Lionel Messi and Sergio Ramos are two huge names dominating the headlines at the moment due to being out of contract at Barcelona and Real Madrid respectively this summer, while we’re also hearing about some exciting young talents in Jules Kounde and Pau Torres.
Read on for his analysis on some of the big names from Spain ahead of what promises to be an intriguing summer transfer window…
Sergio Ramos’ contract situation still hasn’t been resolved. What’s the latest on this and how do you think it will pan out? Could he be tempted by a move to the Premier League?
It’s a soap opera that’s been running for months. Real Madrid have offered him the same terms he’s currently earning for a season, but Sergio Ramos and his camp believe he’s earned a multi-year option. Madrid’s position is that if he’s to extend for more than one year he’s going to need to take a pay cut. Ramos is unwilling to do this, especially given the rumours linking the club with a move for soon-to-be free agent David Alaba. Paris Saint-Germain seem to be the most likely destination should he leave Madrid, but if he has his way he’ll stay. He wants to end his career at the Santiago Bernabeu and leave through the front door with his head high. Were I to hazard a guess, I’d say that he’ll come to some face-saving agreement and stay at Madrid.
One of the most exciting young talents in La Liga at the moment seems to be Jules Kounde. What are his main qualities and how good a fit could he be for clubs like United and Liverpool who look likely to be in the market for a new centre-back?
Jules Kounde is one of the most exciting centre-backs in the European game. Alongside Diego Carlos he forms an integral part of one of the best centre-back pairings in Spanish football, and he’s gone from strength to strength since joining Sevilla from Bordeaux in the summer of 2019. Kounde’s biggest strength lies in his mentality. He’s cold-blooded, able to carry the ball forward and contribute to build-up play as well as defence. It’s true that he can be caught out, but generally his defensive work has been exemplary, with the Frenchman capable of winning the ball cleanly and elegantly. I believe that any club who employs him will have a centre-back for the next decade.
Another promising defender is Villarreal’s Pau Torres. Like Kounde, he looks ideal for some top clubs in need of a centre-back – how does he compare to Kounde and where do you think he might end up?
Pau Torres is another exceptional talent. He’s two years older than Kounde and playing for a club in Villarreal that are, in truth, a step below Sevilla, but he’s still shown that he has what it takes to compete in the elite and is Sergio Ramos’ first-choice partner at centre-back with La Roja. He doesn’t quite have the jaw-dropping arrogance that Kounde displays on the field of play, but I’d also back him for a long and successful career. Pau has a lovely, mature quality about him. Should Villarreal miss out on Champions League football this season, which they will unless they can win the Europa League, I wouldn’t be shocked if some high-profile suitors come in for him during the summer. Real Madrid have been linked, while I could also see him beside Virgil van Dijk at Liverpool.
A top player who always seems to come up in transfer season is Atletico Madrid’s Saul Niguez. Could we see him in the Premier League, or do you expect him to, once again, stick around despite the speculation?
Rumours have surfaced in recent weeks that he’ll be leaving in the summer, which makes sense given Saul Niguez has fallen from prominence in Cholo Simeone’s new incarnation of Atlético Madrid. He’s been used as a rotational option primarily this campaign, falling between the unquestionable experience of Koke and the irrepressible youth and vitality of Marcos Llorente. Bayern Munich could be a likely destination, but a move to the Premier League could certainly also be an option. He’d be available for a fee in the region of €40m, I believe, so he’d be value for money even during the changed financial landscape of Covid-19.
Another big name at Atletico is goalkeeper Jan Oblak. There’s talk that he wants to leave the club after their Champions League exit. What can you tell us about his future and potential suitors in the Premier League?
Anyone who watched Atlético Madrid’s victory over Alaves will disregard that rumour. Jan Oblak is one of the best goalkeepers in the world and made a potentially title-defining penalty save against Joselu during Sunday evening’s game, retaining Los Rojiblancos lead heading into the final moments. I wouldn’t be surprised if Europe’s elite are interested in going for the big Slovenian, but he won’t come cheap. I wouldn’t expect him to agitate for a move. If you saw how he celebrated that penalty save, you’d realise he’s not the type to do such a thing.
