Operation Departures: Paratici’s Dilemma

After securing the signing of Matthijs de Ligt, many lauded Juventus’ mercato and showered their sporting director, Fabio Paratici, with praise. After all, they had just signed one of Europe’s elite young defenders, fighting off Barcelona and a host of other clubs in the process.

However, in recent weeks, in an effort to balance the books, Juventus have looked to offload their high-prized assets on the cheap. First, Moise Kean left for Everton with no buy-back clause inserted in the deal. Then, Joao Cancelo was off to Manchester City for 30 million euros and Danilo, after just a season in Turin. Now, the bianconeri’s top brass are actively listening to offers for their jewel, Paulo Dybala. 

With Financial Fair Play restrictions in place, clubs, at the very least, must show they are spending as much as they’re making; generally speaking. Following the signature of Cristiano Ronaldo and de Ligt, sales were always going to be necessary.

Factor in that Juventus haven’t progressed deep into the Champions League since making the final in 2017 missing out on crucial revenue, it’s clear players were going to be sold. Let’s not forget, the Turin-based giants also reported a significant financial operating loss in their last fiscal year. Fabio Paratici is the man largely responsible with dealing with this, largely through high-profile sales. 

While, in an ideal world, Paratici would find buyers for Gonzalo Higuain, Mario Mandzukic, Sami Khedira and Blaise Matuidi among others, reality is a different beast altogether. Currently, all of these players are on the wrong side of 30 and are on massive wages in comparison to their output.

Many of them have got a host of offers, but have regularly refused to leave the club. And why should they? Most, if not all, of the offers received for the bianconeri’s wantaways include lower salaries at less prestigious clubs. This has forced Paratici’s hand in his first mercato at the helm and has dictated which players he can and cannot sell. Simply put, there’s a bigger buying market for Dybala than there is for Higuain, for example.

Juventus boss Maurizio Sarri recently alluded to this in a press conference.

As I said before, I can talk to Dybala all I like, but the market goes in a certain direction and my opinion counts for zero. We have to cut six players, that’s all there is to it,” said the former Napoli boss, as reported by Football Italia.

When thinking about Sarriball, you would expect Dybala to be one of the first names of the team-sheet. After a season in Massimiliano Allegri’s rigid setup, the Argentine could explode in a false-nine role. In Sarri’s first press conference at the club, the veteran tactician mentioned La Joya alongside Douglas Costa and Cristiano Ronaldo as players he was hoping to count on.

If Juventus are forced to sell Dybala this summer to balance the books, they will undoubtedly regret their decisions to hand Mandzukic and Khedira extensions while failing to definitively offload Higuain. Quite frankly, neither of these three players fit into Sarri’s tactics as well as Dybala does.

Sarri elaborated on this situation further and lashed out against Juventus’ current state.

It puts me in a difficult position. The last 20 days of the market will be difficult for us, it’s an embarrassing situation, because we risk having to leave out players of a very high level,” said Sarri.

It has also affected his pre-season preparation. Given the uncertainty surrounding the transfer window, Sarri has largely rotated between Higuain, Mandzukic and Dybala. Rather than sticking with one preferred front-line and implementing his mechanisms with them, Sarri has been forced to adapt. As a result, it may be long before we see Sarriball fully introduced in Turin.

With just over two weeks left to the mercato, it will be interesting to see who Juventus decide to move. Reports suggest Higuain will join Roma while Mandzukic favours a Bundesliga move. However, as we’ve seen, there are no guarantees and we can just as easily see, fan favourite, Dybala on his way out. Whether you like it or not, buckle your seat-belts Juventus fans, you’re in for a bumpy end to the summer transfer window.

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Why does it feel like Pep Guardiola still doesn’t trust Leroy Sane?

He is considered one of the best young wide attackers in the European game. Indeed, Leroy Sane has become a star during his time at Manchester City, winning back-to-back Premier League titles and a domestic Treble last season. The German has more justified his place at the Etihad Stadium.

And yet there is still a lingering sense that Sane is not fully trusted by Pep Guardiola. There have been suspicions of friction between the pair and this had led to suggestions that the German international could leave Man City this summer as he seeks a club where he will be guaranteed of a starting spot.

Bayern Munich have been very open in their pursuit of the 23-year-old, with Niko Kovac publicly describing him as their “dream player.” Bavaria would be a good place for Sane to end up with the Bundesliga champions currently looking for wingers following the departure of Frank Ribery and Arjen Robben at the end of last season.

