As sure as the sun sets in the west, as sure as the Brits love a good cuppa, and as sure as Arsene Wenger will survive a nuclear apocalypse as Arsenal manager; elite level football clubs with elite level cash, pick the best choices of meat from poor defenceless and usually overachieving teams.
It’s a shame, but so much a fact of life in modern football that some teams use it upon which to build the foundations to grow financially and competitively.
As the major European leagues begin their closure for the summer months, with many behind the scenes beginning their real moment in the spotlight, focus moves towards transfer dealings and negotiations.
So with that in mind I have looked at each major European league and sieved through the has beens, nearly weres and soon to bes, to find who I think will be on their way to a higher level of football this summer.
It would be too easy to choose all of the first team from Monaco’s outstandingly young, vibrant and ruthless squad, so therefore I have only chosen one.
Besides, the Monegasques have said they will only sell two of their starlets this summer.
Thomas Lemar is my first pick. The young French left sided midfielder can play in a number of positions behind the striker but has flourished on the left for Monaco.
He finished top of the assists table in Ligue 1 with 10 and scored 14 in all competitions this year.
He’s deadly at set pieces and loves whipping a perfect cross into the box. This 21 year old already has some of the biggest teams in the world after him.
As previously mentioned, Monaco would only want to sell two from their fine array of young talent, and fellow creative midfielder Bernado Silva has already signed for Manchester City.
This could of course be a tactic to drive up the price, however French newspaper L’Equipe are reporting strong interest in Lemar from Tottenham; and with Barcelona, Bayern Munich, and Juventus flirtatiously enquiring a deal may be done sooner rather than later.
Possible destination: Tottenham Hotspur, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Juventus, Manchester United.
Price: upwards of €30 million plus.
Another midfielder with plenty of assists to his name and more technical ability than Mario Balotelli’s hairdresser is Jean Michael Seri.
Helping Nice to attain third position in what is a fiercely contested league outside the moneybags of Paris and, to a lesser extent, Monaco, Seri has been a revelation on the south coast of France and integral to the club making it into the qualifying rounds of Champions League for next season.
He has 9 assists from central midfield, and can combine the ability to create attacking chances with shielding the back four. His almost 90% pass completion rate and average of 2.2 key passes per game illustrate why he has been named Ligue 1’s African player of the year.
The Guardian reported on the 3rd of May that Arsenal and Spurs, as well as PSG and Barcelona are working hard to acquire the services of the Ivorian.
Based on the erratic form of Sergio Busquets and the fact Barcelona’s midfield is in dire need of some surgery, he fits the bill of a Barcelona player.
He also recently told Mundo Deportivo it would be impossible to say no the the Catalans. He is also rumoured to have a release clause of €40 million euros which is peanuts in this day and age for a 25 year old of this pedigree.
Possible destination: Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur, Paris Saint-Germain and Barcelona.
Price: €40 million.
Finally we shine the spotlight on Nantes and give plaudits to the outstanding job Sergio Conceicao has done since his arrival in December.
With a win percentage of 52% he’s accrued 44 points from 25 games and taken them to seventh in the league.
A reason for this has been his emphasis on homegrown talent, and Valentin Rongier has been outstanding in the middle of the park.
Patrolling the area in front of the defence so often occupied by some of France’s most dangerous players, he has 4.1 tackles per game on average putting him second in that list in Ligue 1. His manager has even compared him with Marco Verrati adding:
“In two or three years, he will be able to play at any club.”
Having scrolled relentlessly through the dark echelons of the internet I have been unable to find any kind of link between the young midfielder and another club.
Perhaps Nantes fans would like it to stay that way, and to them I apologise for spreading the word, but this young man is a fine talent and if he isn’t picked up this year he will the next.
Possible destination: Could enhance most midfield engine rooms.
Price: €20 million plus.
In this crazy financial world in which football resides, inflation makes the fat man at the end of Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life look like a pre-pubescent Angel Di Maria.
So a bargain is a rarity to be celebrated and Malaga will be sad to see their star striker leave this summer for a paltry €6 million, which is the rumoured to be the release clause.
Sandro Ramirez has been superb for the Andalusians this season netting 14 times, proving to be a bright light in a season that needed Michel to find the backup generator to ensure safety.
He is a tall striker with a deadly right foot from long range. He has scored 5 goals directly from set pieces this season, and his shooting ability gives opposition defences an extra problem to think about.
This makes him a prime target for teams who like their midfielders or secondary strikers to exploit gaps created by defenders looking to close down the opposition.
Atlético Madrid haven’t wasted any time and would likely have the transfer of Sandro all done if it weren’t for FIFA and their pesky transfer ban.
With an appeal still ongoing and teams slowly clocking onto the release clause he could be on the move in the coming days.
Potential destination: Atlético Madrid, Arsenal, Borussia Dortmund, Everton and Tottenham Hotspur.
Price: €6 million
It’s been a long season devoid of much to shout about for Osasuna fans, with their 19th place finish at least saving them a modicum of pride to take with them back to La Segunda Division.
