As a part of The Hard Tackle’s ongoing series, we take a look at some of football’s most in-demand players this summer.
In this edition, we take a look at Napoli’s Gonzalo Higuain, Olympique Lyonnais’ Alexandre Lacazette, Philippe Coutinho of Liverpool and Leicester City’s N’golo Kante. They are all players that have enjoyed superb individual seasons which had led to them becoming some of Europe’s most wanted players. These players are bring targetted by the likes of Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal, Real Madrid, Barcelona, and PSG. Clubs that that looking to defend their titles, win back lost trophies, keep challenging for trophies amongst Europe’s elite or in the case of Chelsea, win back lost glory.
#17: Alexandre Lacazette
Current Club : Olympique Lyonnais
Suitor(s) : Arsenal FC
Expected Transfer Fee : £34 million
The Frenchman enjoyed yet another superb individual campaign with Olympique Lyonnais, as he notched up 23 goals in 44 outings for Les Gones and helped them to a second placed finish in Ligue 1. That figure comes in a season marred with a back injury and a change in regime in the middle of it. Were it not for these reasons, Lacazette would have probably bettered his 2014/15 season’s tally of 31 goals in 40 appearances. Post his breakout season, in the summer of 2015 the 25-year-old was a target for both Manchester United and Arsenal, but ruled out a move to either, instead signing a contract extension which would see him stay at the Stade des Lumières until 2019.
His inability to match up to last season’s goal tally hasn’t affected the number of his potential suitors though. Paris Saint-Germain were reported to be interested in Lacazette as they look to replace Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who left to Manchester United. The Red Devils’ rivals Arsenal, reportedly opened talks with him over a possible summer move, given compatriot Olivier Giroud’s inconsistency and Danny Welbeck’s injury concerns.
Spanish giants Barcelona and Atletico Madrid were also on the lookout for a top class striker to add some depth to their ranks. Arsenal’s cross town rivals West Ham United emerged as a shock contenders for French international after reports emerged of them making a massive £31 million bid earlier this year. After being rejected the first time, the Hammers reportedly tried their luck again by making a huge £40 million pound offer.
A deadly finisher, Lacazette is blessed with pace and great technical ability. His movement in the box is top class and he isn’t afraid to have a shot at goal from distance, which makes him an even greater threat. At 5’9 he isn’t the tallest strikers around, but he’s a formidable physical presence in the box nonetheless and can be played upfront or be deployed as second striker. At only 25, he has his best years ahead of him and would be great signing for any club.
Arsenal have seemingly stepped up their interest in the 25-year-old and and reports emerged of them preparing a £34 million offer for the striker in an attempt to lure him to the Emirates Stadium. Lacazette would add a whole new attacking threat to and add some much needed flair to the Arsenal attack. The chance to join compatriot Arsene Wenger is a once in a lifetime opportunity and a French attacking lineup of Olivier Giroud and Alexandre Lacazette is a prospect that the Gunners faithful would relish.
#20: Philippe Coutinho
Current Club : Liverpool FC
Suitor(s) : FC Barcelona
Expected Transfer Fee : £65 million
Since joining Liverpool Inter Milan for £8.5 million in Janaury 2013, Philippe Coutinho has gone from strength to strength and is now the best player Liverpool have. His impressive performances for them in the past two seasons have helped him establish himself as one of the best midfielders in Europe and one of the best players in the Premier League. His performances haven’t gone unnoticed by European superpowers and Barcelona and PSG were rumoured to be interested in acquiring his services.
The Catalan giants are looking to add more depth to their squad and provide able backup to the likes of Rakitic and Iniesta, and Coutinho was seen as a great long term option. The 24-year-old would take to Barcelona’s philosophy with ease and would also serve as the long term replacement for the 32-year-old Andres Iniesta.
French champions Paris Saint-Germain are looking to strengthen an ageing squad and reinforce their midfield for a new era under Unai Emery at the helm. Before going on to acquire Hatem Ben Arfa and Grzegorz Krychowiak, Le Parisiens had tabled a bid believed to be in the region of around £23 million for Coutinho, only to be rejected. Despite adding the aforementioned duo to a midfield already consisting of Thiago Motta, Javier Pastore, Angel Di Maria and Lucas Moura, Coutinho’s arrival would still add a significant amount of quality and competition to the squad.
