Has Josko Gvardiol played himself out of Chelsea transfer range for Croatia at the World Cup?

Date published: Wednesday 7th December 2022 7:05 - Will Ford

Chelsea target Gvardiol

Josko Gvardiol has been brilliant at the World Cup, which is terrible for Chelsea, who are now in a transfer race they will surely lose for a player who could already be theirs.

It absolutely doesn’t work like this, but if Chelsea could say to Real Madrid ‘you can have Jude Bellingham if you promise not to bid for Josko Gvardiol’, that would be a deal worth making.

Reports before the World Cup suggested Borussia Dortmund wanted £130m for Bellingham, but that valuation will surely increase with excellent performances in Qatar. Well, bully for Dortmund.

With the exception of Barcelona – because they would have to sell tours around players’ houses or vials of frozen Lionel Messi sperm to afford Bellingham – all of the top clubs in the world have been linked, spuriously or otherwise, with the generational talent from Stourbridge.

Real Madrid, Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Bayern Munich and PSG are all said to be interested in a fool-proof midfielder that could be the heart of their team for the next 15 years. It will be a real coup for the winners of that particular battle, no matter the price.

It’s thought Chelsea are willing to go above and beyond Dortmund’s demands, but it’s the player rather than the vendor who will need persuading.

Bellingham has his pick of any of those top teams and will be in the process of ranking and whittling. Chelsea are unlikely to be looked upon favourably in any such process; they were way down Haaland’s list and have only slipped further since.

Given the state of flux at the club, with a relative unknown as manager in Graham Potter and a Premier League title about as far away as it’s seemed in the last two decades, Chelsea – who have been dining at the same transfer table as the football behemoths – now face the reality of feeding on their scraps. That’s a particularly harsh reality for a side crowned champions of Europe 18 months ago.

Unfortunately for Chelsea, Real Madrid are also thought to be keen on Gvardiol, who’s been arguably the most generational of generational talents to catch the eye in Qatar, in what’s shaping up to be another transfer race Chelsea will surely lose. But it could have been so easily avoided.

The Croatian could have been a Chelsea player at this World Cup. Todd Boehly need not be experiencing what is presumably a markedly heightened feeling of nausea to that being endured by Chelsea fans right now, as a player who came very close to an £80m move to Stamford Bridge on deadline day picks up admirers with every well-timed challenge or drop of the shoulder and dribble in the desert.

Gvardiol signed a new long-term deal with RB Leipzig when Chelsea failed in their summer approach, but that’s done little to quell transfer speculation, working mainly to increase his value.

Chelsea target Josko Gvardiol smiles

Asked about interest from Chelsea while on duty with Croatia, Gvardiol said: “[Chelsea are] a big club of course and, who knows, maybe one day I will be there. It’s really nice to see things like this, especially because there is [Mateo] Kovacic, so you never know. I talk with him.”

Now compare that response with him being asked about the possibility of joining Real Madrid.

“Real Madrid is the biggest club in the world, so who knows… maybe one day I can play there. I would like to, yes. Luka [Modric] doesn’t have to tell me anything about Real Madrid, it’s not necessary. I already know everything, I know it’s the biggest club in the world and how important it is to be linked to a team like that.”

A Chelsea “maybe” and a definitive “yes” to Real Madrid. Essentially, Gvardiol would go to Chelsea if Madrid weren’t in the frame, which makes the summer snub – after Madrid had already pinched Antonio Rudiger, when Chelsea were reportedly the only club in the running for Gvardiol – all the more frustrating.

Boehly and Chelsea’s only remaining hope in their bid to land the obviously brilliant centre-back is for him to get torn apart by Brazil in the quarter-final on Friday, or at the very least not be so obviously brilliant, because Chelsea are now working in a transfer plane where conspicuous excellence rules them out of the running.

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