One person who may not be joining them there next year is Alex Berenguer.
The 21 year old winger has played in a number of positions for Los Rojillos this season but has excelled as a full back on the left or the right, as shown in ‘El Derbi de los Condenandos’ against Granada in their last home game of the season.
On top of that he has managed six assists, is the fifth best fullback in La Liga for average tackles per game, and sneaked into the top ten for average interceptions per game.
Not bad for a team that didn’t win at home till April.
Athletic Bilbao have already tested the resolve of their neighbours to the east with a bid of €4 million but Osasuna are holding out for the reported €9 million release clause, and with Napoli waiting in the shadows the club from Pamplona may yet get their desired valuation.
Potential destination: Athletic Bilbao and Napoli
Price: €7-9 million
A former Liverpool flop has been reborn at Celta Vigo and his season has finished the season better than many expected.
Iago Aspas is the highest scoring Spaniard in La Liga which shouldn’t be something to shout about, but with you know who and what’s his name around it has become something of an accolade in Spain recently.
Aspas has scored twenty six in all competitions this season for Celta Vigo who finished 13th in the league.
A good run to the semi-final of the Europa League has allowed many across Europe to get a good look at the man who never settled on Merseyside.
Having rejected an approach from PSG in January and stating he wants to end his career in Galicia it could take more than a fat stack of cash to entice him away.
However, with no European football at Balaídos next season, coach Eduardo Berizzo leaving Celta for Sevilla, a reunion in Andalucia could be on the cards.
The potential transfer of Antione Griezmann could begin a chain of events which then means Atlético Madrid become interested. This is a saga that could go on until August.
Potential destination: Atlético Madrid, Sevilla, and Everton.
Price: €30-40 million
The only place to start in Italy is the team of the year, Atalanta.
To finish above both Milan teams isn’t as tall a feat as ten years a go but should not be overlooked either.
One man who has already made some headlines with links to Antonio Conte’s Chelsea and AC Milan is Ivory Coast midfielder and potential heir to Yaya Toure’s crown Franck Kessié.
His galloping runs from deep have been essential to his teams high finish this year and he has guarded the area ahead of his defence with stature and intelligence.
His stats for interceptions and tackles are low but that only highlights his speed of thought and anticipation of the game. At only 20 he is sure to have the elite making enquiries this summer.
With links to Manchester United and Chelsea going as far back as January, it seemed as though AC Milan had made a real coup in getting Kessie in the black and red of Milan.
However problems have occurred during the first phase of his medical and so this could be the chance for another big team to swoop in and bag a real star for the future.
Potential destination: AC Milan, Roma, Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea.
Price: €28 million.
Another surprise of the Serie A season has been how well Simone Inzaghi has done as Lazio manager.
After the soap opera surrounding Marcelo Bielsa, who resigned after 2 days at the helm, Inzaghi has taken his team to the Coppa Italia final and a place in the Europa League.
When you compare the money available to Lazio with that of Roma, Juventus and Inter Milan that is some achievement.
Ciro Immobile has done well, but the man many top teams are looking at is Balde Keita.
The Senegalese forward has banged in 10 goals in 7 games since being moved into his favoured striker role.
His finishing is immaculate, his acceleration blistering, and two goals away to Roma show he can score when it matters.
He can play on the wing and likes to cut inside, making him an incredible bargain at €25 million which is what Lazio are rumoured to have priced him up as.
Many in Italy believe he is already a Juventus player but with the Chinese money of both Milan clubs the Italian transfer market will be like the main office of The Wolf of Wall Street this summer.
Possible destination: Juventus, AC Milan, Inter Milan and Liverpool.
Price: €25 million.
Having mentioned the highest scoring Spaniard in La Liga it is fitting that the highest scoring Italian in Serie A also gets a mention.
Andrea Belotti looks set for big things in his career. Having notched up twenty five league goals for a Torino side who finished a disappointing 9th in the league, Belotti could well be looking at his options for next term and have many top teams to choose from.
The 23 year old Italian has scored a variety of striker’s goals and the ten scored from headers are the most any forward as scored with his head in the top five European leagues.
His strong build makes him look a very attractive prospect to Manchester United but they will have competition as Inter have already had a bid of €65 million plus Andrea Ranocchia rejected.
Possible destination: Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal, AC Milan and Inter Milan.
Price: €70 million plus.
Former Blackburn Rovers failure Anthony Modeste has been grabbing the headlines this year for Cologne, thanks to a 25 goal haul in the league which helped them attain European football for the first time in 25 years. Rightfully so too.
In spite of this, it is Frederik Sorensen to whom I believe could improve a team on the cusp of the Champions League or better.
A tall defender who likes a tackle and averages over 5 clearances per game could certainly adapt to the English game quickly.
The Danish centre back’s time in Italy with Juventus and Bologna, helped his tactical game and his long passing is another feather to his bow.
With his contract due to run out in 2019 he may be tempted to stay in Cologne for their Europa League campaign next year but could also easily be drawn away by the promise of mega bucks and mega ambition.
