Chris Smalling is set for a return to Manchester United, with Roma yet to reach an agreement with the club over extending his loan for the conclusion of the Europa League.
The Englishman shone for the Giallorossi in Serie A last term as he struck a fine relationship with Gianluca Mancini at the heart of Paulo Fonseca’s defence – with Roma finishing fifth in the table following their 3-1 victory over champions Juventus on Saturday night to round off the campaign.
He’s been a key spoke in Fonseca’s wheel but time is running out for the Italian club to register Smalling for the remainder of their European venture. They have until Monday night, with any potential agreement said to be way off.
The original loan deal that took Smalling to Roma for the season was extended to cover the end of the Serie A campaign, but it was never going to be extended again to take in the conclusion of the Europa League this month.
Roma though, could potentially buy Smalling outright or agree to another longer-term loan with United as a potential solution. Although time isn’t on their side.
The Giallorossi’s sporting director Gianluca Pertrachi has already confirmed the club are keen to keep Smalling on their books for the long haul, along with former Red Devil Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
“The numbers don’t lie, they have been two successful loans,” Pertrachi told Sky Sports in Italy last month (via Manchester Evening News).
“We, unfortunately, lost Mkhitaryan for a physical problem for a little bit, but he’s very comfortable here just like Smalling. We’ll do everything we can to keep them, especially since they want to stay here. We’ll find out in the future if we are able to or not, but I feel the players are on my side.”
If Smalling does return – as expected – to United before August’s Europa League finale, he isn’t eligible to be registered in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s squad for the competition after appearing seven times for Roma already.
Former Manchester United prodigy and free agent Angel Gomes is close to joining Lille but he will spend the 2020/2021 season on loan at Boavista, according to reports in Portugal.
The 19-year-old rejected the chance to remain at United, departing the club he joined as a young boy after his contract expired on 30 June.
A string of top European sides were thought to be interested in signing the youngster on a free transfer but according to A Bola, Lille have won the race for his signature.
Gomes will not spend long at the Ligue 1 side, however, with an agreement set to be reached with Boavista for the Portuguese side to take the attacking midfielder on loan for the season. The deal will apparently be completed within the next few days and Lille hope the player can help them weaken Paris Saint-Germain’s stranglehold on French football over the next few years.
During his time at United, Gomes became the club’s youngest ever debutant when he replaced Wayne Rooney in a game against Crystal Palace aged just 16 years and 263 days. He broke a longstanding record held by Busby Babes skipper Duncan Edwards, set all the way back in 1953. This momentous debut came soon after he was awarded the Jimmy Murphy Young Player of the Year award.
Despite this promising start, further first team opportunities were few and far between for Gomes much to his and the Old Trafford faithful’s frustration. Overall, he made just 10 senior appearances during his time at the club, with just four of those coming in the Premier League.
His decision to depart United left a lot of fans puzzled and this bafflement is unlikely to be subsided by news that he is joining a side who finished fourth in Ligue 1 last season.
Love it or loathe it, the summer transfer window is open, and clubs are waiting impatiently to solve all their problems with a giant bucket of cash, and a snazzy transfer announcement video.
One man who is destined for a cash bucketing is Kalidou Koulibaly. The Napoli star had been Serie A’s standout defender for a number of years until this season, and had it not been for a nasty injury he suffered in the 2019/20 campaign, he probably would have proven equally imperious for I Partenopei this term too.
Despite endlessly impressing since his arrival in south Italy, it is seemingly time to say goodbye. The 29-year-old has been on the verge of leaving Naples for a number of recent transfer windows, and the moment may have finally come for the Senegal international to bid Addio to his beloved supporters.
There is a sense – and has been for quite some time – that Koulibaly has outgrown Napoli, and his talents are better suited to a club competing for European trophies, as well as league titles – both awards he has been deprived of in Serie A.
Luckily for Koulibaly, there is no shortage of potential suitors. Premier League giants Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea are all desperate to address their own defensive woes, and they like what they see in the Senegal captain.
The only problem? The asking price. Napoii president Aurelio De Laurentiis is known as a tough and ruthless negotiator, and he will squeeze every penny possible out of any interested parties. And any club that fancies a crack at Koulibaly will have to stump up £80m for his services, meaning there’s plenty at stake for whoever takes the plunge.
But is he worth £80m, and is he worth that money specifically to the Citizens, the Red Devils, and the Blues? 90min is on hand to weigh up these three possible moves, and decide whether he is worth the financial risk for the Premier League trio.
