There is no shame in admitting we have never seen these Premier League transfer targets play before. Not even a goal GIF from Dusan Vlahovic.
Arsenal and Tottenham have presumably done their due diligence yet there remains a subsect of kickbag enthusiasts who have managed to accidentally avoid even the ever-increasing number of Dusan Vlahovic goal clips. Missing the three he scored for Partizan Belgrade in 2016 is admittedly more excusable than failing to notice his seven in 14 international caps or the Serbian’s rumour-baiting 49 strikes in 107 Fiorentina games; it is becoming more difficult to unintentionally steer clear of the 21-year-old’s exploits.
For those of us with a Serie A blind spot, Vlahovic reportedly rejecting Arsenal shows little more than the ambition of a prolific young forward who realises his options should expand by the summer. There is no future in Florence beyond these next few months but Champions League participation is a prerequisite for a player whose record suggests he belongs on that stage. Those far more familiar with his stylings believe Manchester City or Real Madrid could provide more suitable homes and quite frankly Erling Haaland is but one robotic man so cannot join every superclub in the next transfer window. Vlahovic seems like a fitting runner-up prize.
It started with interest from Brighton in the summer, before developing into admiring glances from Manchester City, Chelsea, Atletico Madrid and Inter Milan. By October the perennially protracted takeover of Newcastle had been completed and a new competitor entered the fray. Of course, Chris Wood can only sate the appetite for so long; the theory of evolution by natural selection dictates that Darwin Nunez might soon usurp the forward.
Since joining Benfica for a Portuguese record fee of £21.8m in summer 2020, Nunez has scored three hat-tricks and all of his Champions League goals have come against either Barcelona or Bayern Munich, with Ajax waiting in the knockouts. The 22-year-old has no reason to approach that tie with caution as the current Primeira Liga Golden Boot race leader, one ahead of Liverpool target Luis Diaz despite Benfica sitting third, nine points behind Porto and having sacked Jorge Jesus in December. A move to Spain does seem more feasible but Newcastle have enough money to relocate Nunez’s young family and change the Tyneside climate if they so wish.
Christmas Day saw the gift of Manchester United’s fascination with Florian Wirtz come to light. The Sun reported that Ralf Rangnick had identified four German talents after expanding their scouting system in the country, with Luca Netz, Eric Martel and Armel Bella-Kotchap also on the Old Trafford radar. But it is Wirtz who appeals most, the 18-year-old already boasting 50 appearances and 11 goals in the Bundesliga, as well as Europa League experience and four international caps. For reference, only six players have played 50 Premier League games before turning 19, with that sextet reduced to just two – Wayne Rooney and Michael Owen – when it comes to senior country representation at the same age.
Simon Cziommer was a middling player over the past two decades, winning an Intertoto Cup before claiming a handful of honours in Austria. But his most substantial career achievement might yet arrive as a prescient pundit with his recent declaration that Wirtz “is going to be Germany’s best player ever”. Bayer Leverkusen extracted £71m from Chelsea for Kai Havertz so nine figures might be required to grease this particular transfer wheel, considering Wirtz has four years left on a contract he seems quite happy to keep.
Full disclosure: there is one clip of Benoit Badiashile everyone has seen. Some might have forgotten and others perhaps simply never realised the current Newcastle target was involved, but he incurred the wrath of Thierry Henry during the Frenchman’s ill-advised reign as Monaco head coach and director of football manners.
This Thierry Henry moment! 🤨😅
Two years to the day since he gave Benoit Badiashile the biggest glare you'll see 👀pic.twitter.com/g31CqtU59c
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) December 11, 2020
The pair have followed slightly different paths since. Henry is back with Belgium as assistant to Roberto Martinez, most recently starring as the Spaniard’s potential luggage if a return to Everton came to fruition. His spells with Monaco and Montreal Impact were failures, which begs the question as to why he has adopted such a restrictive criteria for his coaching roles; Montpellier, Montserrat, Mongolia, Montenegro and Montrose will presumably follow.
As for Badiashile, he has slowly established himself as a Ligue Un regular who has dipped his toe into a couple of European campaigns, while having the misfortune to be French at the precise time they are really quite ludicrously good. The centre-half has 40 caps at various youth levels – they call him the Principality James Milner – and he always tucks his chair in now.
Never mind not ever having seen Amine Gouiri, the most basic football Francophobe might struggle to remember hearing about him. There is an intrinsic Farmer’s League quality to an exciting 21-year-old prospect who has only played for Lyon and Nice. Gouiri made his professional debut as a second-half substitute for Tanguy Ndombele, which is how approximately 13% of all players have been given their first game. It took a few more years for the forward to truly explode, however, as 2020 beckoned a move to Nice and a realisation of his potential. After 12 goals and seven assists in 34 Ligue Un games last season, Gouiri has nine and six in 21 appearances so far this campaign.
Liverpool and Manchester City have unsurprisingly taken note of one of Nice’s many precocious gems. Khephren Thuram (20), Melvin Bard (21), Hichem Boudaoui (22), Justin Kluivert (22) and Dante are also thriving under Christophe Galtier, with Gouiri the undoubted crown jewel. Presumably. Still never seen him play.