With the transfer window in full swing, The Hard Tackle takes a look at five of the most highly sought-after defenders in Europe this summer.
The months of June and July are arguably the quietest, most boring months for football fans as they wait with bated breaths for the next season to begin in Europe. Having said that, the two months are also the most crucial in terms of shaping their club’s squad for the forthcoming season.
This is the period when the bulk of the transfer activities take place as managers attempt to bring their target men on board as early as possible to help them gel better. Nevertheless, there are deals that take a bit longer for reasons more than one, leading to a frenetic August that ends with the fabled Deadline Day.
As we get set to enter the final month of the summer transfer window, The Hard Tackle takes a look at five defenders that are attracting interest from a whole host of prominent clubs across Europe.
Current Club: Athletic Bilbao
Suitor(s): Manchester City, Barcelona, Real Madrid
Expected Transfer Fee: £52 million (Release Clause)
Most Likely Destination: Barcelona
A player who has been linked with a move for more than two years now, Aymeric Laporte is certainly one of the hottest properties in the world today. And at a time when top class centre-backs are hard to find, it is not surprising to see why.
The 23-year-old raised a few eyebrows when he joined Bilbao’s fabled academy in 2010 even though his great-grandparents are Basque. Since then though, the player hasn’t looked back, going from strength to strength at San Mames to be widely regarded as one of the finest defenders in the world.
Having been such a solid customer at the back for a few years now, Laporte has attracted interest from some of the biggest clubs in Europe. Among these, Manchester City, Barcelona and Real Madrid are three suitors that have been hot in his pursuit before the onset of the last three seasons.
His ability on the ball and composure are attributes that are the basic necessities for a playing style employed by Barcelona and Manchester City. Moreover, Laporte’s abilities on the ball, in addition to a successful past with Valverde, make him a perfect fit at the Catalan club.
With compatriot Samuel Umtiti 23 as well, the French duo could well form a long-term partnership at the heart of defence for both club and country. Laporte’s release clause stands at £52 million and none of the clubs should have any qualms shelling out the figure.
Virgil Van Dijk
Current Club: Southampton
Suitor(s): Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester City
Expected Transfer Fee: £60 million
Most Likely Destination: Liverpool
Virgil van Dijk is perhaps the most highly sought-after player in the British Isles at the present moment, and judging by just how influential he has been for Southampton it is quite understandable.
The Dutch defender arrived at St. Mary’s from Celtic in the summer of 2015 and took no time to fill the huge void that had been left by the departure of Toby Alderweireld. In fact, his impact has been so telling that van Dijk was announced as the club captain after Jose Fonte joined West Ham in January.
The 25-year-old, though, could be the next Southampton captain to depart from St. Mary’s, but not after being the protagonist of one of the murkiest transfer sagas in recent memory. The player has attracted from the likes of Chelsea and Manchester City, but Liverpool have been leading the race to sign him for a long time now.
And it is the Merseyside club’s interest in van Dijk that has contributed to the bulk of controversies thus far. The Reds were accused of tapping up the Dutchman without Southampton’s permission and after receiving a warning from the Premier League, they were forced to issue a public apology.
Liverpool had also ended their interest in van Dijk following the aforementioned incident, but are now back in the market for him after Southampton boss Mauricio Pellegrino announced that the player has handed a transfer request and is training alone.
Liverpool are now confident that they can secure the services of van Dijk – they will have to break their transfer record for the second time this summer in order to do so, Southampton intend to stay firm to keep hold of the player beyond the summer despite sending him into exile.
We have not heard the end of this transfer saga yet, and it continues to take more interesting turns by the day. Now it remains to be seen if van Dijk indeed becomes the latest player to move from Southampton to Liverpool.
Current Club: Celtic
Suitor(s): Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool
Expected Transfer Fee: £15 million
Most Likely Destination: Manchester United
From one of the hottest properties in the British Isles to one of the most exciting young talents, Tierney is a player who is full of promise and is rightly attracting interest from the biggest Premier League clubs.
The 20-year-old has been with Celtic ever since his footballing education began, and has enjoyed two highly impressive seasons with the Bhoys. And under Brendan Rodgers, Tierney’s evolution has been quite dramatic as he now contributes heavily to his team’s cause by providing a menacing presence in attack.
Needless to say, clubs have sat up and taken notice of his undoubted talents, and four of the biggest outfits in England are now after him. Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool have their own respective problems to deal with on the left side of defence and are, thus, targeting the youngster.
Manchester United, though, are the most likely destination for Tierney, with the player likely to secure more regular game time at Old Trafford. The Red Devils have shown the most keen interest in him as well, and should have no problem forking out £15 million for his services.
But, Brendan Rodgers is also likely to be desperate to hold on to Tierney as he strives to make Celtic a force to be reckoned with in Europe. The lure of playing for Manchester United on the hallowed grounds of Old Trafford may just be too big to turn down though.
Current Club: AS Roma
Suitor(s): Manchester United, Chelsea, Barcelona
Expected Transfer Fee: £35-45 million
Most Likely Destination: AS Roma
Yet another centre-back in the list – they seem to be quite in demand, don’t they? Talking about forces to be reckoned with, few have been as formidable as Kostas Manolas. The 26-year-old is regarded as one of the best centre-backs in Italy, having been a mainstay at the back for Roma in the last three seasons.
Needless to say, the Greek defender has been a hot property in the transfer market for a while now, with Roma fending off interest in him for more than a year now. This summer, Manchester United, Chelsea and Barcelona have been making their attempts at signing Manolas.
The continued interest from the two Premier League clubs comes as a bit of a surprise as they have already signed Victor Lindelof and Antonio Rudiger respectively this summer. Nevertheless, it looks like Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte are eager to add another centre-back.
Meanwhile, Barcelona’s concerns are more pressing, with practically nothing to choose for Ernesto Valverde beyond Gerard Pique and Samuel Umtiti. Meanwhile, Zenit St. Petersburg were also reported to be another suitor, and the Russian club looked set to sign him before the move broke down.
Manolas, though, seems to be staying put at Stadio Olimpico beyond this summer, with Roma eager to keep hold of the player having already sold Rudiger. And with no reported bids being tabled for him, the Greece international is likely to continue being a Roma player next season.
Current Club: Ajax
Suitor(s): Barcelona, Real Madrid
Expected Transfer Fee: £20-30 million
Most Likely Destination: Ajax
The final player in our list is another talented young defender who has set tongues wagging with his solid performances for Ajax. However, only a season after joining the Dutch giants, the Colombian centre-back could be on his way to pastures anew this summer.
Like many of his contemporaries, Sanchez, too, is known as much for his abilities on the ball as the ones off it. In fact, in his only campaign at the Johan Cruijff Arena, the player has shown remarkable qualities to succeed in a possession-based system.
Perhaps, the aforementioned is a big reason why Barcelona have expressed an interest in signing the youngster this summer. With defence being a huge concern for the Catalans last season, Ernesto Valverde will be keen to deal with the big chink in his side’s armour to reclaim the La Liga title.
And as Sanchez showed on several occasions last season, he can provide a lot of solidity at the back while playing balls out from his own half.
Although, Zinedine Zidane is likely to keep his faith in Jesus Vallejo this season after deciding to not send the Spaniard on another loan spell. Barcelona, too, have their sights firmly on Laporte as per latest reports, with Sanchez being the backup option.
Thus, it is likely that Sanchez will continue his progress at Ajax unless another suitor emerges in the final month of the summer transfer window.