The 2019/20 campaign will have raised plenty more questions than answers for Pep Guardiola and his coaching staff, after Man City surrendered the Premier League title in November, while only claiming the Community Shield and Carabao Cup as ‘major’ honours.
The clean sweep of domestic trophies the season prior was always going to be an impossible benchmark with which to judge this crop of stars, but there’s no getting away from it.
Man City have regressed.
The Sky Blues have returned to the side which Guardiola adopted in his debut campaign, which was mentally and physically fragile, unable to handle falling behind, and afraid of putting their foot in. If they are to reach the heights they achieved from 2017 to 2019 once more, this has to stop.
Signing Koulibaly would be the perfect remedy. In a similar vein to Virgil van Dijk’s impact on Liverpool, the Senegalese star would be the ideal candidate to shore up their defence, play out from the back and demand perfection from those around him.
At 29 years of age, he has the experience and knowhow needed to guide the Citizens back to their best, and if he is able to help them land the long-awaited Champions League trophy, then who really cares about the price tag? He’s ready to take this team where it needs to be.
In this current market, there are precious few top level centre-backs, and no young prodigies are threatening to become defensive wonderkids any time soon. So, for now at least, Koulibaly is the best centre-back on offer, and could well be for the next three years.
That may just be enough time to teach Nathan Ake to become a proper elite defender, too. I love it when a plan comes together.
Worth £80m of Man City’s cash? Absolutely.
So, if Koulibaly is worth £80m of Man City’s hard earned cash, he must be shoe-in for Man Utd. Well, not exactly. When considering a fee this significant, you mustn’t only contemplate the figures involved, but the teams in play, and the projects they can offer.
If the project is right, then the money should not even come into question. Ask Jurgen Klopp, Alisson and the aforementioned Van Dijk.
However, that could be the stumbling block for this particular collaboration. Man Utd proved last summer, that adding an £80m centre-back to their defence isn’t enough to propel them back where they belong.
Although the Red Devils have recruited some genuine quality in recent transfer windows, their squad is still a long way off their rivals’ Liverpool and Man City. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will be aware that the heart of the defence is a major issue, but there are also other fires he must put out around the pitch.
Man Utd need to strengthen in wide areas, particular at the back, and add some talent and depth to the midfield, if they are to challenge on all fronts in the coming years.
The prospect of signing an £80m defender, who may well be slightly past his prime is not the answer, then. By the time Solskjaer’s side are truly ready to compete at the top, Koulibaly could be over the hill, and still remain without that title he craves.
A case of right place, wrong time for the Senegalese star.
Worth £80m of Man Utd’s cash? Not this time.
And then, we have Chelsea. A team who can score goals for fun, and play some entertaining football, but ultimately fall down due to their absent-minded approach to defending.
The Blues conceded 54 goals last season – more than 14th placed Crystal Palace – and had it not been for the failings of Leicester City and Tottenham Hotspur, Frank Lampard’s side could have ended the campaign much further down the ladder.
That’s all if’s and but’s, though. Chelsea have bagged Champions League football, and dragged Hakim Ziyech and Timo Werner along for the ride. Next up, it has to be a centre-back. The Blues’ weak-link is the heart of their defence, and any additions in that area can only be seen as an improvement.
This all hinges on the cut of their manager’s jib, however. Lampard’s Derby County suffered the same defensive frailties in 2018/19 as his current Chelsea side, also shipping 54 goals – albeit in eight matches more. But there’s a recurring pattern there, and a worrying one, too.
The rookie coach is learning on the job, and he deserves credit for what he has achieved thus far. But should he fail to tweak his system to something more solid and sustainable next year, then it could prove to be, that not a single defender in the world could solve Chelsea’s problems. Not even Koulibaly.
Goals win games, but defences win titles. Forget Kai Havertz for a second, Frank, and have a think.
Worth £80m of Chelsea’s cash? Possibly – time may tell.
Relegation from the top flight is a sobering experience. Not only do you swap Old Trafford for Deepdale and Gary Lineker for Colin Murray, you’re usually forced to wave goodbye to anybody who was ever half-decent and watch on enviously as your ex-stars continue to do the business in the top flight while your side limps to a draw with Barnsley.
Raiding relegated sides for their prized assets is often met with a varying degrees of success. Roberto Martinez re-signed half of his relegated Wigan side for Everton in 2013 to little affect, while three of Liverpool’s 2019/20 title winning squad joined the Reds after suffering the drop.
