested in securing Guendouzi’s signature: Atlético Madrid, Inter Milan, and PSG. Let us weigh up the options, starting with PSG.

Guendouzi hails from Poissy, one of the outer suburbs of Paris, and he began his career with the capital club as a youth player. From age six, he played within the PSG youth system before being released, signing with Lorient in 2014. He has previously talked about the motivation that being released at PSG gave him, and he famously was on the Lorient side that beat PSG in the French u17 Cup Final in 2015. He made it in the Lorient first team before signing with Arsenal, and it appears that the Parisians want their former youth player back. For a player who says he wants to go to a club to continue his development, PSG seems to be the wrong move. There are definitely positives. A move back to his native country might be more comfortable, and the ability to work with and compete against true world-class talent on a regular basis would help Guendouzi grow in training and be mentored by quality senior players. However, there are still significant issues. The Parisians have a notedly poor recent history with developing their young talent, with Presnel Kimpembe being among the few PSG youth products to break into the first team in the last few years. Guendouzi knows this well, having been released by PSG during his youth career, so I question why he would want to return. He has also just seen two players from within or near his age group at PSG, Adil Aouchiche and Tanguy Kouassi, leave the club for developmental reasons. If he wants to develop as a young player, all of the signs seem to say PSG is the wrong choice. He would also start out fairly low in the pecking order for center midfield spots, behind Marco Verratti, Idrissa Gueye, Leandro Paredes, and Ander Herrera. At his age, being at or close to the first team should be the priority, and it is hard to see how he fits in competing with those four for two starting places.

A move to Atlético Madrid or Inter would pose similar issues. Unless some notable departures happen, both sides have set midfields. For Atléti, the trio of Koke, Saúl, and Thomas Partey seem immovable, and the emergence of Marcos Llorente would be another obstacle to the pitch for Guendouzi. At Inter, the trio of Christian Eriksen, Nicolò Barella, and Marcelo Brozović seem to be the set starters, and with the club actively courting Brescia wonderkid Sandro Tonali, very few spaces in the team are left. Inter does have one slight positive, in that outside of those main three, there are very few quality midfield options. Stefano Sensi was very solid prior to dealing with injuries, but Inter could definitely do better than Borja Valero, Roberto Gagliardini, and Mathias Vecino. There is an opportunity there for Guendouzi to be a trusted substitute or rotational piece, but if he is not happy with a similar role at Arsenal, then he will not be happy with the same in Italy.

There have been some reports linking Guendouzi with a move to Manchester United, which I do not completely buy. United’s needs lie elsewhere, and I do not imagine they would pay a high price for Guendouzi when they already have an excessive amount of midfielders. Nothing would surprise me with Ed Woodward’s transfer policy, however, and Guendouzi definitely is not the first Arsenal player with temper issues to move to a Premier League rival. I am more skeptical of the United link than the others and do not think it would be a good move for either party, but hey let us keep it in.

Now, all of these are just rumors, but if there is concrete contact between these clubs and Arsenal, and especially if there is concrete contact between these clubs and Guendouzi’s agent, then it shows evidence of something that I fear with young players. Guendouzi, either through poor advice or immaturity on his part, has decided to leave the most ideal current situation for him and is courting interest from clubs where his development will actually stagnate. Yes, Guendouzi should stay at Arsenal. It seems that the obvious choice is to hop off the sinking ship, but that would probably be the worst thing Guendouzi could do. Although he may not be featuring at the moment, he will likely find significantly more time in the first team next season, considering the questions that still surround the future of Granit Xhaka and Dani Ceballos in North London. At the end of the day, a player at Guendouzi’s stage of his career needs to play. It at least seems that Arsenal have reached a point of tranquility with Arteta as manager, and with a likely rebuild coming, Guendouzi has the chance to be one of the center pieces of this new look Arsenal team, rather than just be a forgettable extra at a bigger club. Arsenal will likely not sell, as they will probably not get that much in return in this COVID-impacted transfer market, but Guendouzi needs to realize that staying in North London is an opportunity, rather than a punishment. Arteta is a great man manager, and as a former Premier League veteran player in a position similar to Guendouzi, he is an ideal mentor for the young Frenchman. Ceballos will likely return to Spain at the end of the season, which allows Guendouzi to step into his preferred midfield position. Yes, Arsenal are not on the same level as those other three clubs, but to be honest, Guendouzi is not yet at that level either. He is not at the level or have the consistency as a player necessary to be a difference maker for a major Champions League side, and while Arsenal are definitely not in a good state, Guendouzi has more opportunities as a player, now working with a competent manager that can build him into a great professional.

This is a major turning point, and a major growing up moment, in Guendouzi’s career. In a team where many key players may have their minds set on moves elsewhere, it is easy for him to begin speculating about a move away from North London. However, there is a very harsh lesson to learn about the grass not always being greener on the other side, and while Arsenal may be on the verge of losing several players, Guendouzi cannot think of himself as one of them. His actions may have caused problems between himself and Arteta, but that relationship is not beyond repair, and there is still time for the youngster to realize that the best place for him to be is exactly where he already is. Guendouzi’s immaturity has cost him on the pitch before, but he cannot let it cost him off the pitch as well.

