Jorge Meré (£8.8m/€10m) To be courted by Diego Simeone, High Priest of Defensive Shithousery, is surely the greatest honour that can be bestowed upon a centre-half. It is certainly the sort of achievement that should adorn the CV of Jorge Meré, taking pride of place alongside his link to Newcastle in 2015.
Meré has long been considered one of Spain’s best defensive prospects. He starred in a side that conceded just two goals en-route to the finishing as runners-up at the 2017 U21 Euros, having gone one better two years previously.
Starting in a team that also featured future Real Madrid stars Marco Asensio and Dani Ceballos and Atletico Madrid prospect Rodri, Meré more than made his mark at the 2015 U19 Euros. His performances were such that Sporting Gijón promoted him to their first team upon their own rise to La Liga, and he was named their Player of the Season after their surprise survival in 2015/16. They could not repeat the trick for a second season however, not that Meré suffered for it: he became the highest sale in Sporting history when he joined FC Koln for around £8m in July 2017.
It might put off a number of suitors to learn that the 21-year-old has already suffered two relegations in his nascent career, with the tremendously nicknamed Billy Goats finishing bottom of the Bundesliga in his first season. But Atlético, Sevilla and Valencia retain an interest, while even Barcelona have been linked previously.
Those who wish to sign the centre-half ought to act soon. Meré’s release clause currently stands at a meagre €10m, but will rise to €30m if Koln are promoted. They are currently second in the 2. Bundesliga, one point behind leaders Hamburg.
Pablo Sarabia (£15.9m/€18m) “This was a tremendous night that I will never forget,” said Pablo Sarabia in December 2010, having made his Real Madrid debut at the age of 18 as a Champions League substitute for Cristiano Ronaldo. It was quite the entrance.
It remains his only appearance for his boyhood club. Sarabia left at the end of that season, reluctant to drown in a sea of abundant attacking talent. But he did not shirk the challenge of La Liga, instead moving to Getafe. After a stuttering first three years in Madrid, he found his feet. It was enough to capture the attention of Monchi, who recommended Sevilla sign him for less than £1m.
Even Arsenal were interested. “Yes, it’s true,” he said in April 2015 when asked whether the Gunners had made an approach for him. “I like the Premier League, it’s an important league. Maybe it’s a good competition for me and in the future I can play there.”
But his immense potential has finally been realised in Andalusia. The 26-year-old has scored 35 goals and assisted 30 in 129 games for the Spanish club, even making his mark in the Champions League: Sarabia assisted Sevilla’s first goal in their 2-1 win over Manchester United last season, inflicting a measure of revenge on the manager who had sold him at Real seven years earlier.
There is a reason Sevilla are desperately trying to renegotiate a contract that expires in 2020. Sarabia is the second top goalscorer for the third-best club in Spain, and manager Pablo Machin has said that “the future of the club rests” on his forward’s shoulders. The threat of losing him for just €18m is a concern.
Ever Banega (£17.7m/€20m) Sevilla really ought to be more careful with their contracts. To lose Ever Banega once may be regarded as a misfortune, but to lose him twice would look like carelessness.
The midfielder’s first farewell was almost perfect. His final game before leaving in summer 2016 was a Copa del Rey final extra-time defeat to Barcelona, but his man-of-the-match performance helped vanquish Liverpool in the Europa League final just four days prior.
Banega promptly left for Inter Milan, but found himself back with Sevilla 13 months later on a three-year deal. So quite why the Spaniards inserted a release clause as low as €20m into his three-year contract is a mystery. That would be a bargain for such an experienced midfielder.
Sevilla sporting director Joaquin Caparros is still trying to clear up the potential mess he inherited. “We have spoken with the two agents, the predisposition is good,” he said of Banega and Sarabia’s deals earlier this week. “We want to carry out the two renewals, we hope that they come to fruition.”
With Arsenal lurking, the clock is ticking. Mind you, Sevilla find themselves in a race against a club with no money.
Toby Alderweireld (£25m) It seems like the transfer to suit all parties. Toby Alderweireld would be able to secure the last substantial move of his career, Tottenham would be content with receiving a £25m fee for a 30-year-old, and whichever club signs the Belgian would be vastly improving their defence.
Having been phased out and injured for much of last season, Tottenham have already had a taste of life without Alderweireld. But a transfer-less summer may have forced the hand of Mauricio Pochettino, who has welcomed him back into the fold this campaign. The defender’s reward has been the activation of a one-year contract extension, triggering the long-discussed £25m release clause within.
That Manchester United seem to be his only realistic destination is curious, considering Alderweireld’s quality and lack of any real weakness. He turns 30 in March, so still has plenty to give.
But Tottenham may have already laid much of the groundwork to prepare for his potential departure. Davinson Sanchez and Juan Foyth both joined in summer 2017, and their abstinence from signings will only last so long. The time to reinvest in and reinvigorate a squad looms ever closer, what with their four first-team centre-halves being 31, 29, 22 and 21 respectively.
Of all the jewels in the Tottenham crown, Alderweireld could be the most dispensable.
Kostas Manolas (£31.9m/€36m) On a sliding scale of Kalidou Koulibaly to putting Phil Jones on a lifetime’s supply of industrial strength painkillers, Kostas Manolas stands at about half a Harry Maguire in terms of price.
Liverpool broke the central defensive transfer market when they signed Virgil van Dijk last January, but Manolas remains a rather unique case where his fee, if anything, seems low. For a 27-year-old Champions League semi-finalist with extensive Serie A experience, just over £30m would represent great value for money.
After four seasons at Roma, with the club finishing second and third twice each, the Greek might embrace a different challenge than breaking Juventus’ Serie A monopoly. He rejected Everton despite – or perhaps because of – David Moyes praising him as a “huge talent” and “a player for the future” in January 2012. The Premier League boat will surely come around again soon.
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