Ben Lyttleton looks at the in-demand players who could be on the move in Europe's January transfer window.
The coaching merry-go-round is truly underway with Jose Mourinho available, Pep Guardiola soon to join him and Rafa Benitez and Louis van Gaal seemingly not far behind [UPDATE: Real Madrid has indeed fired Benitez]. January is also a time for clubs at all ends of the spectrum to purchase players in the hope that certain moves can push them toward silverware or safety from relegation.
With the rewards for staying in the Premier League greater than ever next season due to a bumper TV broadcast deal, you can expect clubs at the bottom of the table to spend more than usual, while the likes of Liverpool, Manchester United and Tottenham aim to bring in reinforcements in the battle to make it into England's top four.
Here are 10 players set to be in demand in the coming weeks (not including free agents, who are able to sign at any time, including outside of the transfer window):
Jamie Vardy (Leicester City)
Interested clubs: Chelsea, Manchester City
Valuation: €45 million
Last season Vardy managed five goals all season, with three months in between his first and second. This year he has been the star of Leicester’s shocking campaign, resulting in an England call-up and links to the Premier League’s perennial big boys in Chelsea and Manchester City, who are both in need of striker reinforcements. Leicester is set to offer him to double his salary to keep the striker, who turns 29 next week. Can Vardy keep his streak going all season?
Isco (Real Madrid)
Interested clubs: Chelsea, Manchester City, PSG, Manchester United, Arsenal, Juventus
Valuation: €40 million
The attacking midfielder played under Manuel Pellegrini at Malaga and is once again on City’s radar as he is stuck behind the galacticos like Gareth Bale, Cristiano Ronaldo, Toni Kroos, Karim Benzema, James Rodriguez and Luka Modric at Real Madrid. When he failed to get any game time again in last week’s 3-1 win over Real Sociedad, Benitez said: “We have 24 players in the squad but can only use 14 in each game.”
The Spanish media reported that City chief executive Ferran Soriano met Madrid director Jose Angel Sanchez last week. The future of Isco may have been on the agenda–whether City needs another jet-heeled diminutive playmaker is another question. His future may also be tied to Benitez's, which was determined with him getting sacked on Monday.
David de Gea (Manchester United)
Interested clubs: Real Madrid
Valuation: €30 million
After the August debacle of De Gea's failed move to Madrid, the Spanish goalkeeper signed a new contract keeping him at Old Trafford until 2019. That was clearly a move designed by United to protect its asset, possibly given with the promise that next summer he will be granted his move to the Spanish capital.
One of the few bright spots in Madrid's season has been the form of No. 1 goalkeeper Keylor Navas, and tension between the two clubs escalated so much in the summer that it was suggested deals between the two may be on the backburner. Madrid president Florentino Perez may have other concerns on his mind–like what to do with Benitez, Isco, James Rodriguez and Jese–but it would be fascinating to be a fly on the wall at United if an offer for De Gea happens to drop.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic (PSG)
Interested clubs: Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal, Manchester City
Valuation: €15 million
Ibrahimovic is 34 now and has six months to run on his PSG contract. His next deal, wherever it is, is likely to be his last. With PSG desperate to succeed in the Champions League this season, a January departure would be highly unlikely, especially to European opponent Chelsea (who might have been more interested if Jose Mourinho was still at Stamford Bridge).
More significant could be his summer move: Manchester City needs a strong backup to Sergio Aguero but it will be no-go if Ibra’s nemesis Pep Guardiola lands up there. Manchester United could do with some stardust but mavericks are not part of the van Gaal game plan.
That leaves Arsenal, interested 16 years ago, but hardly expected to splash out on a player of Ibra’s age.
The Swede will probably stay this month and wind up in MLS next season, but that won’t stop the rumor mill pushing his name for a six-month Premier League spell.
Saido Berahino (West Brom)
Interested clubs: Manchester United, Tottenham, Chelsea
Valuation: €25 million
The English striker has hardly featured this season after falling out with WBA chairman Jeremy Peace, who scuppered a deadline-day deal to White Hart Lane in August. Spurs may still come back in for Berahino, but United is lurking as its need for a goalscorer is no secret. Peace may need to drop his asking price again in January, especially with coach Tony Pulis saying that Berahino was lucky even to be on the bench in Monday’s game against Newcastle.
Charlie Austin (Queens Park Rangers)
Interested clubs: Newcastle, Aston Villa, Southampton, Bournemouth
Valuation: €25 million
Not many strikers will be in more demand than Austin, who was relegated last season with QPR despite scoring 18 Premier League goals. He has scored 10 more in an injury-hit season in the Championship so far, and QPR’s new manager Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink has admitted Austin might move on in January. The Englishman won’t want to go down again so may have to choose his next club carefully.
Radamel Falcao (Chelsea)
Interested clubs: Real Madrid, Valencia, Club America, Monaco
Valuation: Loan deal
How do you solve a problem like Falcao? The Colombian has barely featured for Chelsea this season, and, despite protests from his family members, continues to look like a different player from the prolific ‘El Tigre’ that lit up La Liga with Atletico Madrid. Will Chelsea cut its losses and send Falcao back to Monaco or Valencia, another club with close links to his agent, Jorge Mendes?
There is also reported interest from MLS and Liga MX for the 29-year-old striker.
Ilkay Gundogan (Borussia Dortmund)
Manchester City, Juventus, PSG, Liverpool
Valuation: €35 million
Dortmund has already rejected a €30 million offer from Juventus for the defensive midfielder, who has spent much of the last two years injured. His return to fitness, and form, this season under Thomas Tuchel has attracted suitors, among them his former coach, Jurgen Klopp, at Liverpool. But with Dortmund in no rush to sell, only a huge offer would see the 25-year-old move this month. More likely is a deal in the summer.
Steve Mandanda (Marseille)
Interested clubs: Aston Villa, Newcastle, Everton, Liverpool, Norwich
Valuation: €15 million
Goalkeeper Steve Mandanda has come close to leaving Marseille in the past, but the 30-year-old looks likely to move this month as his contract expires in the summer. He has plenty of options, with Aston Villa and Everton unhappy with the form of their USMNT goalkeepers Brad Guzan and Tim Howard. Would Mandanda fancy a relegation scrap with Villa, Norwich or Newcastle when bigger clubs are also interested? Aston Villa’s French coach Remi Garde has already spoken to his compatriot but it remains to be seen how persuasive he can be.
Nicolas Nkoulou (Marseille)
Interested clubs: Chelsea, Liverpool, Lazio, Fiorentina, Norwich, Lyon
Valuation: €10 million
Marseille has made a habit of letting talented players run down their contracts and leave for nothing–like Andre-Pierre Gignac and Andre Ayew, for example–which is why it might be prepared to cash in on either Mandanda or center back Nkoulou this month. Lyon and Norwich have already gone public on their interest in the 25-year-old, who looks likely to leave Ligue 1 in his next move.
"I prefer to focus on my form in the coming months," he recently said at a a press conference. That form has not been great this season but the Cameroonian is still in high demand.