Let’s take a look at the very best signings from relegated sides…
Milner was one of a number of players sold by Leeds following their 2004 relegation and financial implosion.
The Leeds academy product had no shortage of suitors, and he departed his boyhood club for Newcastle in a £3.6m deal.
Milner remained at St James’ Park until 2008, making over 100 appearances for the club until he was sold to Aston Villa for £12m. His career has gone stratospheric since, with World Cup selection and Premier League title victories with Manchester City and Liverpool.
At 34 and showing no signs of stopping he’ll probably retire after Harvey Elliott.
The England boss captained Crystal Palace to promotion to the Premier League in 1994, but the Eagles suffered the drop the following season.
Southgate was snapped up by Aston Villa for £2.5m, where he was converted to a centre half. He was an integral part of the third-meanest defence in the Premier League as Villa qualified for Europe and won the League Cup during his first season at the club.
The centre back and occasional pizza chain promoter established himself as an England regular during his time at Villa Park. He enjoyed six successful seasons in the Midlands, before joining Middlesbrough for £6.5m in 2001.
Another player pinched from Leeds following the club’s relegation was big Mark Viduka, who joined Middlesbrough for £4.5m.
The Australia international was an instant hit on Teeside, and he was an integral part of the Boro team that famously reached the 2006 UEFA Cup final.
Viduka scored 41 times in 98 appearances for Middlesbrough, and is fondly remembered as part of a golden era at the Riverside.
West Ham finished rock bottom of the Premier League during the 2010/11 season after a dismal campaign, but Scott Parker was so good that he was nominated for the PFA Player of the Year, named the Football Writers’ Player of the Year and earned an England call-up for the first time in five years.
He even started the Championship campaign with the Hammers, before Tottenham eventually signed him for £5.5m.
Parker was a key part of that fabulous 2011-2013 Spurs side, acting as the dependable, defensive rock that enabled Luka Modric and Gareth Bale to work their magic. He left the club for Fulham in the summer of 2013.
Hull suffered relegation from the top flight in 2017, but Maguire emerged from the campaign with a great amount of credit, having been named the Tigers’ supporters’ and players’ player of the year.
His performances tempted Leicester to part with £12m to secure his signature, and the centre back played every minute in the top flight during his debut season with the Foxes.
International recognition soon followed, with Maguire an essential part of the England side that reached the 2018 World Cup semi finals. Leicester ended up turning quite a profit on their £12m investment, as Manchester United paid £80m to bring him to old Trafford in 2019, making ol’ Slabhead the world’s most expensive defender.
When Sheffield United cruelly (and controversially) suffered the drop in 2007, Everton took full advantage by purchasing a man who would grow into a club legend.
Jagielka was still just 24 when the Toffees coughed up £4m to bring him to Goodison, and he would go on to remain on Merseyside until he was 37, making over 350 appearances for the club.
The defender broke into the England squad after his first season at Goodison, won Everton’s player of the year on two occasions and scored an absolute banger in the Merseyside derby.
Just four years after being relegated to the second tier with Newcastle, Wijnaldum played 37 out of 38 games during Liverpool’s famous title-winning campaign, as the Reds were crowned champions of England for the first time in 30 years.
Liverpool paid £23m to bring the midfielder to Anfield, and his energetic, dynamic, all-action, technical style has made him a seamless fit into Jurgen Klopp’s side.
In his first season at the club, Wijnaldum helped Liverpool secure Champions League football, before playing an integral part in the team that reached the Champions League final, won the Champions League and bagged the Premier League title over the next three seasons.
He also scored a double in perhaps Liverpool’s most iconic European night at Anfield ever.
It’s been quite the ride.
Joe Cole won the Hammer of the Year as West Ham dropped out of the top flight in 2003. It was a hugely talented West Ham team, including the likes of Paulo Di Canio, Michael Carrick, Jermaine Defoe, and Trevor Sinclair.
But Cole was the cream of the crop, and Chelsea snapped the 22-year-old up for £6.6m. Although injuries plagued the latter stages of his Stamford Bridge career, the West Ham academy product was sensational during his early days in a Chelsea shirt.
He scored 10 goals for the Blues during their 2004/05 Premier League title winning campaign, and was named in the PFA Team of the Year the following season as Chelsea defended their crown. Cole netted 40 goals in 281 appearances for the club, winning six major trophies in seven years.
There is no climb quite as meteoric as Andy Robertson. After just two seasons in the Premier League with Hull – which both ended in relegation – Liverpool paid £8m to bring him to Anfield in 2017.