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On Timo Werner’s Move to Chelsea

Frank Lampard finally has his man…

Feature Image by Andreas H. from Pixabay

German striker Timo Werner was among the hottest commodities in Europe after an incredible season for RB Leipzig. Several teams were after the German’s signature, but it seemed he was destined to a move to Merseyside to join his countryman Jürgen Klopp at Liverpool. Well, that was, until Chelsea swooped in. Rumors emerged a week or so ago that Chelsea had activated Werner’s release clause, and after endless speculation, the deal was made official today. Werner will be joining the Blues at the end of this season for a fee in the region of €53 million (£47.6 million).

Looking at this move from the perspective of Werner, this is probably the right decision. This might be oversimplifying it a little bit, but it appeared his decision (should leaving Leipzig had been already decided) was between three teams: Liverpool, Bayern Munich, and Chelsea. Of those three teams, Chelsea may not have been the best choice when it comes to winning trophies immediately, but it is by far the best choice in terms of his playing time and ability to advance his career. All three teams play a formation that utilizes only one striker, but both Bayern and Liverpool have established first team players already in that role. Robert Lewandowski and Roberto Firmino are immovable fixtures of their respective teams, and should Werner have gone to either Bayern or Liverpool, it is not guaranteed that he would consistently play. At this stage in his career, regular playing time is key for his improvement from a player with world-class potential to a proper world-class footballer. At Chelsea, his primary competition is Tammy Abraham, who has not fully demonstrated the passing grade in his first season in the Premier League. Werner will be able to come into Chelsea and become the main man immediately, being the centerpiece of the Blues’ attack. He also comes into a team that is very good, with several creative players, including Mason Mount and the also newly-arriving Hakim Ziyech, to provide him service. Of the teams that were in the hunt for Werner, he chose the most ideal destination for himself.

For Chelsea, this is an absolute home-run, no brainer signing. Frank Lampard arrived at the club while they were under transfer embargo, he could not add to the team in January, and he faced the still difficult task of keeping Chelsea in the Champions League picture for next season with an inexperienced squad and without Eden Hazard. As of right now, it appears that he has accomplished everything that was asked of him, and the Chelsea board rewarded him with backing and investment, and quite smart investment at that. For around £50 million, they have signed a forward with world-class potential coming off of his best season as a professional. They now have a player with genuine superstar potential to build their team around for the coming years. Make no mistake, this is a statement of intent from Chelsea, they see a void in the top four that they can fill. In signing Werner and Ziyech, they have massively improved their attack and found the goalscorer they needed. On paper, at least, this greatly improves their team and is the exact signing that they needed.

For Leipzig, it is unfortunate to lose arguably the best player in your club’s (albeit short) history, especially for what is probably below his market value. However, £50 million is a very good amount of money to work with. With the incredibly talented Red Bull scouting system, it is very hard to imagine it taking a while for Leipzig to find a competent replacement for Werner. The best candidate may be within the Red Bull system, with Salzburg striker Patson Daka having starred for the Austrian side since the departure of Erling Håland. Losing Werner and his 26 league goals is still a massive deal, especially with him now not being available when the Champions League resumes, and his departure will possibly take Leipzig out of the title picture for the immediate future. They had a real chance to win a title this season, but that window has seemingly closed, for now at least.

So, are there no possible issues I see with this move? Well, not quite. Werner is obviously very talented, but I have questions about how he will fit in Chelsea’s system. For most of his career, especially since he arrived at Leipzig from Stuttgart in 2016, he played in a two striker formation. Whether it be in Ralph Hasenhüttl’s 4-2-2-2 or Julian Nagelsmann’s 3-5-2, he has always had a strike partner next to him. The chemistry he built with Yussuf Poulsen was a large reason for his rapid success in East Germany and, combined with the success he has had playing alongside Patrik Schick this season, it shows his comfort level when he has a larger target man striker to play off of. Playing for Germany, where he usually played as a lone striker or left winger, he was not able to demonstrate the same form he showed for Leipzig. This poses an interesting question when he is brought into Chelsea’s 4-2-3-1 system. Does he play as the lone striker? Does he play on the left with Abraham as the lone striker? Does he move more centrally to play alongside Abraham, with Mount and Ziyech moving around behind the two strikers to occupy the space on the wings? Werner has definitely grown rapidly as a forward since arriving in Leipzig, and his ability to read space, move without the ball, work in the build up play, and create chances shows he has come far from being the pacy, get-in-behind striker that he was when he left Stuttgart, but I am slightly concerned about his ability to be a lone striker. Finding a way to play him and Abraham together would be very interesting, and I think it would put Werner in a more comfortable situation while also improving Abraham, but it is down to how Lampard wants to use him.

Ultimately, this is a statement signing for Chelsea. Signing someone this good for under his probable normal market value is incredible business, and he has the physical and technical talents to succeed in West London. I have some questions about the fit and whether he is able to function as a lone striker, but I believe he has grown enough as a player to succeed in multiple ways in different positions in the attack. I think this is going to be a very successful signing for Chelsea, and it will act as the key cog in a Blues team that is aiming to challenge for titles once again.