Bold Predictions as January Transfer Window Kicks Off
The silly season is in full flow as the January transfer window kicks off across Europe.
Despite a whole host of big names being linked with super-clubs around the continent, blockbuster moves are few and far between in the winter window.
However, as we've seen in the past, January has seen some very high-profile deals in recent years, most notably the Andy Carroll and Fernando Torres switches.
While a lot of managers are being killjoys and quashing rumours of tantalising transfers, anything can happen in the January transfer window.
So, here are some bold predictions for this month's speculation-fest.
Wesley Sneijder, Radamel Falcao and David Villa Will All Make EPL Moves
Wesley Sneijder, Radamel Falcao and David Villa have all been linked with Premier League moves in recent weeks, and could very well move to Europe's richest league.
Inter Milan star Sneijder, who for a few seasons was courted by Manchester United and Chelsea, is wanted by Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur, according to the Daily Mirror.
A move to either club would be logical with Sneijder's most comfortable positions—the furthest forward in a midfield three or out on the left in an attacking trio—making him a versatile option in the fluid 4-3-3 formation favoured by both Reds manager Brendan Rodgers and Spurs boss Andre Villas-Boas.
And Sneijder himself has admitted he could move this month, being quoted in the Mirror saying: "Clearly it’s best for everyone concerned that in January I am transferred."
Meanwhile Radamel Falcao has long been linked with a switch to Manchester City or Chelsea, with both clubs having the money to match his €60 million buy-out clause.
The 26-year-old Colombian striker, who has scored more La Liga goals than Cristiano Ronaldo so far this season, is quoted in The Sun as saying he won't he leave in January.
However, many players have said the same thing in the past and left a few days later, and with both Chelsea and City able to double the striker's £5 million-a-year salary, a move shouldn't be ruled out.
Especially considering Falcao would be the missing piece of the jigsaw for Chelsea, who's attacking line would be complete with a proven finisher who can hold up play and dominate aerially.
While for City, the Atletico Madrid forward could be the difference manager Roberto Mancini desires in his team, after the Italian tactician admitted the club's failure to sign Robin van Persie in the summer could cost them the title (h/t BBC Sport).
And lastly David Villa could complete a tantalising trio of star names transferring to the Premier League this winter.
According to the Daily Mail, Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea are all keen on the Spaniard, who himself is apparently interested in a move to England.
Available for £16 million, one of those clubs could well take a financial gamble on the 31-year-old come the end of the month, especially if they fail to land their other targets and the goals dry up in the next few matches.
Another established, world-class goalscorer who's guaranteed to excel in the Premier League with his technical ability and tactical flexibility, provided he can prove his fitness, don't rule out Villa earning one last big blockbuster move.
England's Big Six Will All Sign Players
It's no secret that a lot of the Premier League's top clubs want to strengthen their squads this January, and it seems that all of England's big six could sign players this window.
Manager Roberto Mancini has admitted Manchester City will sign players this month, saying (here via Metro):
We might have a problem. We lose three to the African Nations Cup and I don’t think Micah Richards will play until the end of February.
We will probably have to buy.
Being seven points behind leaders Manchester United, it's clear City need something to revitalise the team and give them that killer-edge they've lacked from last season's swashbuckling, title-winning campaign.
London trio Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur also all look set to bolster their ranks, with the Gunners having already tabled a £10 million bid for out of favour Atletico Madrid forward Adrian Lopez (h/t goal.com).
Chelsea are also set to sign new talent, with the Daily Mirror reporting that, in typical Rafael Benitez style, the Blues are after Newcastle United striker Demba Ba, and more unknown talents in Metalist Kharkiv midfielder Taison and Corinthians star Paulinho.
Tottenham Hotspur could be in for Shakhtar Donetsk star Willian and Internacional's Leandro Damiao, after manager Andre Villas-Boas confirmed his team's interest in the duo (via SkySports.com).