The little Brazilian playmaker has scored 28 goals for Liverpool in 145 appearances over the course of three and a half seasons. His flair and his ability to score from range has left the Reds faithful on their feet on numerous occasions and has seen him become a fan favourite at Anfield. The Brazilian is fast, intelligent, has a superb eye for a pass and is good on the ball with both feet. His technical ability and understanding of the game would make him a perfect fit in almost any team. It is highly unlikely that Liverpool will let go of their star man as Jurgen Klopp looks to lead them back into Europe, but even if an offer around the region of £65 million were offered, it may prove to be too good to resist.
#5: N’Golo Kante
Current Club : Leicester City FC
Suitor(s) : Chelsea FC
Expected Transfer Fee : £20 million
One of the stars of Leicester City’s title winning campaign, N’golo Kante was arguably their most influential player along with Jamie Vardy and Riyadh Mahrez. The French midfielder’s tireless running and fantastic work ethic has won him many fans and admirers over the course of the season, much like the rest of Leicester City. Some of his keen admirers include the very best of Europe’s top clubs including the likes of Real Madrid, Arsenal and Juventus. The 25-year-old midfielder has a release clause around the region of £20 million, which is a bargain for a player of his quality and a fee any top club in Europe can easily afford and as a boost for his suitors, he reportedly rejected a new contract from the Foxes.
Juventus were reported to have met Kante’s representatives to discuss a possible move. The Biaconeri may need to replace Paul Pogba this summer, given the interest surrounding their star player and his compatriot Kante may prove to be the perfect replacement. Even if Pogba were to stay at Juventus for another year, Kante would still be a valuable addition to the first team, given that Italian enforcer Claudio Marchisio is expected to spend a lot of time on the sidelines after rupturing his cruciate ligament. With his ability to contribute in attack and act a defensive shield across the midfield, Kante would be a more than able replacement for the 30-year-old midfielder.
Liverpool and Manchester United are also rumoured to be in contention for Kante’s signature. Klopp did a wonderful job with a squad he inherited from Brendan Rodgers, leading them to the UEFA Europa League final and the Capital One Cup final, only to lose out to Sevilla and Manchester City. But to take his team to the next level and shape them in his image, he knows he will need to make new signings and had identified N’golo Kante as a target. Kante’s tremendous stamina and pace allows him to exert his influence all over midfield, often all over the pitch. Jurgen Klopp’s Gegenpressing system requires players to push higher up the field and needs the players to close down on the opposition players by putting pressure on them. Kante’s energy, pace and stamina makes him a perfect candidate for Jurgen Klopp’s midfield.
Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho has identified the Leicester City enforcer as the next Claude Makelele. Makelele, with Mourinho, would go on to win everything England had to offer and become a Chelsea hero in the process. Kante might very well be able to enjoy the same kind of success and be a part of a new era at Old Trafford with the ‘Special One’. He would bring a whole new dimension to the United midfield and play the same kind of role that Makelele played for Chelsea in Mourinho’s first spell and Matic in his second. With Schweinsteiger not the player he once was and the Fellaini not likely to feature too often, the Frenchman might take over at the heart of United’s midfield and hold on to it for years to come.
European Champions Real Madrid were also reported to be interested in the Frenchman. This interest stems from the need for competition and a possible replacement for Casemiro, who is their only recognised defensive midfielder. At £20 million, Kante would hardly make a dent on Real Madrid’s accounts and would not affect their pursuit of compatriot Paul Pogba as well. Arsenal were also linked with a move for the striker, but it is unlikely the Frenchman will move to the Gunners, given the number of players available for him in that position. Jack Wilshere, Francos Coquelin, Mohamed Elneny are available and most recently, Granit Xhaka has been added to their midfield. The departure of Flamini, Rosicky and Arteta does make a fair amount of room within the squad and Kante would prove a significant upgrade to the likes of Elneny, Wilshere and Coquelin, but with a player such as Xhaka in his ‘arsenal’, it is improbable that Wenger would want to spend £20 million on another midfielder.
Deposed Premier League champions Chelsea are also one of Kante’s many admirers. They flaws in their team were exposed for all to see, and take advantage of. Matic just isn’t the player they brought from Benfica 2 years ago, Mikel will most likely leave and Ramires has already left. Chelsea desperately need to reinforce their ailing midfield and add some much needed spark to it. Technical, tireless and tenacious, Kante is exactly what Antonio Conte needs to bring his Chelsea midfield back to life.