It proved an absolute masterstroke of a signing. He gradually forced himself into the Liverpool team during his debut season with the club, before making the left-back position his own and establishing himself as one of the finest in the Premier League.
With Robertson down one flank and Trent Alexander-Arnold down the other, arguably no other full-back pairing has been more influential in a Premier League title-winning campaign than the dynamic duo were for Liverpool during the 2019/20 season.
Nottingham Forest finished rock bottom of the Premier League during the 1992/93 season, but Roy Keane was still named in the PFA Team of the Year.
This persuaded Manchester United to part with £3.75m to bring him to Old Trafford – a British record transfer fee at the time. He would remain at the club for 13 years, and was synonymous with one of the most successful periods in Manchester United’s history, as the Red Devils wrestled with Arsenal (and Keane wrestled with Patrick Vieira) at the top of English football.
Keane won seven Premier League titles – captaining United to four of them – in addition to four FA Cups and the Champions League. He is not only the greatest signing from a relegated club, but one of the finest players to grace the Premier League. He can now be found being really agreeable and mellow on Sky Sports.
It may have been an awful 2020 so far, but one thing that’s sure to brighten the mood – slightly – is the opening of the summer transfer window. With the next few months ready to be filled with transfer sagas, rumours, and downright lies, one club front and centre is Manchester United.
Despite the window having been open for a matter of days, United have already been linked with a plethora of top talent, including Jadon Sancho and Raúl Jiménez. Yet while Sancho remains the real top target for the club – and for fans – links to Wolves star Jiménez have raised a number of questions.
While these rumours of a move to Old Trafford may be nothing but sheer fantasy, the fact that Wolves are close to signing another striker could suggest the Mexican is really be heading for the exit door. But is he really what the Red Devils need right now? Perhaps not.
Some may think it weird to suggest that a player who’s scored 26 goals in all competitions is not suited to a club like United, but past history would suggest he’s not.
As United legend Gary Neville pointed out back in October, the club have rarely been as successful when deploying a physical or solitary striker, compared to when they’ve lined up with a more fluid attacking force.
As Neville explained after United had dispensed with the ‘Marmite’ Romelu Lukaku, the club are more suited to a striker with mobility. “I think United want a striker like Firmino,” he said, “like Son at Tottenham. I think he wants that type of player. I don’t think he wants a typical striker who is basically going to be a Lukaku or a [Diego] Costa.
“I don’t think he’s looking for that type. I think he’s looking for a more mobile type in a front three or a front two. I think this club has always had strikers who can play in pairs, who contribute off the ball.”
Neville went on to give a perhaps controversial example of where this fluid and mobile striker has been successful in the past, adding: “I’ll make a point about Ruud van Nistelrooy. We won less championships with him at centre-forward than when we brought Louis Saha in to partner Wayne Rooney.
“He was nowhere near as good a finisher as Ruud or as good a striker as Ruud, but the team became better. And that’s my point, I don’t think Ole wants a striker like that; I think he wants a mobile striker.”
While Jiménez is no slouch and can dovetail nicely with a second striker, he perhaps falls more into the mould of a Van Nistelrooy than a Saha. In recent history, this formula of having quick and dynamic attackers working in tandem has been the driving force behind United’s success, such as with Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole or Carlos Tevez/Saha with Wayne Rooney.
Now obviously Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial are not quite at the level of those forward lines just yet, but given time it would appear there is the making of a really exciting attack – something that the arrival of Jiménez would no doubt hinder.
The former Benfica man is a marvellous footballer and somewhat of a throwback compared to the modern day centre-forward, but his arrival at Old Trafford would do more harm than good. With young Mason Greenwood destined to be United’s main striker in the coming years, the signature of the Mexican may serve to stunt that development – particularly if Sancho is signed to occupy the right flank.
Let’s not forget the fee it would take to bring the forward to Manchester, with it reportedly taking more than £50m to prise him from Molineux – not exactly chump change for a 29-year-old. While he has surely justified that price tag, it is simply too much to pay for a club that will already be forced to cough up £100m plus for Sancho. At a time when COVID-9 has wreaked havoc for every club’s economic situation, two major outlays like that are simply impractical.
United will, however, soon need to add another striker to bolster their ranks and enhance competition in the squad – particularly with short-term option Odion Ighalo set to leave in January. That being said, it’s probably best that the club hold fire on making a move for Jiménez.