Pogba out, Varane in? Potential swap deals for the Big Six…

Date published: Friday 29th March 2019 3:03

Because the Alexis Sanchez-Henrikh Mkhitaryan deal worked out so well for everyone concerned, we started thinking about some potential swap deals for the summer. Alright, it’s just a bit of fun…


Liverpool: Sadio Mane for Gareth Bale
Liverpool don’t want to sell Mane to Real Madrid at any price, apparently. That should be an end to the matter, but we all know that’s not how these things work.

Mane’s recent stunning form has coincided with Zinedine Zidane’s return to Real, who last summer reportedly had a deal lined up with the Senegal star over a move to the Bernabeu. Zidane’s abrupt exit put paid to that, but with Zidane back and Mane flying, there is talk Real will try again for the 26-year-old.

Since that move was discussed a year ago, Mane has signed a new contract at Liverpool while making himself more indispensable. The fact that Mane seems a good egg is a source of reassurance for many supporters who might otherwise be fearful of a repeat of the sagas surrounding Philippe Coutinho, Luis Suarez and Raheem Sterling, who all scarpered when they felt they had a better offer. But even Mane, nice bloke though he may be, would be tempted to join the Real revolution this summer.

What could Liverpool get out of it, other than a whopping cash injection they don’t really need? Real have a number of attackers who could be used as makeweights this summer, with Isco reportedly having accepted that his days are numbered. But Zidane’s return has changed the picture for the Spain star. For Bale, the opposite is true.

The Wales attacker fell out with Zidane towards the end of his previous reign and the manager’s swift return appears to be bad news for Bale. The 29-year-old is facing the prospect of being squeezed out at Real, though his current salary means he may have nowhere to go.

Some Liverpool fans have been a bit sniffy about the prospect of Bale lining up for the Reds, but they would surely change their minds upon the sight of the superstar holding up a red shirt before lining up alongside Mo Salah and Roberto Firmino. Zidane might not think so, but the winger remains one of the most exciting players in Europe and the chance to reset this summer with a point to prove could be just the fresh start he needs.


Manchester United: Paul Pogba for Raphael Varane
Just because Jose Mourinho has gone doesn’t mean that Pogba doesn’t have the potential to become a problem again for Manchester United. The France midfielder, after making overtures towards Barcelona and Juventus last summer, has been fluttering his eyelashes at Real Madrid, with Zidane apparently willing to reciprocate.

United can afford to stand firm at present but with only two years remaining on his contract, their bargaining position will only weaken. If Pogba is testing people’s patience now, just imagine how much of a distraction he and Mino Raiola might be if he is allowed to get towards the final year of his current terms.

No one is advocating that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer simply takes Pogba to market and sells him to the highest bidder, but some clarity is required over his future. Pogba will leave United for another European giant at some point – Raiola will see to that. The Red Devils have three options over how they handle that prospect: Offer him a fat new contract now to keep him quiet for a little while; sell him this summer to get the best deal for one of their prized assets; or be patient at the risk of allowing Pogba’s camp to seize the high ground.

If he does fancy a new challenge rather more imminently than United might have wished, then keeping a demotivated Pogba around the dressing room will do little to help Solskjaer’s ambitions. Mourinho will certainly testify to that, and the new manager will be less tolerant to anyone thought to be putting his own needs above the club’s.

Handily, Real Madrid have something Solskjaer wants in the shape of another World Cup-winning Frenchman. Rafael Varane is said to be one of United’s top two targets this summer and though the centre-back was previously thought to be unattainable, word is that the 25-year-old could be more open to a move. United thought the same about Sergio Ramos, but we’ll plough on…

If – of course, it’s a sodding massive ‘if, even in this fantasy land where we’re day-tripping – both players are up for a swap, how might any deal be weighted? Real apparently don’t want to pay any more than £100million for Pogba, and they expect a similar sum for Varane. United, though, would regard selling the midfielder for only a little more than the £89million they paid Juventus as a bad deal. Pogba has two years left on his contract, Varane’s still has three to run. A straight swap might be about right…


Arsenal: Nacho Monreal for Samuel Umtiti
There is a fair degree of uncertainty over Monreal’s current status. The Spanish defender is approaching the final weeks of his Arsenal contract, though some sources insisted in January that the club had exercised their option to extend those terms for a further 12 months. That’s good enough for us if it fits the agenda here today in Make-Believe Land.

Arsenal will be looking for a left-back this summer regardless, and many fans hope they have found one in David Alaba. But more crucially, the Gunners need a centre-back and Barcelona defender Umtiti is understood to be the one they most desire.