Liverpool have already been busy this window and should soon complete the signings of Tom Ince from Blackpool and Daniel Sturridge from Chelsea in the coming days, while a loan move for Paris Saint-Germain striker Kevin Gameiro is also on the cards (h/t The Telegraph).
And Manchester United could also see action this window. Whilst manager Sir Alex Ferguson has ruled out any major signings, the Red Devils supremo said the club will continue to invest in young talent, writing in his programme notes before the Newcastle game:
Of course, as always, we will be on the lookout for young players of potential who we can develop.
We have always done that and it's the main reason why we never have to buy out of desperation. We always work for the future as well as trying our best to produce winning teams for the present.
January may not be the best time for blockbuster moves, but it's not a bad bet that all of the Premier League's Hollywood clubs could be busy this month.
Ashley Cole Will Move to Either Real Madrid or Paris Saint-Germain
Both Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain need left-backs, and both are interested in Chelsea star Ashley Cole.
The Daily Mirror reports that the cash-rich super-clubs will open talks this week with Cole over a move, after talks with the Blues stalled with the defender wanting a new three-year contract as opposed to the one-year extension offered.
Real and PSG are said to be willing to give Cole a three-year deal, and while a summer move has been talked about, Chelsea could well want to cash in on the 32-year-old if a decent offer comes in, instead of letting him to go on a free at the end of his current contract in June.
La Liga champions Real could certainly do with Cole in their side, with no established left-back this season.
Marcelo and Fabio Coentrao have shared the role this term, with each player slotting into the team when the other's injured.
Manager Jose Mourinho likes signing in players he's worked with before, having brought, amongst others, Ricardo Carvalho and Michael Essien with him from Chelsea.
PSG boss Carlo Ancelotti is another manager keen on signing former players, and could also do with a new left-back in his squad with Maxwell the only established left-sided defender in the team.
Both Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain have the finances to give Chelsea and Ashley Cole what they want, while both could do with a player of Cole's quality in their defences.
It is unlikely this move will happen in January, but if the money either team are capable of is put on the table, don't rule out Ashley Cole leaving Chelsea this winter.
Fernando Llorente Will Be Biggest Serie A Signing
AC Milan desperately need some major signings if they are to even make the UEFA Champions League next season, while Inter could do with one or two marquee signings to help them score more than two goals in a game.
However, while they will no doubt strengthen in January, the chances of the Milan duo getting the world-class names they've been linked with is low.
The only team who doesn't necessarily need to make any big moves this winter but will make one anyway is Serie A Champions and current leaders Juventus.
One blockbuster transfer they could well make is the acquisition of Fernando Llorente from Athletic Bilbao.
The Bianconeri have long been linked with a move for the Spaniard, and goal.com reports that Juve will soon make a new €7 million bid for the striker having seen a €4 million offer rejected.
It certainly won't be the most expensive transfer in Italy this month but it'll probably be the most high-profile, especially considering the diminished appeal and current financial state of Serie A clubs.
A move to Turin is a logical one for Llorente, Juve and Athletic.
Llorente wants to win trophies and play Champions League football which he'll get, while the 27-year-old is the missing piece in manager Antonio Conte's jigsaw, i.e. a true target man for the crosses of Kwadwo Asamoah and Stephan Lichtsteiner, as well as a hold-up player to bring the likes of Sebastian Giovinco, Claudio Marchisio and Arturo Vidal into play.
And for Athletic, getting around €7 million or a bit more for a player who doesn't want to play for the club, is out of favour with the fans, has been well replaced by Aritz Aduriz and has got just six months left on his contract constitutes a good bit of business.
Demba Ba Will Stay at Newcastle
Now this may seem a strange one and could easily turn out to be wrong in the next day or two, but there's a good chance Demba Ba will stay at Newcastle.
That's despite the fact Chelsea have been given permission to speak to Ba after activating his infamous £7.5 million release clause (h/t BBC Sport).