Potential destination: Borussia Dortmund, RB Leipzig and Liverpool.
Price: €10-12 million.
It would be cruel not to mention the success of the pantomime villain of Germany this year, as RB Leipzig finished an astonishing second and guaranteed Champions League football for the first time in their short history.
Much has been said of the money pumped in by Red Bull and how they lack the soul to be a true Bundesliga club, but the strategy they planned and then executed to perfection regarding recruitment, fitness, and attitude makes other more historic Bundesliga teams look as well run as Italian shambles Palermo in recent years.
The first player to be on the back papers of most tabloids this summer is midfield powerhouse Naby Keita.
He can play anywhere centrally and still make a vital difference either by scoring or assisting, as well as covering his tracks and not leaving his defence exposed.
His statistics speak for themselves; eight goals, seven assists, and more than 2 tackles and interceptions on average per game all add up to one hell of a midfielder.
At 22 the Leipzig midfielder would enhance any elite teams midfield but rumours linking him with a €55 million move to Liverpool will not go away.
Whether or not they get him over the line is another question and one many other clubs will be waiting to know the answer to.
Potential destination: Chelsea, Manchester City, Liverpool, Bayern Munich and Juventus.
Price: €55 million.
Whilst we’re in Leipzig we may as well stay there.
Emil Forsberg is the assist king with a staggering nineteen for the season.
Considering the fact that Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben, or Robbery as they are known, managed one more between them puts that feat into perspective.
A right footer who likes to play on the left wing, he also averages over three key passes a game and has a wicked delivery from set pieces.
He has professed his love for his idol Zlatan Ibrahimovic which could mean Manchester United are a potential suitor, or that he is simply like many other Swedish footballers.
With the Champions League beckoning next season for Leipzig it would take a lot to tempt him out of East Germany, but money is not so much of an object anymore and crazier things have happened in the transfer window.
Potential destination: Arsenal, Manchester United, Bayern Munich and Chelsea.
Price: €40 million.
English Premier League
For a league that beats it’s chest with pride at how competitive it is, this year has lacked any kind of real competition.
The league itself could have finished a few weeks early with the final positions more or less being the same.
However, there have still been some standout stars for under or over achieving clubs depending on your perspective and Hull City are the epitome of that.
Marco Silva went from being attacked for being chosen over English managers to tactical genius in six short months in Humberside, and his arrival at Watford could have a knock-on effect on the future of 24 year old Sheffield born centre back Harry Maguire.
Not a regular at the start of the season, but once Silva arrived in January he was given a chance and never looked back.
Strong, good with his feet, can pick a pass, and tough in the tackle; his ability to move forward with the ball has caused former Arsenal and Tottenham great Sol Campbell to sing his praises, and a number of Premier League clubs are monitoring his situation due to Hull City’s relegation.
He will more than likely end up in the Premier League next season but I would personally love to see him in the Bundesliga as his passing game and confidence would suit the style of German football well.
Potential destination: Tottenham Hotspur, Everton, Newcastle United and Arsenal.
Price: €25 million.
Moving further north to another relegated side, Sunderland, whose one and only positive in what has been a wretched but inevitable season for the Mackems is 23 year old goalkeeper Jordan Pickford.
Only in the first team because David Moyes couldn’t convince Joe Hart to join on loan last August, Pickford has been superb between the sticks.
He’s top of the table — a rarity for anyone in a Sunderland shirt — for average saves per match at 4.7. His distribution ain’t half bad either at 11.4 accurate long balls per game, are you listening Pep?
With money troubles, a complete lack of any team cohesion, no manager and an owner who wants out, Sunderland may not be in the Premier League for quite some time.
Everton have begun the auction with derisory bid of £8 million. The Blues would be awaiting a reply but the laughter from the north east can be heard in Calais.
Pickford will no doubt have his choice of club but playing time will be essential for the youngster.
Potential destinations: Arsenal, Manchester City, Everton and West Ham United.
Price: €30 million.
For any team looking for a Spanish midfielder to steady the ship in the centre of the park, whilst simultaneously covering the defence from any attack, then look no further than the south coast of England.
The club known for losing its best talent will have to do it all again this summer as former Chelsea player Oriol Romeu could be on the top of many shopping lists.
He won both player’s player of the season and fan’s player of the season at the end of year awards.
Of the past five winners of both awards only one is still at St Mary’s, Shane Long. Other alumni include Adam Lallana, Morgan Schneiderlin, and Jose Fonte.
Romeu has upped his game this year and playing regularly for two straight seasons has brought the best out in him.
Passing, tackling and reading the game so well that he is always in the right place at the right time make him a prize asset for Southampton who won’t want to let him go on the cheap.
Apparently, that is why Barcelona, yes you read that right, are not so sure to pursue with their interest in the player who spent time at La Masia as a youngster.
The rumours linking him with Liverpool are also floating as they always do when a Southampton player excels.
Potential destination: Barcelona, Liverpool and Everton.
Price: €35 million plus.