Monday May 25th, 2015

Reports that UEFA president Michel Platini is looking at relaxing the regulations on Financial Fair Play will come as good news to Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City, whose owners have the funds to spend beyond their revenues. It could be a busy summer for those two clubs.

For Liverpool, whose American owner John Henry said that FFP came into its decision to buy the club, the news will be less welcome–especially after a dismal end to the season that saw Steven Gerrard’s last game end in a 6-1 loss at Stoke City, and the team drop to sixth place in the Premier League.

Depending on how UEFA plans to change things, this could be a dramatic summer of transfer moves, even if there are only 12 months before the next major tournament, Euro 2016, to be held in France.

With the season coming to an end across Europe's major leagues, here is a run-down of the names whose future will dominate the summer headlines (and a Frenchman is atop the list):

Paul Pogba (Juventus)

Interested clubs: Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain, Manchester United, Manchester City

Transfer value: €80m

“He is as valuable as a Salvador Dali, worth twice as much as Gareth Bale,” said Pogba’s agent Mino Raiola last year. “In today’s market, his price would be €200 million.”

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That might be a bit much, but the sentiment is on the right lines: more than any other player, Pogba will be the star attraction of this summer’s market. The all-action midfielder was a key part of Juventus’s first league and Cup double for 20 years and, at 22, has huge potential to improve. He is perhaps the only player this summer who can pick any club in the world, but it would appear, at this stage, to be a straight race between Real Madrid and PSG.

Given his previous history with Manchester United, whom he left three years ago, a return would be highly unlikely; Manchester City has a risk factor with its aging squad and uncertainty over the coach.

Real Madrid has the cachet of the biggest club in the world, and the added presence of Zinedine Zidane in Madrid, a French legend who also moved swapped Turin for the Bernabeu. Carlo Ancelotti’s position as coach may be uncertain, but Zidane is creeping ever so closer to the No. 1 job. His presence could sway Pogba.

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​PSG chairman Nasser Al-Khelaifi is reported to be working personally on trying to bring Pogba to the French capital. He would become the symbol of the ‘Paris project’ and replace Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who has one year left on his deal, as the star of the team. But there is a greater downside to life back home: the success of PSG’s season usually comes down to a few games in Europe, and the debates about his form will be endless.

Le Parisien has suggested that the cost of the deal – with Raiola demanding Pogba get a huge salary, just like his client Ibra–might be prohibitive, but that could just be PSG’s excuse if it misses out. If Pogba wanted to join PSG, he would. At this stage, Real Madrid is more likely.

Raheem Sterling (Liverpool)

Interested clubs: Manchester City, Arsenal, Chelsea, Bayern Munich, Paris Saint-Germain

Valuation: €50m

The Sterling soap opera will be the longest-running saga of the Premier League this summer and the truth is, no one comes out of it very well.

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Both Liverpool and Sterling have been briefing the media with their sides of the story; Sterling was upset because an initial contract offer of £100,000 a week did not reflect his status in the team, because the offer was slow in coming, because he had been played out of position, because he wanted to win trophies, because former Liverpool players were criticizing him in the press. All excuses drip-fed to the delight of the media.

Liverpool missed the opportunity to extend his contract last summer, when it almost won the title and Sterling was a starter in England’s World Cup side. That would have avoided this situation.

The club then canceled last Friday’s talks with agent Aidy Ward after the representative let rip in an outspoken interview with the London Evening Standard. In it, he said Sterling would not sign a deal worth “£700, £800, or 900,000 per week” and he called former player Jamie Carragher a “knob.”

Manchester City wants younger players to freshen up an older squad and is prepared to pay a premium for English talent. It is reportedly ready to pay over €50 million to sign Sterling. Arsenal has also been linked and has flexed its muscles in recent summers by signing Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez. German press reports that Bayern Munich, concerned by Franck Ribery’s ongoing injuries, is also keen. Whether he would be a regular starter at any of those clubs is also unlikely.

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There is another caveat to this: Liverpool has insisted that Sterling is not for sale and won’t be sold this summer. It did the same with Luis Suarez in 2013 and the Uruguayan stayed for another season. Will there be the same outcome again? It might not be so easy this time around. Sterling is only 20, and while he lacks the consistency and composure in front of goal of a true star, has all the attributes to become a great.

But he is not there yet. This is a true test of player power. The Sterling saga, for good or bad, is becoming a parable for modern football.