At £20 million, he is well within Chelsea’s budget and would have no competition for a place in the team, if Matic and Mikel’s form from last season is anything to go by. Rumours earlier had suggested that Kante would join Antonio Conte’s Chelsea revolution post the European Championships, but it is yet to be seen if that comes to fruition. It is clear that Chelsea need him the most out of any of the aforementioned clubs and the Blues would do well to step up their interest for him, if they wish to avoid last season’s mistakes in the future.
#8: Gonzalo Higuain
Current Club : S.S.C Napoli
Suitor(s) : Chelsea FC
Expected Transfer Fee: £65 million
Gonzalo Higuain has had a stellar season with the Partenopei. The Argentine racked up and astounding 36 goals in the Serie A, finishing only 4 goals behind Luis Suarez’s tally for 40 La Liga goals and 2 behind Ibrahimovic’s 38 goals, making him the third highest league goal scorer in Europe’s top leagues, ahead of Ronaldo, Lewandowski, Messi and Neymar.
After 91 goals in 146 appearances for Napoli, it goes without saying that Higuain has more than justified his mammoth €40 million transfer fee paid to Real Madrid in 2013. Since moving to Naples, he has gone on to become one of the best strikers on the planet and has constantly attracted attention from Europe’s elite clubs. Recently it was reported that the 28-year-old refused to sign a contract extension which would see him extend his current contract, which only runs until 2018. Higuain has a number of potential suitors to pick from, with top teams from Spain, England and France all rumoured to be interested.
Manchester United and Liverpool were also rumoured to be interested in acquiring the Argentine maverick. Manchester United are set to usher in a new era with Jose Mourinho at the helm, and given their striking woes last season, a world class striker was high on their list of summer priorities and reports emerged of them willing to part with £62 million to bring Higuain to Old Trafford. But since then, Mourinho has managed to bring Zlatan Ibrahimovic with him to England and with Wayne Rooney, Anthony Martial and a young and exciting Marcus Rashford in their ranks, it is unlikely United will look to spend an exorbitant amount on acquiring another world class striker, irrespective of the fact that they could very well afford it.
Liverpool aren’t short of options up front, with Daniel Sturridge, Danny Ings, Divock Origi and Christian Benteke. But Gonzalo Higuain is easily better than all of them on their best days and would comfortably demand a place in the first team. Christian Benteke had a disappointing season with the Reds and given Sturridge and Ings’ injury woes, a top quality marksman is something that Liverpool desperately need. The only hindrance would be meeting Napoli’s asking price. Higuain has a release clause in the region of €94 million. Though clubs aren’t expected to meet that exact figure, Napoli will likely hold out for €75(£63) million, which is still a figure Liverpool may not be able to afford.
Other clubs to be linked with a move for Higuain are French Champions Paris Saint-Germain and Champions League finalists Atletico Madrid. It was reported a few days ago that Cavani had rejected a contract extension from PSG, so it remains to be seen whether Unai Emery would want to bring Higuain to the Parc de Prince to replace the Uruguayan. Atletico Madrid, like PSG, have only one top class striker in their ranks. Torres is past his best and will likely play second fiddle to Antoine Greizmann. As mentioned earlier, Atletico wanted Costa to come back but if Chelsea refused to sell, they may shift their attention to Higuain. The lack of a top quality striker isn’t a problem that Los Rojiblancos have had to face in a while, with Aguero, Diego Forlan, Falcao, Costa and Greizman always present in their ranks. But Diego Simeone knows that he needs a world class forward if he is to continue challenging the Real Madrid-Barcelona stronghold on a regular basis, and with this in mind they just may be willing to splash the cash on his compatriot.
Amidst the uncertainty surrounding Diego Costa’s future, Chelsea were rumoured to be considering a move for Higuain. Atletico Madrid are interested in taking their former striker back, with their president Enrique Cerezo claiming that the striker wished for a return to the Vicente Calderon. Recent reports even claimed that Costa informed the Chelsea management of his desire to leave and Atletico had opened talks for the Spanish international. In the wake of this predicament, Chelsea were reported to be interested in signing Higuain, should Costa leave. With Pato and Falcao already gone and Remy set to follow suit, Chelsea only have young Bertrand Traore and Michy Batshuayi in their ranks apart from the unsettled Costa. With Conte widely expected to use his now trademark 3-5-2 formation, the presence of top quality strikers within the ranks is absolutely necessary and with Chelsea reportedly closing in on Morata, Higuain would be a welcome addition to Conte’s attack and he is exactly what they need to become the fearsome European force that they one were.
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