The new Premier League and Ligue 1 seasons start this weekend, and yet there are another three and a half weeks for teams to bring in new players. Maybe some early losses will identify a weakness that needs plugging; or a player will get injured and a replacement is required. Maybe some chairmen just like to wait until the final week as they feel the prices will drop as the deadline approaches. Either way, there are still plenty of players whose futures are in the balance, both in England, France and elsewhere, and the landscape of major leagues across Europe could change as a result.
Here are some big names who could be on the move in the next few weeks before the summer transfer window slams shut:
Mario Balotelli, Liverpool
Interested clubs: Sampdoria, Lazio, Fiorentina, Bologna
Brendan Rodgers described signing Balotelli as “a calculated risk,” which is hardly a ringing endorsement for any move, especially one that cost £16 million and flopped in his previous two seasons at Manchester City and AC Milan. It was encouraging after his debut, when he and Daniel Sturridge destroyed Tottenham at White Hart Lane and Rodgers couldn't resist claiming some credit when it was pointed out that Balotelli had tracked back for a corner.
“You see, you just need to talk to him like an adult,” he had said. But then it happened again: Balotelli received minimal support from Rodgers and at times looked disinterested when he played. Even Rodgers’s man-management skills couldn't solve this one. And so now a player who is 25, should be entering his prime, is the subject of interest from mid-table Serie A sides who want Liverpool to reduce the asking-price to below £7 million.
Liverpool needs to get rid of some strikers–as well as Balotelli, Fabio Borini is still in the squad; another signing, Rickie Lambert, was just jettisoned to West Brom–and has little choice but to facilitate the sale.
Kevin De Bruyne, Wolfsburg
Interested clubs: Manchester City
One of the best players in the Bundesliga last season, the young Belgian has been urged to stay at Wolfsburg by his international coach Marc Wilmots.
“He is guaranteed a place in this team and that’s good for the Belgium team too,” Wilmots has said.
It makes sense, and would be risky moving to Manchester City one year before the 2016 European Championship. Wolfsburg is backed by VW and therefore has no need to sell the player; it can afford to reject even the largest of offers from money-rich City. Wolfsburg has moved to improve De Bruyne’s contract, but that is where City has an advantage: it can offer an eye-popping salary that might convince the player to move now.
Wolfsburg is in the Champions League, thanks to De Bruyne, and everyone at the club, in fact everyone but City fans, will hope he stays.
William Carvalho, Sporting Lisbon
Interested clubs: Real Madrid, Arsenal, PSG
Another summer window, another three months of talking about Portuguese holding midfielder William Carvalho, who has seemingly been on the market for the last three years. Except this time, it really could be time for Sporting to cash in.
Valued at around €30 million, latest reports in Portugal suggest that Paris Saint-Germain is ready to pay €35 million for the 23-year-old, if Thiago Motta leaves as he is expected to do so. If Carvalho moves, it will end one of the longest-running and least-likely transfer rumors in history: the idea that Arsene Wenger would commit such a vast sum for a defensive player always seemed unlikely. For PSG, not so much.
Antoine Griezmann, Atletico Madrid
Interested clubs: Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester United
The question that Atletico Madrid needs to ask is whether Griezmann can possibly repeat the purple patch of form that saw him score 16 goals in 26 games after the turn of the new year. He didn't score in his following seven games, and a regression to the mean would greatly reduce his value in the market. As it stands, he is closer than Eden Hazard to bridging the gap on Messi and Ronaldo when it comes to converted wingers and goal tallies.
Atletico doesn't need to sell now: it has bought Jackson Martinez to replace Mario Mandzukic and has Luciano Vietto in reserve. But this is a club that knows how to sell high–and it’s unlikely that Griezmann will be able to repeat the same scoring feat this season. If he does, it’s a double-win for Atletico, who will benefit from his goals and a high fee next summer. That’s the risk it has to take.
Roberto Soldado, Tottenham
Interested clubs: Sevilla, Borussia Dortmund, Villarreal
It says something about Soldado’s character, if not his form, that Spurs fans willed the Spaniard to succeed last season. It was as though they were watching a player in a deep slump and trying to help get him out of it. Soldado never stopped working for the team, he never hid; but he just kept missing chances, each one seemingly easier than the last.