However, talks between the Blues and Ba's representatives had taken place prior to the release clause being activated, and were described as "unproductive" according to The Independent, with the striker unhappy with the money being offered by the Stamford Bridge outfit.
And while they've now been given official permission to speak to the player himself, the chances are talks with Ba may not be much more productive than they have been with just his representatives.
After all, Ba reportedly wants a four-year deal worth £90,000-a-week (double his current salary), despite the big possibility that he will fail a thorough medical evaluation due to a chronic injury in one of his knees (h/t Daily Mail).
While the fact he has this very cheap release clause in the first place, combined with the £2 million loyalty bonus he'll be paid when he leaves St. James' Park and the £5 million commission his representatives are seeking from his new club (h/t Daily Mail), makes Ba come across as a poisonous player to negotiate with.
Considering Chelsea are refusing to give club legend Frank Lampard a new deal and loyal servant Ashley Cole anything more than a one-year contract extension (via The Guardian), the chances of them bowing to Demba Ba's demands at the moment seem quite slim.
An Unknown Player Will Move to a Big Team and Become a Star
Chelsea have recently been linked with big money moves for unheralded attacking midfielder Taison from Metalist Kharkiv and defensive mid Paulinho from Corinthians (here via the Daily Mirror).
Arsenal are said to be in talks to sign Stoppila Sunzu from TP Mazembe according to The Sun, the 23-year-old Zambia international centre-back who scored the winning penalty in the 2012 African Cup of Nations Final.
And according to Spanish daily AS, Manchester City are preparing a January bid for the extremely under-rated Real Betis playmaker Beñat Etxebarria, who has a release clause of €20 million.
Celta Vigo striker Iago Aspas is on the radar of Atletico Madrid and Swansea City (h/t SkySports), while Toulouse midfielder Moussa Sissoko could be the subject of a £10 million offer from Arsenal or Newcastle United, reports BBC Sport.
In essence, a lot of under-the-radar players are being linked with big moves across Europe, and the chances are a few of them will be pulled off and provide value for money.
After all, Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra were both unheralded January signings for Manchester United, as was Branislav Ivanovic for Chelsea, Emmanuel Adebayor for Arsenal, Mikel Arteta for Everton, etc.
One "unknown" player who could make the biggest splash with a move in the transfer window is Henrikh Mkhitaryan (pictured).
The 23-year-old attacking midfielder has scored 18 goals and made seven assists in 17 league games for Shakhtar Donetsk this season, and according to Ukrainian media (here in English) is reportedly interesting Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund and Schalke 04 amongst others.
Cristiano Ronaldo to Manchester United?
Now this is as bold and unlikely as they come, but there's the very slightest chance possible Cristiano Ronaldo may return to Manchester United.
The Real Madrid superstar recently spoke about his love for United, saying (h/t Manchester Evening News):
I still have great feeling of friendship and love for them, they're a team that have done a lot for my career.
The fans know me well and I have a lot of friends there that I keep close to my heart.
Meanwhile talks over a new contract at the Bernabeu have stalled (here via The Guardian), with Ronaldo's current deal set to run out in June 2015.
And that has created speculation over a return to Old Trafford, with Antony Kastrinakis writing in The Sun that a sensational transfer back to the Premier League leaders is a possibility:
Cristiano Ronaldo will not cost Manchester United £122 million if he quits Madrid.
If Ronaldo genuinely wants to leave, then Real’s asking price will tumble and players will come into the negotiations.
The fee would be around £60m with David de Gea and possibly Nani joining Real.
SunSport broke the bombshell news that Ronaldo has confided in his former Manchester United team-mates that he would love to return home to Old Trafford.
In last week’s column I told you Ronaldo could now force his way out of Madrid as he will have just two years left on his contract in the summer.
On Wednesday Madrid sports daily AS splashed with the news Ronaldo will not renew his deal. The article was signed by one of his close friends.
A very bold prediction to make and most unlikely to actually come off, but as the cliché saying goes in football, never say never.