Top 15 January Transfer Targets Playing for Unfancied Clubs
Bleacher Report presents the top 15 January transfer targets playing for unfancied clubs.
What is an unfancied club? It’s a team that isn’t at the forefront of the average footballing fan’s mind. Generally speaking, it’s a side that makes up the numbers.
This article will not include Eintracht Frankfurt or Toulouse players because good team chemistry is a sizeable factor in both clubs occupying a place in the upper echelons of their respective leagues.
Of course, should Eintracht Frankfurt or Toulouse fall back into mediocrity come the January transfer window, then they would be more inclined to do business.
15. Andrei Gorbunov, BATE Borisov, Goalkeeper, Age: 29
It must be the angle of photo because Andrei Gorbunov doesn't actually look like Oliver Kahn.
He has though summoned his inner Kahn in the UEFA Champions League.
Dimitri Payet, Mathieu Debuchy, Florent Balmont and Salomon Kalou all came to the conclusion that it wasn't their day as Gorbunov pulled off save after save during Lille's 3-1 loss.
Should BATE Borisov progress to the knockout stages and thus denying either Valencia or Bayern Munich a place, logically Gorbunov isn't going to be sold in January.
Speaking about Bayern Munich, Gorbunov was world class as BATE pulled off a master class in counterattacking football during a 3-1 win against the German club.
Even in the 3-0 loss to Valencia, Gorbunov made some good saves and stopped Roberto Soldado from matching Lionel Messi's achievement of scoring five goals in one Champions League game.
14. Bruno Bertucci, Neftchi Baku, Left-Back, Age: 22
Three years ago, Bruno Bertucci was mainly a spectator as Brazil reached the FIFA U-20 World Cup final (they were beaten by Ghana on penalties).
He certainly has pedigree considering Rogério Lourenço included the left-back in a squad containing the likes of Alex Teixeira, Douglas Costa, Ganso, Souza, Alan Kardec and Giuliano.
Now you're probably wondering what is Bertucci doing playing in Azerbaijan for Neftchi Baku?
He's bounced around a few clubs so he needed stability, but even then, surely he could have found his way onto a better team.
It never ceases to amaze me how ingenious some of these agents are.
Whoever is advising Bertucci persuaded him to sign with Neftchi Baku solely to attract attention from scouts in the UEFA Europa League.
During a 0-0 draw against Partizan Belgrade, scouts were watching the game to keep tabs on 18-year-olds Aleksandar Mitrović and Lazar Marković.
Instead, they watched Bertucci accumulate eight tackles, intercept two passes whilst also being a lively threat going forward.
There's a reason why Bertucci is averaging 7.7 tackles and 3.7 interceptions per Europa League game.
He's playing to get signed to a better team. Sometimes, you have to take a step back to move two steps forward. Just ask Hulk, whose decision to play in Japan revitalised his floundering career.
In fairness to 25-year-old Paraguayan Éric Ramos, he has been equally proficient in winning back the ball for Neftchi Baku.
13. Kurt Zouma, Saint-Étienne, Centre-Back, Age: 17
Saint-Étienne are being hassled for Kurt Zouma by financially stronger European clubs, just like Lens were when they had Raphaël Varane.
It's quite rare for a 17-year-old like Zouma to be physically ready for top-flight football but to also be able to read the game like a seasoned pro.
He's been a pivotal piece to Saint-Étienne's defence that has conceded the second-fewest amount of goals in Ligue 1 (behind Paris Saint-Germain).
12. Leo, Rayo Vallecano, Centre-Forward, Age: 20
Rayo Vallecano have a reputation as a tough-nosed agricultural team—Javi Fuego embodies that stereotype.
Yet, they have some extremely technical and skillful players on the team like Leo, Alejandro Domínguez and Roberto Trashorras.
Leo in particular because he's only 20 years old, has shown flashes of brilliance and is producing with limited help—four league goals, the same as the £50 million-valued Fernando Torres, who has Juan Mata, Oscar and Eden Hazard as teammates.
Leo has led the line as a No. 9 but he can also drop deep to play as a second striker.
If only Diego Costa was still at the club, Leo would have more goal-scoring opportunities playing off the 6'2" Costa.
11. Pape Diop, Levante, Defensive Midfielder, Age: 26
Before the beefy Sergio Ballesteros had a chance to hack down Luc Castaignos, Twente's forward had to survive the gauntlet of Pape Diop and Vicente Iborra (the Dutchman didn't fare well).
With 4.2 tackles and 3.1 interceptions per La Liga game, Diop is a world-class ball-winner.
His presence in midfield is so invaluable to Levante as evident in a surprise 1-0 win over Valencia.
Jonas was left frustrated by the Senegalese's constant harassment. When Jonas was replaced by Nelson Valdez, Diop upped the ante, and the Paraguayan didn't even get off a shot in 28 minutes.