Guardiola insists that he wants to keep Sane. “I like him a lot, I think he has an incredible chance to be better, incredible in terms of being connected in the game,” he said. “I think I said two times or three times, we want to keep him. We want him to stay, that’s the reason why for more than one year he has an offer waiting to talk with his agent to extend the contract.

“It’s not in our hands or in my hands. He has to decide if he wants to stay and if our agreement is good. If he’s going to leave we will be sad, but what can we do? Hopefully he stays.”

This isn’t the first time that the Catalan coach has made the case for Sane to stay, but when it comes to the big games Guardiola often omits the German. There remains a feeling that the Man City boss doesn’t fully trust Sane and that could result in the 23-year-old leaving the Etihad Stadium sooner rather than later.

From the outside, such a stance makes little sense. Sane gives City a different dimension to the likes of Riyad Mahrez who prefers to cut inside and make things more compact in the centre of the pitch. Bernardo Silva had an excellent season last term, but he does the same. Sane surely deserves to be shown a little more faith.

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Man City might regret not making most of Leroy Sane’s talent

It is an illustration of Manchester City’s attacking depth that Leroy Sane has yet to nail down a starting spot. The German international is regarded as one of the best wide men in the European game right now, but when City have to pick their strongest side Sane is often left on the peripheries.

The 23-year-old was even exiled from the first team at the start of last season leading to suggestions that Pep Guardiola has an issue with Sane’s attitude. This was just weeks after he had been forced to watch from afar as Germany took part in the 2018 World Cup. Sane, of course, was not picked by Joachim Low for the squad.

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Indeed, there’s just something about Sane that leaves coaches unconvinced. He would be a starter for pretty much any other team in Europe, but at Man City Guardiola often turns to Raheem Sterling, Gabriel Jesus, Bernardo Silva and even Riyad Mahrez ahead of the German.

This has led to reports that Sane could leave the Etihad Stadium this summer, with Bayern Munich apparently leading the pursuit to sign the 23-year-old. The Bundesliga champions haven’t even been put off by the reported £90 million transfer fee City are demanding for the wide man. They see him as a future face of the club.

Sane would likely thrive at the Allianz Arena. Bayern Munich are going through a transition, particularly on the wings. Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben leaving the club at the end of last season. This means there would be a void for Sane to fill should he pitch up in Bavaria before the start of the season.

City could come to regret not making the most of Sane’s talent. Guardiola has swung back and forth on his public opinion of the German, like the time he underlined his quality on the wings while highlighting his unreadiness to play through the middle as a central attacker.

“He’s not ready to play in the middle now, you have to be so good to control the spaces,” Guardiola said at a point last season. “Maybe in the future. Sane is the best in the world playing out wide. I’d prefer to use him where he is strongest, he’s an incredible player. I’m not saying he can’t [play in middle] but at the moment we have better players to do that job.”

If Sane is truly the best wide player in the world in Guardiola’s mind then why is he so often left on the peripheries at Man City? The German would be harnessed at Bayern Munich. If that is an option that is open to him this summer he could be forgiven for finding it attractive.

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Is Leroy Sane’s time at Manchester City coming to an end?

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Manchester City forward Leroy Sane is the latest to be wanted by German champions Bayern Munich as they look to build on their championship winning squad. The 23-year-old has garnered interest with the Bavarians looking to replace the departing Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben. Continue reading

Pep Guardiola’s time at Manchester City will not be complete without Champions League win

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There has been much praise towards Manchester City after their fantastic league win which they converted into a domestic treble at the weekend. Pep Guardiola’s side won the Premier League, the Carabao Cup and the FA Cup when they destroyed Watford 6-0. That was the joint equal highest score in a cup final since Bury won in 1903 and it is the first time ever that a domestic treble has been won in England.

This is all good news but super rich City and super slick Guardiola are missing one big trophy in the cabinet and that is the Champions League.

Manchester City have never won the competition even in the old style format of the European Cup, the nearest they have been is the semi-finals. It is a trophy that Guardiola as a manager has won two times before and yet both of those were with Barcelona and he hasn’t had his hands around the famous silver trophy since 2011 when Barcelona made light work of Manchester United.

Eight years is a long time in football and despite Guardiola’s successes at both Bayern Munich and City that trophy has eluded him for almost a decade. Guardiola will not want to leave the club without winning it, doing so considering all of the money that he has spent would feel as if something was missing.

If we compared how Chelsea and City have progressed after their big money takeovers, then it is Chelsea who have achieved more in a shorter space of time. Five years after Roman Abramovich took over the club and ploughed millions into the team Chelsea reached a Champions League final and in all it took the club 9 years to win it. City’s takeover by the Abu Dhabi United Group commenced in 2008 and therefore the club have had a significant budget for 11 years and have not been able to reach the final of the Champions League.