Conveniently, Barca need both a left-back and to get Umtiti off their wage bill. The 25-year-old has lost in place due to injury and Clement Lenglet’s fine form. With Matthijs de Ligt said to be likely to follow Frenkie De Jong to the Nou Camp from Ajax this summer, Barca have no need for Umtiti.

But they could do with another left-back option. So desperate are they, Barca are reportedly considering a move for Alberto Moreno. If they want back-up for Jordi Alba, Monreal would be the safer pick.

Or they could just go for Alaba and really screw Arsenal.


Chelsea: Callum Hudson-Odoi for Robert Lewandowski
Chelsea’s transfer ban may well render any talk of Stamford Bridge exits null and void, but the club’s appeal next month might earn them a reprieve or at least some breathing space. If not, Hudson-Odoi may test their resolve regardless, if he really is determined to quit the Blues.

The teenage winger made his full England debut last week despite not having yet managed to earn a Premier League start for Chelsea. Maurizio Sarri is nothing if not stubborn and Hudson-Odoi’s contract wrangles and his new-found status as a full international are unlikely to soften the manager’s stance on holding the winger back.

Reports suggest Hudson-Odoi will press ahead with his plan to leave Chelsea as he enters the final year of his current terms. There are plenty of clubs keen to give the 18-year-old what he wants, though Bayern Munich were certainly among the first to make a decisive move.

What do Chelsea want? the same thing they wanted last year: a striker. What’s the worst Bayern could say if the Blues demanded Lewandowski as part of any deal for Hudson-Odoi?

The Poland striker has flirted several times with trying his luck away from Bayern and though Real Madrid has always been his dream destination, it would seem Real have more pressing priorities. There are several reasons Chelsea might not be his most preferable option – a possible lack of Champions League football for one – but if you don’t ask, you don’t get. At 31 upon the start of next season, if the contract is big enough, Lewandowski might be tempted.


Tottenham: Jan Vertonghen for Nicolas Tagliafico
This one seems to suit everyone – not least Ma Vertonghen.

Spurs have been heavily linked with Ajax right-back Tagliafico, with the Argentina international said to be open to offers and the Amsterdam club willing to entertain bids of around £15million. That seems cheap for the 26-year-old but it still represents a return of around four times what Ajax paid Independiente last January.

Ajax don’t need to sell – they certainly won’t if they get what they expect for De Ligt – but Tagliafico is said to be keen on a move and there is plenty of interest. De Ligt’s exit would also leave Ajax short of a centre-back, which is where Vertonghen comes in.

The Belgium veteran has been in fine form for Spurs of late but he will be 32 by the start of next season with only a year remaining on his contract. The likelihood of Toby Alderweireld’s exit complicates matters, but Daniel Levy would doubtless prefer to get something back for an aging star already being troubled by injuries, rather then watch him leave for nothing in a year.

Vertonghen is keen to put a smile on his mother’s face by one day returning to his former club. “You never know, but I’ve got a great passion for Ajax,” he said in December. “I’d probably live in Amsterdam when I retire.”


Manchester City: Ilkay Gundogan for Julian Weigl
Pep Guardiola loves Gundogan as much as any of his players. But the Germany midfielder is hardly rushing to recommit to City beyond the end of his current contract next year. “Maybe the next one will be my last big contract, so such a decision must be well considered,”  said the 28-year-old and it’s hard to argue with that logic.

But Guardiola is getting antsy. “We try to speak with him, we want him to extend the contract right now,” he said earlier this month. “Yesterday would have been better than today, and today better than tomorrow. But if he doesn’t want to, we cannot do anything else. If he was 100 per cent then the deal would have been done.”

So City could look to make the most of their asset before it depreciates entirely. Dortmund, who do so enjoy a reunion, have been linked with a move to bring Gundogan back to the club, and they have a player Guardiola likes…perhaps more than Lucien Favre.

City were heavily linked with Weigl last summer after Jorginho opted to follow Sarri to Chelsea instead, but nothing came of it. Nor did anything materialise from PSG’s interest in the defensive midfielder in January because Dortmund felt they had given up too much in the winter market already. But Weigl, who can play at centre-back, has struggled somewhat for game time this term under Favre; Axel Witsel and Thomas Delaney have been preferred more often in the centre of Dortmund’s midfield, even if Weigl has started eight of the last ten Bundesliga matches.

Guardiola’s interest is unlikely to have waned in the 23-year-old, who could be groomed to become Fernandino’s successor when the Brazilian enforcer eventually relinquishes his dominance of City’s engine room. City could also knock down Dortmund’s reported asking price of £68million last summer, with Gundogan chucked in to sweeten the deal.


Ian Watson


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