In that respect his situation is similar to Ricky van Wolfswinkel at Norwich, another big signing that flopped but one who retains the fans’ respect. Spurs have decided to cut its losses on Soldado but will want more than the £11 million Borussia Dortmund is reported to have offered. Sevilla is a team that can recognize value and is also interested.
Spurs chairman Daniel Levy is known for selling high, and has somehow managed to recoup over £22 million in selling Paulinho (Guangzhou Evergrande), Etienne Capoue (Watford), Benjamin Stambouli (PSG) and Vlad Chiriches (Napoli) so far. Soldado will be his biggest challenge yet. If Spurs gets £15 million for him, he’ll have done well.
Juan Cuadrado/Mohamed Salah, Chelsea
Interested clubs: Juventus, Roma, Fiorentina
What is it with Chelsea and January signings? Last year it was Salah and this year it was Cuadrado. Two wingers, both signed at great expense–£17 million for Salah, £26 million for Cuadrado, and both flopped at Stamford Bridge. For a club with such a smart recruitment plan as Chelsea, which has mastered the loan system, it seems like a fault-line.
Where now for Cuadrado, who left fourth-placed Fiorentina for London? Only a team that finished above it: Juventus, who can spot value when it sees it, or Roma, although that might depend, ironically, on if it signs Salah instead. The Egyptian starred on loan at Fiorentina (the cycle with these two players continues), and is mooted for a return loan to Italy either with La Viola again or at Roma.
Just look out for any Chelsea deals this coming January. It’s due for one to work out.
Xherdan Shaqiri, Inter Milan
Interested clubs: Borussia Dortmund, Schalke, Stoke
Shaqiri is not wanted by Inter only six months after joining, but has so far turned down all opportunities offered to him.
Stoke had a bid accepted by Inter, but Shaqiri said no. Newcastle showed interest: no. Schalke, which is looking to replace fan-favorites Jefferson Farfan and Julian Draxler, is also interested, but you can forgive Shaqiri for thinking twice.
This is a guy who just left Bayern Munich, so to return to the Bundesliga at a club that finished 31 points behind the champions might be a bitter pill to swallow.
Shaqiri will need to say yes to someone, as the Switzerland international's chances to succeed at Inter seem remote. He might take it to the wire before he takes the plunge.
Ron Vlaar, unattached
Interested clubs: Southampton, Lazio, Manchester United, Arsenal
This is the risk facing every player. Twelve months ago, Vlaar was a World Cup semifinalist who had one year left on his Villa deal. He chose to stay, banking on the chance to run down his deal and sign as a free agent this summer. Then: injury intervened. The Dutchman faces more than three months out after knee surgery and is currently a free agent (meaning he can still sign elsewhere after the transfer window closes).
Will someone take a risk on an injured player? Vlaar is 30 and showed at the World Cup that he can be a fantastic last line of defense on his day. But will he get a chance to prove it at the top level again?
Charles Aranguiz, Internacional
Interested clubs: Bayer Leverkusen, Leicester, Bournemouth
The success of Alexis Sanchez is not the only reason Chile players are more desirable in the market these days. Chile’s performance at the 2014 World Cup and it's title-winning showing while hosting Copa America this summer has cemented it as a real force and it was a surprise that no European club was tempted by Aranguiz, a dynamic midfielder, last summer.
This time around, it’s a different story: his Brazilian club Internacional was eliminated in the Copa Libertadores semifinals by River Plate two weeks ago and is ready to sell. Leicester wants him to replace Esteban Cambiasso, though he seems likely to prefer a switch to the Bundesliga, where fellow Chileans Arturo Vidal, Gonzalo Jara and Marcelo Diaz are now based.
Aymen Abdennour, Monaco
Interested clubs: Barcelona, West Ham, Newcastle, Arsenal
One of the defensive stars of Monaco’s surprise run to the Champions League semifinals, the Tunisian center back was linked to bigger and bigger clubs as the summer went on. It started with Newcastle and West Ham, progressed to AC Milan and ended with Barcelona. Abdennour even gave an interview to Sport newspaper in Spain saying, “I’ve no idea if Barcelona is interested but I would love to play here.”
The pitch might have worked: Barcelona, forbidden to register players until the next transfer window, is said to be working on a deal that involves a loan-back option to Monaco. Abdennour has already missed one appointment with Barcelona; he was invited to see them play AC Milan in March 2013. He won’t want to miss the chance again.