10. Iago Aspas, Celta Vigo, Deep-Lying Forward, Age: 25
Last season, some people used to joke that Arsenal were Robin van Persie and 10 other players.
Well, you can apply that to Celta Vigo because Iago Aspas is their creative hub, their talisman and their most technical player.
When he doesn't play well, Celta's chances of winning diminish.
9. Ádám Szalai, Mainz, Centre-Forward, Age: 24
Ádám Szalai's former Mainz teammates, André Schürrle and Lewis Holtby, have become household names in the Bundesliga.
Szalai is attracting more of the spotlight this season with seven league goals in nine games.
He's an aerial target but has also found himself in the right position at the right time. He finally seems to be maximising the potential Real Madrid saw in him.
8. Míchel, Levante, Attacking Midfielder, Age: 24
Míchel took advantage of Felipe Gutierrez's inexperience and ran the show Levante during their 3-0 win over Twente.
Míchel was classy in possession, played several incisive passes and hassled Twente's midfield three when Levante didn't have possession.
The 24-year-old has mainly been an impact sub in La Liga but he has proven himself whenever called upon: a 90th-minute winner against Espanyol. He had an assist three minutes after coming on against Granada.
7. Wilfried Bony, Vitesse, Centre-Forward, Age: 23
With people assuming the Vitesse vs. Feyenoord game was going to end 0-0, Wilfried Bony nonchalantly backheeled Mike Havenaar's shot-cum-cross past Erwin Mulder in the 91st minute for the winning goal.
Last August, with the game tied at 1-1 against Utrecht, Bony chased down a Hail Mary, barged his way past Kai Heerings and Alje Schut to slot home the 89th-minute winner.
Bony is fearless, built like a tank and is a good finisher.
6. Timm Klose, Nürnberg, Centre-Back, Age: 24
Timm Klose is emulating Philipp Wollscheid's breakout 2010-11 season for Nürnberg.
Klose can read the game like Lúcio in his prime because the 24-year-old centre-back is so adept at cutting off through balls.
The Swiss international is one to watch out for.
5. Morgan Schneiderlin, Southampton, Defensive Midfielder, Age: 22
Southampton find themselves in an unenviable predicament as they languish in the relegation zone.
It's an unfair assessment of Nigel Adkins' managerial ability because the Saints have played well. Adam Lallana has been elite. Rickie Lambert is a threat to score goals.
But the most consistent Southampton player has been Morgan Schneiderlin, who continues to put in a first-rate shift as the defensive midfielder.
He has won back possession 8.1 times per Premier League game, which is world class. At just 22 years of age, he has the potential to become an elite defensive midfielder.
4. Joan Verdú, Espanyol, Attacking Midfielder, Age: 29
Denis Doyle/Getty Images
After you watch Joan Verdú launch 30-yard passes and maneuver his way out of trouble, you can't help but be impressed.
Once you're told he was a former Barcelona player, your reaction would probably be: "oh, that makes sense."
Since he plays for Espanyol, who are just hopeless, he has to take more risks with his passing, which is why he has only completed 79.4 percent of his passes.
If he played for Swansea City or Lille, his passing percentage would be in the 90s.
Hopefully, he signs for a Premier League club, instead of going into semi-retirement via the MLS or the A-League.
3. Ryan Shawcross, Stoke City, Centre-Back, Age: 25
Ryan Shawcross has a reputation as an uncontrollable hack after having injured several players in the past.
Yet, he only averages 0.8 fouls per game in the Premier League, ranked 144th this EPL season.
What he did in the past was disgraceful, but that shouldn't alter the way you evaluate him as a player.
He's playing the best football of his life, he's bailed Stoke City out several times with last-ditched tackles and he's also cut off plenty of passes.
He can play at a bigger club because he's performing better than Gary Cahill and Joleon Lescott this season.
2. Raúl Bobadilla, Young Boys, Centre-Forward, Age: 25
Raúl Bobadilla is a gifted but fiery forward—he's a toned-down version of Edmundo.
Bobadilla spent most of his Borussia Mönchengladbach career as an impact sub, which affected his performances because he knew he was good enough to start.
Sadly, he'll be remembered in Germany for going bonkers on Sérgio Pinto, which led to a straight red and a five-game ban.
He has resurfaced this season with Swiss club Young Boys, who have played entertaining football in the UEFA Europa League.
He created two goals in a 5-3 loss to Liverpool and scored a world-class hat trick against Udinese.
1. Angelo Ogbonna, Torino, Centre-Back, Age: 24
Angelo Ogbonna has been impeccable at the back for Torino.
He's dealt with the high expectations quite well, even though Juan Jesus and Andrea Ranocchia have clearly been more dominant centre-backs.
What you're going to get from Ogbonna is error-free performances, eagerness to win back the ball and 90-95 percent of completed passes.
He is playing at an elite level and he has the ability to make the step up into a world-class centre-back.
Like with Gianluigi Lentini, Torino should be able to sell Ogbonna for a substantial transfer fee.