Of course City are now stamping their authority on the Premier League just as their rivals Manchester United did for the past 20 years before, but football has become more than just winning your own league. Look at Barcelona, PSG and Juventus to see evident of that. Yes all happy teams and their achievements still fantastic but all are aiming for the bigger prize in their owners minds of Champions League glory. Guardiola recently admitted it himself, and it is clear that his legacy at City is going to be judged on it.

On this day: Remembering Chelsea’s Champions League triumph in 2012

It was the greatest night in the history of Chelsea Football Club. Not for the first time during their Champions League run in 2011/12, the odds were stacked against the west Londoners heading into the final on 19 May: not only did they have to face a formidable Bayern Munich team stacked full of world-class players, they had to do so at their opponents’ own stadium, the Allianz Arena. Yet the Blues once again dug deep and found a way to win, becoming the first team from London to claim the continent’s biggest prize.

Continue reading

Is there a role for James Rodriguez back at Real Madrid?

He was the star of the 2014 World Cup and the last true Galactico signing. Real Madrid have a habit of picking up the best player from any given major tournament. Take Mesut Ozil, for instance, who shone for Germany at the 2010 World Cup only to make a move to the Santiago Bernabeu that very same summer. Rodriguez was Real Madrid’s 100-pound marlin to show off for the cameras in 2014.

And yet the Colombian never quite settled into his new surroundings in the Spanish capital. He was far from a failure, scoring once every three appearances over three seasons for Real Madrid. James was a La Liga winner during his time there, also winning the Champions League twice. There was just something about the player that Zinedine Zidane didn’t take to, though.

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As we all know, James was shipped out to Bayern Munich on loan with the assumption that the Colombian would eventually make the move to Bavaria permanent. The two clubs had even negotiated a future purchase price of £35 million, which would surely be activated after the initial two-year loan deal.

Now, however, James’ future is up in the air. Niko Kovac is believed to be edging the Colombian back towards Real Madrid, with the Bayern Munich boss leaving the playmaker out of his team for the crunch clash with title rivals Borussia Dortmund two weeks ago. That was taken as a sign that Kovac no longer sees James as a part of his plans for the future.

So would there be a place at Real Madrid waiting for James? Previously, one of the issues for the Colombian at the Santiago Bernabeu was that he occupied one of the three places permitted for non-European Union players in La Liga. Zidane wanted to free up James’ spot for others.

James has recently gained Spanish citizenship, though, and so Real Madrid wouldn’t have to use one of their non-EU places to keep the Colombian international in their squad. It’s certainly true that Zidane needs renewed creativity across his attacking line and so James could come in handy in this regard.

But would James really displace Isco in the Real Madrid first team, though? With Eden Hazard and Paul Pogba widely expected to join the Spanish giants this summer, James would largely be a peripheral figure at the Santiago Bernabeu. A player of his ability should perhaps expect better for himself.

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Sleeping giant Bayern Munich are planning for dominance next season

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The season in Germany is of course not over but it has been an awkward one for the giants of the country Bayern Munich.

Usually dominant in the Bundesliga Bayern simply haven’t had it all their own way this season and have had to play second fiddle to Borussia Dortmund for most of it. True as they go into this weekend Bayern are on top, but that’s only on goal difference. Either Dortmund or Bayern will win the league this season and that looks like it will go right down to the wire.

Bayern’s Champions League exit at the hands of Liverpool underlined that the team needs refreshing. Stars such as Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben, loyal servants are too old and they will need to be moved on in the summer. Nico Kovac the young Croatian manager has been under intense pressure this season with even Arsene Wenger linked to the job. Truth is Kovac has inherited an aging team who at times haven’t always been hungry for success.

The good news for Bayern is that club President Uli Hoeness has promised that the club will spend big in the summer, and he’s not lying. Indeed Bayern have already splashed the cash with the confirmation of Lucas Hernandez for an incredible £68m. Hernandez will join from Atletico Madrid in July and be ready for next season.

It does appear that Hoeness who has been famous in the past for tightening  the clubs purse strings is putting his mouth where the money is and delivering on his promise and Bayern fans will be excited to hear what he had to say. Hoeness recently said: “If only you knew (the names) we have lined up for next season. We can’t make announcements right now. Everyone here would go mad and we still have goals to reach in the current campaign. We’ve saved. We’re well prepared for the summer. Our director of sport (Hasan Salihamidzic) has it all under control.”

