World Soccer
Tuesday June 2nd, 2009

The summer transfer market is a few weeks away from opening and already the signs are that the global financial crisis is forcing clubs to rethink their annual spending.

"Ours will be a minimalist recruitment drive," says AC Milan boss Adriano Galliani. "Next year, we have decided to go with players who have yet to make the big jump in their careers. The global economic crisis will make sure that only a few clubs will spend big. I expect many more swaps than permanent deals."

Even many big deals could be killed. Manchester City, backed by Abu Dhabi's petro-dollars, can be expected to attempt a spending spree that at least matches the millions spent last summer on Brazil's Robinho. But without the lure of European football, the club may find the task of attracting A-list players to Eastlands more difficult than it first envisioned.

At the other end of the financial spectrum, Valencia -- with debts of nearly $1 billion -- is being forced to sell its biggest assets. But its desperation for cash could be its undoing this summer. Already, Liverpool manager Rafa Benítez has complained that negotiations to sign midfielder David Silva were hampered by his former club's eagerness to seal the deal.

"Someone was talking too much," said Benítez. "If we are going to look for someone we will not announce it to the press. We will try to do it properly and secretly."

Meanwhile, striker David Villa, Valencia's most bankable asset, is worried that a too-high asking price will deter potential suitors. "Valencia officials want [$85 million]," he says. "But I don't know if there are any clubs who are willing to sign me for such an amount."

Villa is still expected to move, though, to one of a handful of "super-clubs" that can afford Valencia's demands. It will be the actions of these clubs that dictate the summer transfer merry-go-round as cash trickles down from the top level of the European game.

At Real Madrid, former president Florentino Pérez reclaimed his old job after no other candidates stepped forward. Given the success Pérez enjoyed with his galáctico policy of signing the world's most marketable stars, he will be the favorite to win any contest for big-name players. Pérez was voted into power in 2000 after promising to bring Luís Figo from archrival Barcelona. He has made a similarly audacious pledge this time around, with speculation centering on the futures of Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaká.

"Florentino Pérez can do anything he sets his mind to," says Ernesto Bronzetti, a leading agent who is close to Real. "He has the power to realize things in the transfer market which no one could imagine, from Kaká to Ronaldo. That said, Kaká is the one he wants more than any other."

Kaká rebuffed the ambitious advances of Manchester City in January, when Milan was prepared to accept a world-record offer for the Brazilian. A similarly extravagant fee would give Milan the funds to rebuild an aging side, but any deal would require Kaká's seal of approval. So far, the player has kept his counsel.

If Pérez and Madrid don't get their man, they are likely to go back for the player the club tried so hard to sign last summer: Ronaldo. After months of speculation, Ronaldo pledged his future -- at least for one more season -- to Manchester United in August 2008 after the club threatened to report the Spanish champions to FIFA. His comments were widely seen at the time as part of a deal that would see him play another season at Old Trafford before moving to Spain in '09.

United manager Alex Ferguson has continued to angrily rebuff reports from Madrid that his star turn will be leaving, dismissing the latest speculation as "pathetic." United has been linked with Bayern Munich's French winger Franck Ribéry, whose future at the Allianz Arena is in doubt after Jürgen Klinsmann's ignominious exit.

Bayern paid a club-record fee to sign World Cup star Ribéry from Marseille in the summer of '07. He won a string of personal awards and helped inspire the club's league title win last season. But his start to this season was delayed by an injury picked up during Euro 2008 and conflicting reports burgeoned over his future during the winter break.

Earlier this spring, Ribéry assured fans and officials that he intended to see through his contract, which runs until 2011. He said: "No one need have any worries that I will be leaving the Bundesliga. I am happy at Bayern, I like the fans and I believe they like me, too. It's never been a matter of money but about where I am happy playing my football."

Whether Ribéry will remain as happy about the future is back in doubt now Bayern is undergoing command change and after the European class gap was evidenced in its Champions League thrashing by Barcelona.

Barça president Joan Laporta has been quick to play down speculation about Ribéry: "I want to scotch these rumors that have us interested in Ribéry. Our good relationship with Bayern is more important than one player. Ribéry is to them what [Lionel] Messi is to us."

Laporta also insisted that key players would be staying at Camp Nou. "Samuel Eto'o is, in my opinion, the best striker in the world," he said. "I'll do all I can to keep him right here. Contrary to what's been said, we're very happy with [keeper] Víctor Valdés."

The transfer situation remains intriguing at Barça. The European champions played the most exciting soccer in Europe this past season with an attack led by a player (Eto'o) they were desperate to get rid of last summer but could find no takers for his wage demands. Although Thierry Henry had an excellent season, recapturing his Arsenal form, how much faith can Barça keep in an injury-prone 31-year-old before lining up a potential successor?

Eto'o is contracted to Barça until 2010, but he has plenty of suitors in Serie A, not least at Inter Milan, where José Mourinho has signed an extension to stay on until 2012 despite his failure to land the Champions League.

"I'm not one to work for results just in the short term," he said. "I won as soon as I got to Chelsea and I hope the same will happen here. But everyone is talking about Mourinho leaving Inter. Why does nobody write that Mourinho will stay at Inter for the next four or five years?"

Caution is the key word, with Inter president Massimo Moratti keen to dampen down rumors of major signings. "Talk of us spending four times what we did last year are wide of the mark," Moratti said. "Mourinho has good sense and the international depression obliges him to be careful. I believe we have a fine squad and need only minor improvements. We want to place more emphasis on our excellent academy."

Mourinho still hopes to make a major signing, though. "We're missing a creative player in midfield, to make things happen, and if one arrives I will be happy," he said. "But what Moratti says is true -- it's not just a matter of changing players, but of changing the philosophy of the club. Inter have to close one era and open a new one. We've got to have more youngsters with potential, even if that means reducing our ability to win things in the short term. It's a risk we shouldn't be afraid to take."

Confusion surrounds the future of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, a key figure in Inter's Serie A campaign, but a peripheral figure in its Champions League exit. Mourinho says he wants the Swede to stay, but Moratti hinted at a sale when he admitted: "I wouldn't mind [$142 million] for Ibrahimovic."

At Mourinho's old club, Chelsea, there are few signs of financial self-sufficiency. Instead, further expensive personnel changes are likely with the arrival of another new coach, former Milan boss Carlo Ancelotti. A bidding war with Manchester City over Villa could test owner Roman Abramovich's resolve. Sources close to the Russian billionaire have hinted that he is prepared to fund further big-name acquisitions.

Further down the food chain, certain deals are off. Karim Benzema -- Europe's bright young thing 12 months ago -- looks set to stay at Lyon. Speaking in the wake of his club's Champions League exit at the hands of Barcelona, Benzema said he would remain at the club until 2010. He claimed he did not want to move in the summer before a World Cup but the more likely explanation is his poor form of late -- not to mention the $148 million fee demanded by Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas. In these leaner, meaner times, such fees have been kicked back into place.

This article originally appeared in the June 2009 issue of World Soccer magazine. To subscribe, click here.

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