Ten storylines to follow next year in the Bundesliga
There have been no matches in Germany since Dec. 22, but football certainly hasn't stopped. In fact, there's an unusual amount of transfer activity this winter. These are the top 10 stories/rumours/developments to keep an eye on before the real fun begins again on Jan 14.
The biggest move in this transfer window looks bound to happen, with an agreement likely to be reached this weekend. And in a way, it's all due to the rescue of the Chilean miners. Really. Before the match against Hannover 96 in October, Bayern striker Mario Gomez received a text message from a friend, telling him that one of the 33 men rescued went by the name of Mario Gomez, too. The 25-year-old, superstitious like most footballers, believed this was a good omen: 33 happens to be the number on his shirt. Gomez duly went on to score a hat-trick against Hannover, his first Bayern goals since February. The Germany international has barely stopped scoring since: 20 goals in competitions have convinced his employers (and manager Louis van Gaal) that Edin Dzeko might not be needed after all. The Bavarians are widely believed to have had a first option on the Bosnian striker.
Bayern's change of stance has coincided with a change of mind in Wolfsburg. The Volkswagen-owned club categorically ruled out selling their best players only four weeks ago. But the team's poor performances -- six consecutives draws in the league, defeat by second division Energie Cottbus in the cup -- have pressured general manager Dieter Hoeness into making drastic amendments. Want-away captain Dzeko became seen as the problem rather than the solution, especially in light of a personality clash with Brazilian playmaker Diego. A message was sent to City that Dzeko was for sale now after all. City, for its part, has upped its close to $40 million bid from August to nearly VfL's asking price of more than $50 million, a reflection of doubts about the long-term future of Mario Balotelli and Carlos Tévez at Eastlands.
Dzeko's agent Irfan Redzepagic has been locked in negotiations about the player's personal terms since Tuesday. But where there's a will -- and unlimited cash -- there's surely a way.
This won't happen in January, but some very important decisions will be made in the coming days. Manchester United's recent employment of a dedicated goal-keeper scout has alerted European clubs to the Premier League outfit's strong desire to sign a long-term replacement for Edwin van der Saar. One player rumoured to be on the United shortlist is Germany international Rene Adler. A few days ago, the 25-year-old conveniently leaked the fact he has a $26.5 million release clause in his contract and he could leave for nothing in 2012, when his current deal at the BayArena expires. Leverkusen CEO Wolfgang Holzhäuser is naturally keen to extend Adler's contract, "we will use the next couple of weeks to sit down with Rene and have some serious talks", he told Kölner Express. If United does want Adler, it will have to make its move quickly -- or risk having to pay a lot more for his services come June.
Bayern captain Mark van Bommel will stay at the Allianz Arena until the end of the season, his agent Mino Raiola confirmed on Thursday. But the German champions are eager to fast-track the arrival of his proposed successor, the Brazilian Luiz Gustavo: the left-footed 23-year-old, who is eligible to play in the Champions League, would offer a solution for Bayern's long-standing problem in the left-back position. The unsuccessful attempt to lure Leighton Baines (Everton) to Munich has made Bayern more determined to get its man. A few more million Euros on top of the 15 that Hoffenheim boss Dietmar Hopp agreed to take for allowing the transfer in the summer should suffice to see him join the squad in it's winter camp in Quatar next week.
Under-fire manager Steve McClaren has obviously convinced the board that new players are needed to make his favoured 4-2-3-1 system viable in the second half of the season. Top of his wish list is Dutch winger Eljero Elia. The 23-year-old is immensely talented but has failed to live up to his potential in Hamburg. Wolfsburg came close to signing the player in the summer, but balked at the €18m price tag. The $26 million of debt might well make HSV amenable to a deal for a little less this winter. Alternatively, McClaren is still keen to test his former club Twente Enschede's resolve by tabling bids for Ruiz and Janssen. Reports in the Netherlands suggest they would both prefer to stay in the Eredivise until the summer, but a sizable part of the Dzeko cash might well alter the situation.
Hammers owner David Gold has spoken of "15 irons in the fire" as far as winter targets are concerned, and the Senegalese striker is one of them. United's strategy seems to consist of making many below market-price offers in the hope of finding distressed sellers, but that ploy won't work with Hoffenheim. Billionaire owner Dietmar Hopp will not agree a sale for $9 million, even if the 25-year-old is not quite playing as well as a couple of seasons ago.
Another Senegalese import to the Bundesliga has become an even hotter property after a run of 13 goals in 16 games. The former Metz striker has been closely watched by scouts from Premier League clubs and is unofficially available for $14 million. Freiburg has braced itself for a number of offers, but Cissé might well stay in Germany for a little longer: Wolfsburg have also earmarked him -- alongside Srdjan Lakic from Kaiserslautern -- to fill a Dzeko-sized hole upfront.
Qualification for the round of the last 16 in the Champions League has given Felix Magath more financial leeway to add quality to his squad. Twenty-four-year-old defender Garay, out of favour with José Mourinho, would strengthen the Spanish element in the team. Raúl and José Manuel Jurado (Atletico Madrid) have been playing increasingly well this season. Juventus-target Ivan Rakitic, a versatile forward, has meanwhile fallen foul of Magath's strict disciplinarian regime. The Croatian international could be used as makeweight for central midfielder Mohamed Sissoko. Magath will also listen to offers for US international Jermaine Jones, another midfielder banished to train with the reserves.
The Argentine striker has been out of commission with a five match ban since swearing at a referee at the beginning of December. Gladbach has run out of patience with him and encouraged speculation of a move to Turkey, where champions Bursa have shown some interest. The 23-year-old has never fully convinced since his $5 million from Grasshoppers Zurich 18 months ago. Bottom of the table Gladbach, desperate to avoid the drop, won't mind offloading the player now in order to bring in more committed replacements.
Bremen's chronic inability to defend has made them scout a number of possible additions, despite sporting director Klaus Allofs public denials. Leicester City defender Curtis Davies has emerged as a surprise candidate this week. The 25-year-old centre-back, on loan from Aston Villa, would certainly be an improvement on the calamitous Austrain Sebastian Prödl. And Gérard Houllier could use some extra funds, too. That's if the Frenchman is actually still in charge to spend any money at Villa Park when the new year arrives.
Bayern president Uli Hoeness' notorious quip about Victoria Beckham being "the death of football" in 2007 makes this a non-starter. But that won't stop plenty of papers talking up the possibility of it happening. Beckham, after all, needs to find a European team for keeping fit in the MLS off-season and contractual obligations stipulate that it should ideally be an adidas-sponsored club. That leaves Bayern -- and Liverpool -- as the only remotely feasible option. The Herzogenaurach-based sports good manufacturers, who own ten per cent of Bayern's shares, wouldn't be adverse to the deal but on a pure sporting level, it makes little sense. The champions have right-sided winger Arjen Robben coming back to full fitness and no room in central midfield either. The Becks circus will -- in all likelihood- have to come to a different town.