Exciting times look to be around the corner for Bayern who have not won the Champions League since 2013, and since the rebranding took place in 1993 have only won the competition twice despite appearing in numerous finals. But also the current domestic season has not been good enough even if they win it, because just being able to win it is very un Bayern like. Think, for example, PSG winning Ligue 1 on the last day of the season.

Bayern mean business and it will be interesting if they will be able to attract the players they want. With Real Madrid reportedly having a huge spending package this summer it could turn into quite a transfer tussle between the two teams this summer- whoever is selling will benefit.

Will Arsene Wenger go out of football with a bang or a whimper?

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Arsene Wenger has been out of football management for nearly a year and there doesn’t seem to be any indication that the former Arsenal manager will be finding a new job in dugout anytime soon.

This seems like a sad state of affairs for the Frenchman who won countless trophies in his career, most famously of course for the Premier League side Arsenal. But is this how the script ends for Wenger or will he take one last management job?

Wenger has deserved his years break and has flown to Africa to support George Weah’s football projects, done some media work and this weekend he will present the Coupe de la Ligue trophy to either Strasbourg or Guingamp in Lille. This is all very well but surely there is a burning desire to get back into managing a team.

After all Wenger seemed all go for his next project six months ago, where he said that he would be back in management by the beginning of 2019- that came and went. There were also links to Bayern Munich, which hasn’t at present come off.

The fear is that with Wenger being 69 he will not manage again which seems unfortunate on a lot of levels. Not least because his time at Arsenal just faded from ultimate glory to a whimper, failing even to qualify for the Champions League, and whilst Wenger remains a successful manager it may just be that it is his final years with the Gunners that will be best remembered.

By taking the plunge to manage again he could reinvent himself and it would feel like a fresh move. By not his thoughts will be loyal to Arsenal which he served 22 years and it just could be his line of thinking. But it does feel as if there is unfinished business with Wenger- the problem is that he may not be able to see it.

In recent weeks Wenger has been linked with ‘upstairs’ technical roles at both UEFA and FIFA- again is this really what he wants? Taking such a job may sound prestigious and hands on but isn’t it just akin to putting a once great horse out to pastor?

Whilst Wenger is pushing 70 he is also a man who has kept good health and looks great for his age and mentally aware, that’s why it is also unfortunate if he is to spend his remaining days as technical advisor and not have one last crack in management, if he takes roles with UEFA and FIFA it will feel like a wasted opportunity.

Chelsea can sell Eden Hazard as long as they can keep Hudson-Odoi

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Forget about Eden Hazard, it is clear that the Belgian international does not want to play for Chelsea anymore and looks set to move to Real Madrid in the summer. Hazard not being a part of the Chelsea first team would have seemed crazy a year ago but time has moved on and Chelsea need to think with their front feet, the reason is down to Callum Hudson-Odoi who even at 18 looks like the real deal.

Hazard has been one of the best players in Europe in the last few seasons and will be a loss for Chelsea, but there is no point in the club trying to keep him. True as it stands Chelsea would ideally like to keep Hazard given that they have been handed a two window transfer ban by UEFA- although the club are appealing about that. But at the same time selling Hazard to Real Madrid will generate at least £100m if not more and the Blues have Hudson-Odoi who already looks like a superb talent.

Hudson-Odoi made his debut for England earlier in the week and looked like he had been playing international football for years. Yes it was against Montenegro, but it was away from home against a nation that have made life difficult for England in the past, and yes the youngster will be up against better quality in years to come. But it was his assurance on the ball and confidence that would have taken anyone back, and his future is a bright one in the game.

It is why Bayern Munich came calling, the German giants do not go after English talent so young If they do not spot someone special. At the time Hudson-Odoi was eager to join Bayern, and why not? How many young English players get the opportunities they deserve at the biggest Premier League clubs? But Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri has given Hudson-Odoi starts in both the league and Europa League and Hudson-Odoi might just start to see the bigger picture.

That bigger picture is that if Hazard does leave as expected the middle attacking role could be opened up to him and surely it is a position that he will relish. He could even at such a young age be the main attacking player for a club like Chelsea, the biggest fish in the pond so to speak, which should convince him to stay.

What is certain is that the initial £35m that Bayern had offered Chelsea for the player is chicken feed. His value will keep rising, especially if he has a good Euro’s and right now Chelsea are in the position to get the best years out of the player and cash in. The Blues will be hoping that Hudson-Odoi feels the same way and it will be up to Sarri to convince the player to stay and that he will have a very pivotal role in the clubs next few years.