David de Gea (Manchester United)

Interested clubs: Real Madrid

Valuation: €30m

Real Madrid has had a problem with its goalkeeper this season; not that Ancelotti admitted it to anyone. He kept faith with Iker Casillas despite the captain’s loss of form and occasional blowouts with the fans, who jeered him one minute and hailed him as "San Iker" the next. Casillas became the story, a lightening-rod for criticism, in a way he had never before. He also ran the risk of tarnishing his legacy as a true hero at the club (perhaps saved last season by Sergio Ramos’s 93rd-minute header in the Champions League final, which spared the goalkeeper’s blushes).

De Gea is an obvious fit; the best goalkeeper in the Premier League this season and Manchester United players’ Player of the Year. De Gea grew up in Madrid, and made his name at Atlético, which has an unspoken agreement never to buy from or sell players to its city rival.

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“I analyze his position and then I say he is Spanish, he is Spanish international, still behind Iker Casillas [in the Spain team],” United manager Louis van Gaal said a few weeks ago. “Now a Spanish club is coming, his girlfriend is Spanish, his father and mother come every week or every two weeks here, so it is difficult.”

Van Gaal’s stance hardened last week, but you sense it was after the horse had bolted.

United wants €40 million for de Gea, but Madrid wants to pay less; it also has no interest in offering Gareth Bale as part of any deal but will offer Fabio Coentrao instead. This deal looks likely to happen. And it could lead to a merry-go-round for goalkeepers…

Petr Cech (Chelsea)

Interested clubs: Arsenal, Manchester United, Paris Saint-Germain, Besiktas, Inter Milan, Real Madrid  

Valuation: €15m

Cech has a verbal agreement that allows Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich, and not coach Jose Mourinho, to have the final say on where he plays next season. Mourinho is keen not to sell Cech to a Premier League rival, but the goalkeeper’s agent Viktor Kolar has revealed that Cech’s destiny is in his own hands.

“The owner, management and manager requested him to stay for the whole season to help them win the title,” said Kolar. “He did that. So he has fulfilled his side of the agreement and now he believes he will have free reign to choose another club where he can enjoy football again.”

With Real Madrid, Arsenal, Manchester United and PSG all potentially in the market for a goalkeeper, Cech has played the waiting game to perfection. He also just turned 33, still young for a goalkeeper. United signed Edwin van der Sar when he was 34 and he played for six more years. Cech believes he has another five at the top level, and whoever gets him would be getting a fantastic player and role model in the locker room.

Angel di Maria (Manchester United)

Interested clubs: Paris Saint-Germain

Valuation: €50m

PSG would have signed Di Maria last summer from Real Madrid were it not for UEFA’s FFP regulations. The understanding in the French capital is that Di Maria and his wife were happy to move to Paris and play alongside compatriot Ezequiel Lavezzi at the Parc des Princes.

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One year on, the situation has changed somewhat; Di Maria is still a priority for PSG, even after his disappointing year at Manchester United, but PSG needs to sell Lavezzi to make room for Di Maria on its books. Lavezzi has been linked with a return to Serie A while former PSG defender Alain Roche is hopeful that Di Maria will come to Paris one year late.

“PSG should sign a left winger who could make the difference and Di Maria would be a perfect fit,” he told L’Equipe. “He can open up a defense, create chances, score goals and can play in all positions in attack. He would be a huge bonus for PSG.”

The French paper ran a front-page headline Monday that read: ‘Di Maria close to PSG’. The prospect of a midfield with Di Maria-Pogba-Verratti looks pretty tasty for PSG, but there is a lot of work to do to make it happen (and that might include offering Gregory Van der Wiel as part of the deal, selling Yohan Cabaye and trying to keep Blaise Matuidi happy).

Kevin de Bruyne (Wolfsburg)

Interested clubs: Juventus, Bayern Munich, Manchester United, Atletico Madrid, Zenit St Petersburg, PSG, Manchester City

Valuation: €50m

The Belgian midfielder, one of the best passers in Europe this season, cost his German club €22 million 18 months ago and is now worth over twice that. De Bruyne has a five-year contract at the Volkswagen-backed club, and with a Bundesliga-record 21 assists, has helped it reach the Champions League next season.

No wonder sports director Klaus Allofs said last week: “At this time, I would call De Bruyne un-sellable. I am 100% convinced that he will be here next season.”

Wolfsburg is not a club that needs to sell its talent, and despite his long contract, De Bruyne can expect an upgrade on his current deal this summer. That will not stop big clubs showing an interest though, and if Manchester City was to bid €60 million for the 23-year-old, then there would be a big decision to make.