Arsenal have two Real Madrid players on loan – Ceballos and Odegaard. What’s the latest with them? Could both make permanent moves to Arsenal or is there still a chance they’ll get into the Real Madrid team?
I wouldn’t hold much hope of Dani Ceballos returning to the Spanish capital and making a dent, but Martin Odegaard is a different story. As anyone who’s watched Arsenal since he’s joined can testify to, the Norwegian is the real deal. The issue with him is a lack of trust in Zinedine Zidane, who in return seems to hold a lack of trust in Odegaard. He brought him back a year early from a two-year loan spell at Real Sociedad last summer only to leave him on the bench, instead relying on the veteran trident of Casemiro, Toni Kroos and Luka Modric to run his midfield. I think that while Madrid would be reluctant to let such a talent go, he’d be reluctant to return as long as Zidane’s in charge.
Sevilla’s Yousef En-Nesyri seems to have had a good season – we’ve seen him linked with West Ham and others. Do you expect they’ll struggle to keep hold of him?
I don’t think it’s a case of struggling to hold on to him. Youssef En-Nesyri is a curious case, in that he’s not even a guaranteed starter at Sevilla. His recent goalscoring run has drawn attention, undoubtedly, but for my money that’s a freak purple patch rather than something he’s going to sustain. I really like En-Nesyri. He’s got a great attitude, is a hard-worker and a phenomenal athlete. But his technical skills leave him down, and while he’s improving I don’t think he’s the man to fire Sevilla into the elite of the elite. I think that should a good bid come in from him they’d be open to selling.
Eden Hazard’s been a big flop at Real Madrid. What’s gone wrong for him and do you think they could consider letting him go this summer?
Eden Hazard’s biggest problem is that he hasn’t been able to play. He’s been injured ever since he touched down in the Spanish capital, with the general consensus being that his famously lax attitude toward physical preparation is catching up with him as he enters the autumn of his career and he can’t get away with what he used to. Hazard has been unable to establish himself in the Real Madrid starting XI and put together any kind of run, with covid-19 afflicting him as well as a variety of muscle injuries. Honestly, I think Madrid would like to move him on to create space for Kylian Mbappe or Erling Haaland, but doing so will be quite the challenge. The Belgian is on massive wages, and Madrid would want to recoup at least the majority of the colossal fee they paid Chelsea for him. I don’t think any who could would spend that kind of money on a player who’s stagnated remarkably since moving to the Santiago Bernabeu in the summer of 2019.
Another world class performer in the PL, Philippe Coutinho, has totally flopped with Barcelona. They’ll surely look to get rid, but do you know if they’re going to be able to find a buyer?
It’s going to be difficult for Barcelona to find a buyer for Philippe Coutinho. The Brazilian cost a bomb and commands a serious wage, one nobody in European football who’s thinking straight would match were they to prise him from Camp Nou. I think that if Barcelona could sell him and get his wages off the books they’d jump at the chance, but another loan spell is the most likely option. Coutinho looked like he could find his form at the beginning of the season, only for injury to knock him down the pecking order. I don’t think he’ll be part of Barcelona’s future.
Finally, the big one, what’s going to happen with Lionel Messi? Man City and PSG have been linked, but could Joan Laporta’s election victory change things? Tell us how you see this one panning out.
The only person who knows that is Lionel Messi himself. Were the Argentine to have left Barcelona last summer as he desired, it would have unquestionably been Manchester City who acquired his services. As it happened, he stayed, and now my feeling is that it would be Paris Saint-Germain who stands the best chance of taking him from the club he joined as a child. The winds of change have blown at Barcelona, however, both on and off the pitch. Joan Laporta is the living embodiment of the club that revolutionised world football toward the tail end of the 2000s, while Ronald Koeman has revitalised the team, trimmed the fat and incorporated youth to make them look like a club with serious potential again. Were I to put my money on it, I’d bet on Messi staying put and looking to lead one last great Barcelona team to Champions League glory.