This football season had a lot to live up to. On the back of the single most defining moment of Premier League history and a Champions League winner’s journey against the odds, there seemed no way that this year could be as dramatic as last.
But this is football, and whilst storylines don’t repeat themselves, new ones emerge. Start with Brentford versus Doncaster; the final game in the League One calendar. Brentford were awarded a last-minute penalty knowing that a goal would take them up to the Championship. How the story was set to unfold, but few people could have foresaw the ball rebound off the crossbar and be taken up the other end for Doncaster to score the goal that would ultimately win them the League title. Surely this could not be repeated!
Wrong. Enter the 98th minute of Watford versus Leicester; the climax of the Championship Play-off semi final, with Leicester finding themselves within an Anthony Knockaert penalty of Wembley and the gateway to the Premier League. From the moment Manuel Almunia made a double-save and the ball was released up field, there was just a sense Watford might finish them there and then. And they did in spectacular style – with Troy Deeney blasting in a well-worked header across goal from Jonathan Hogg, in the process creating an astonishing sense of disbelief.
This came the day after a fairytale FA Cup win for Wigan. So it is fair to say this season had its fair share of stories. But sometimes there is more to football than drama alone, and this year one of those feelings was admiration.
The big news of the English football season was Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement. After 26 years and 38 trophies, the baton was handed down to David Moyes, a fellow Scotsman, who had been lined up for the role for the best part of a decade.
In addition to Ferguson departing, Rafael Benitez ended his spell as Chelsea Interim Manager with the Europa League trophy, and left Jose Mourinho primed to take over on a permanent basis after announcing the end of his relationship with Madrid. In Mourinho’s three years in charge at the Bernabeu he yielded three successive Champions League semi finals as well as a La Liga title, but after a trophy-less season and supposed tension with players and fans, he departed the club.
Roberto Mancini also moved on from Manchester City with a £28 million pay-off following a season to forget. City dropped out of the Champions League at the earliest possible stage, were never really in the title race and lost the FA Cup Final to a relegation-bound Wigan side. Since Mancini’s departure, outgoing Malaga boss Manuel Pellegrini has emerged as clear favourite to takeover at the Etihad, something that looks likely to be settled in the coming weeks.
Other clubs now looking at managerial changes include Everton, Wigan and Stoke, as well as top European sides like PSG (provided Carlo Ancelotti heads to Real), and Pep Guardiola taking up the helm at Bayern. Such activity seems to indicate that there could well be the biggest contrast between one season and the next in English and European club football, as in addition to a managerial merry-go-round, there seems to be a plethora of top playing talent said to be on the move. There could therefore realistically be a record transfer spend.
Transfer Targets: This Summer’s Top Ten
Based on a combination of reports from news agencies as well as bookmakers, complied are a list of the top ten transfers to take place this summer:
- Radamel Falcao – Atletico Madrid to Monaco (£60m): It’s not easy to say, as it’s a prime example of where money talks for a player who really belongs in the Champions League. Bookies are going as short as 1/3 that he completes a summer move to the south of France. Hopefully the upside will be that the monopoly currently held by PSG in Ligue 1 will be challenged, but a Premier League move would be much preferred.
- Edinson Cavani – Napoli to Manchester City (£50m): Up there with Falcao as one of the summer’s top two target men, if any club lands one of them their fans will have great cause for optimism.
- Gareth Bale – Tottenham to Manchester United (£50m): If Spurs had clinched a Champions League spot, they could have a better chance of holding on, but Bale is another player who belongs in the Champions League, and therefore things might be difficult. Many rumours have linked him to Madrid, but it will be dependent on the player’s willingness to head abroad as to whether a move takes place.
- Robert Lewandowski – Borussia Dortmund to ?: Set the world alight by scoring all four of Dortmund’s goals in a 4-1 Champions League Semi Final defeat of Madrid. This will have added a hefty sum to his price tag, but remains likely that he will be departing BVB following the Champions League Final. Has expressed interest in moving to England, but Bayern remain the current favourites.
- Neymar – Santos to Barcelona: Just a question of how much. €60 million (£51.3 million), that’s how much! Deal to be confirmed later this week.
- Barcelona to sign a centre-back and a goalkeeper: Barcelona are in the hunt for a world class centre-back, and there are few more at the moment than Thiago Silva and Mats Hummels. Silva admits to being a long-time admirer of Barca but it will likely come at a cost if he is to depart PSG, so Hummels could be the favoured option, being four years Silva’s junior and looking as if the sky’s the limit. However, it would be a shame if anyone left the behemoth that is Borussia Dortmund right now. With regards to a goalkeeper, Borussia Monchengladbach’s Marc-Andre ter Stegen looks the most primed for a move, despite being the tender age of 21. He has excelled in the Bundesliga and it has seemed only a matter of time before offers would commence for the keeper.
- Wayne Rooney: As Robin van Persie has stolen the limelight at Old Trafford, and United’s already large current roster of attacking talent continues to grow. United are linked with a move for Robert Lewandowski and this could open the way for Rooney’s departure. PSG are rumoured to be interested, as well as Chelsea. The Blues looks like an option where Rooney would thrive given the right chance.
- Gonzalo Higuain: Real look set on bringing in a new striker to the first team, meaning Higuain could be on the way out with Karim Benzema staying on. Rumoured to be attracting the interest of a number of clubs, most notably Juventus.
- Marouane Fellaini – Everton to Manchester United: Strongly linked, although may rely on an exodus from the Man United midfield in order to progress. An alternative is Chelsea, but with Moyes taking the helm at United, this would seem the favoured option.
- David Villa – Barcelona to Atletico Madrid: As Falcao moves on from Atletico, they must begin to find a replacement with half the goal scoring potential as the Colombian. David Villa seems ready for a new challenge, and whilst it would be nice to see him in the Premier League at Spurs, Arsenal or Manchester City, a home move might seem more plausible.
And so there we have it; players strongly rumoured and gambled on to be playing at new clubs come the beginning of next season. In the absence of club football and with no major international tournament to look forward to, hopefully such transfer activity can provide a mild source of entertainment until August.