Steve Parkin/AFP/Getty Images

Yaya Toure/James Milner (Manchester City)

Interested clubs: Inter Milan/Arsenal, Liverpool

Valuation: €35m/free

Toure has been at City for five years, and as someone who left a successful Barcelona side to move to Manchester, became a symbol of a developing side that helped convince the likes of Sergio Aguero and David Silva to join. That was then, though. Now 32, Yaya still has the ability to change matches but has not shown it often enough this season.

Bizarre comments from his agent have not helped his cause–not least when he complained that City had not given him a cake on his birthday last year–and the latest was that Yaya is “90% certain” to leave City this summer. The most obvious destination is Inter Milan, where coach Roberto Mancini is still a huge fan. Yaya called him ‘my mentor’ when they were at City together. He may have had a rocky relationship with City in recent years, but his role in its two title-winning seasons was decisive, and he deserves a positive send-off.

City is also waiting on another midfielder, James Milner, to reveal his plans: it has offered him an enormous £135,000 per week deal–Milner is a free agent as of next week–in the hope that it will head off interest from Liverpool and Arsenal. Milner, though, wants more first-team minutes, and his decision will also inform City’s movements in the summer market.

Edinson Cavani (Paris Saint-Germain)

Interested clubs: Juventus, Manchester United, Atletico Madrid

Valuation: €40m

Cavani has had a difficult few years in Paris and PSG is prepared to take a hit on the €60 million it spent to pry him from Napoli. Juventus is in prime position to sign the Uruguayan, and PSG may even try and use the deal to help it sign Pogba. The likelihood is they will be two separate deals and that Cavani will join the Italian champion, sealing a return to Serie A, after dropping his salary demands from €8 million to €7 million per year.

United and Atletico are also in the market for a striker, but Juventus has moved quickly on this one–just as it did on Palermo’s Paulo Dybala–leading many to assume that Pogba’s departure is already settled.

Radamel Falcao/Robin van Persie (Manchester United)

Interested clubs: Juventus, Valencia, Atletico Madrid/Inter, Juventus, Fenerbahce

Valuation: €30m/€10m

Anyone for an injury-prone forward whose best days may be behind them? How about two? It will be all change for United up front as loan signing Radamel Falcao heads back to Monaco after a season that just did not work out for him. Eighteen months after a knee ligament injury that ruled him out of the World Cup, the jury is still out on the Colombian, who has been linked with a move to Italy or back to Spain.

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Monaco may yet loan him out for another year, either to Valencia, where his agent Jorge Mendes is working closely with owner Peter Lim, or to former club Atletico. If the latter, then Monaco would want Mario Mandzukic in return, and given the Croatian’s combustible relationship with coach Diego Simeone, an Atleti reunion for El Tigre could be on the cards. With Falcao and Fernando Torres together, all it needs is Sergio Aguero and Diego Forlan and that’s the last 10 years of its forward products.

RVP is at the end of year three of a four-year deal. He never followed up his amazing first season, in which he clinched the title for United in Sir Alex Ferguson’s final season. Ten goals in 25 starts for this season is the Dutchman’s lowest return since 2009-10 and van Gaal is ready to take his €12 million in wages off the books. Only one year left reduces his fee and there is interest in Italy, where Inter and Juventus want a striker. The problem is, van Persie comes with a history of injuries. No one doubts his talent, but who is prepared to take the risk?

Raphael Varane (Real Madrid)

Interested clubs: Manchester United, Chelsea, Manchester City 

Valuation: €45m

Spanish press is reporting that Pepe is about to extend his contract to 2017, which would leave French defender Varane as first-choice reserve for another two seasons. Varane had his breakout year last season but regressed this year as Pepe was preferred to partner Sergio Ramos in the biggest games.

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With France hosting Euro 2016 next summer, Varane does not want to waste another year on the sideline and will be pushing for first-team action next season. But where?

After the Champions League success, Varane extended his contract to 2020 and increased his salary from €1 million to €3.5 million per year, and the feeling in Spain is that he is prepared to listen to offers.

One could come from Jose Mourinho, who coached Varane for one season in Madrid, and has described Kurt Zouma as "the new Varane." With John Terry 34 and Gary Cahill 29, Mourinho could swoop for the 22-year-old with a long-term Varane-Zouma vision. Others that might be interested: Manchester United was after Mats Hummels until he committed to Borussia Dortmund, so is looking elsewhere; at City, Martin Demichelis is 34 and Eliaquim Mangala yet to impress. Varane has enough talent to not be short of options–if he stays patient at Madrid, he could dominate its defense for the next 10 years. But maybe his head will be turned in the next few months.

GALLERY: Tifos around the world

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