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Don’t expect a crazy January at Manchester United – but Saudi moves possible for two players
Manchester United won’t be in for a crazy January even with Sir Jim Ratcliffe incoming. A formal announcement is now unlikely this week despite the hope being one would already be out there before Thanksgiving.
Outgoings will prove important and could help free up more funds. That’s why Manchester United are open to Saudi offers for Jadon Sancho even if the 23-year-old prefers to stay in Europe. A Juventus loan is far less beneficial than not only a £45-50m fee from Saudi, but as importantly one that’s paid on preferable terms. Of course, it’s not as simple as only what Manchester United want. They have to factor in Sancho’s desire also.
Rafael Varane is also being considered by multiple Saudi suitors including Al-Ittihad. It’s going to be difficult in January, and Varane is not entirely sold on Saudi despite falling out of favour at Old Trafford. But that won’t put dealmakers off trying at some point in 2024.
Casemiro has been linked with a Saudi move away as well, and there is no doubt he fits the profile of names targeted. But it’s nothing more than that at this stage. I am told it’s not true he’s unsettled in Manchester. Quite the opposite. Manchester United are not desperately trying to offload him either. The fact he’s contracted until 2026, with the option of a further year, gives the club all the cards. Al-Hilal are monitoring the situation ahead of the summer.
Anthony Martial is certainly not unsellable if a healthy offer arrives. PSG looked in the past but were not convinced to try last summer. Lyon would still love to bring Martial back but he would have to take a significant wage cut. Lyon are also bottom of Ligue 1 so it’s just not feasible unless a loan, or they try at the end of the season should safety be secured. Although Martial is not against going back to France, I am told he does really want European football making a Lyon pretty unlikely. Let’s also not forget that Lyon have tried to re-sign Martial before and he didn’t want to go back.
Perhaps the most likely January exit is Donny van de Beek, who has attracted interest in both Italy and Turkey. Burnley have also discussed internally a loan with option to buy, but it’s believed van de Beek prefers joining a club with European football.
It won’t be easy for Manchester United to mass offload in January but if they can get one or two out the door it may allow them to make some additions to boost their push for Champions League football.
Keep an eye on Chelsea possibly re-signing England defender
Chelsea have two clear priorities in 2024: an elite striker (easier said than done!) and a centre-back.
As far as the latter is concerned, links with Ousmane Diomande have been exaggerated from what I am told. This type of young player is often scouted but it doesn’t automatically mean any concrete talks. There is no guarantee Sporting would entertain a sale in January.
Keep in mind Mauricio Pochettino would ideally like a bit of proven Premier League quality. That’s why I would keep an eye on Chelsea entering the race for a player like Marc Guehi, who they sold to Crystal Palace in 2021. Plenty of clubs are looking. There’s nothing advanced at Chelsea’s end yet, and there may be a bit of a difference of opinion between the profile in this position that Pochettino wants (for the ‘now’) and the recruitment team are trying for (depth, or for the ‘future’). I would imagine during December there will be some healthy internal debate.
Chelsea actually have plenty of centre-backs so there is no panic. But in the long run they know Thiago Silva won’t be at the club forever and Wesley Fofana has had injury problems. Benoit Badiashile has also been out and only just returned, and Levi Colwill has been utilised at left-back for large parts of this season even though he was outstanding as a centre-back for Brighton last season.
The first priority will be to offload Trevoh Chalobah and that will free up squad space and funds to move in the market. Bayern really wanted him on loan on Deadline Day over the summer but an agreement couldn’t be reached. Chalobah was keen on that move, much more so than going to Nottingham Forest.
Chelsea don’t want to end the window with more players than they started with so we certainly won’t see a January like 2022 that’s for sure.
Newcastle’s potential replacements for Sandro Tonali
Newcastle hope to add a midfielder during the January window as cover for the banned Sandro Tonali. Financial Fair Play remains an obstacle which is why the hope is Tonali will surrender some of his wages which will create a bit more financial leeway.
Eddie Howe has already confirmed the club won’t be spending big and may even only look at loans, with Hugo Ekitike one such target. A lot will also depend on whether Newcastle can get out their Champions League group, which brings welcome income. That’s why the game at PSG tonight is so important.
A loan for Ruben Neves may make a lot of sense in theory, but Newcastle haven’t actually started any talks despite Howe openly admitting he admires the Portugal international.
Al-Hilal are not anticipating a mid-season exit, even after the Premier League vote on November 21 failed to ban related-party loans.
It might appear that Neves would be ‘easy’ to sign given both Newcastle and Al-Hilal are controlled by PIF, especially when the 26-year-old does still aspire in the long run (key words) to play Champions League football.
But right now we mustn’t forget Neves has only been at Al-Hilal for half a season.
Plus, an important point that is sometimes overlooked is that it’s actually a harder negotiation if Newcastle do ever proceed because the PIF personnel at Al-Hilal are adamant Neves must stay and carry a lot of sway. Al-Hilal are top of the table and strong contenders to win the Asian Champions League. And because PIF work closely with the Saudi Ministry of Sport on these types of transfers, wider dealmakers have also stressed the optics of Neves leaving Saudi so soon are bad for the league.
Newcastle’s chairman Yasser Al-Rumuyan is also PIF’s governor, but Al-Hilal have the weight of the Ministry, not just PIF, behind them. I am told if there is disagreement over whether Newcastle or Al-Hilal should get Neves there will really only be one winner… and it won’t be Newcastle.
So Neves returning to the Premier League is one to watch in the long term but not something that can be pulled off in January or even necessarily next summer unless Al-Hilal’s most senior figures and partners have a serious change of heart.
Newcastle also still like Scott McTominay, but know he’s now become more integral to Manchester United since their original interest dating back to last January.
Kalvin Phillips is another name of interest. An outright purchase, for financial reasons, will be very tricky in January, but a loan could benefit all parties. Phillips wants minutes ahead of Euro 2024.
Jakub Kiwior discussed by AC Milan, but Arsenal want new deal for Takehiro Tomiyasu
Arsenal want Takehiro Tomiyasu to sign a new deal, and that is the most likely scenario. Tomiyasu is not only in excellent form but extremely versatile. Arsenal are relaxed about the situation because although the Japan international only has 18 months left on his current deal there is the option to extend it by a year.
Arsenal’s preference is not to reach this point and instead tie Tomiyasu down on a new long-term contract. This will also stop suitors tempting him away.
Bayern are looking for a centre-back having failed to land Chelsea’s Chalobah on Deadline Day over the summer. They may return for him, as discussed above, and Tomiyasu is another name they like. But it’s just not thought Tomiyasu is looking to leave Arsenal. He is settled and a very popular character.
It’s also true there is some interest from Italy in Jakub Kiwior, but I am told Arsenal prefer to keep the Polish defender. Milan have discussed Kiwior on a loan deal, but given Arsenal lacked centre-back depth last season after William Saliba got injured, they won’t want to offload too many squad players and risk being thin as they look to win the Premier League.