Biggest English Premier League Stars at Risk of Summer Transfers
As winter subsides and we all wistfully prepare ourselves for the apparent warm weather that may or may not appear any day, football managers across the land begin to look at who they may wish to harvest in the summer months.
With the two Manchester clubs and their thoroughbreds now pulling many furlongs clear on the Premier League home straight, the other colts still have much to play for.
So as the season winds down and teams do battle on either European or domestic frontiers, now is the time when attention turns towards the offseason break and the winds of change don't just blow through but rather hammer down the stadium doors.
With the January transfer window a distant memory, the rumour mill is already working overtime linking in-form, in-luck or just plain old unsettled players to their next move.
It's common knowledge that the highly-coveted Gareth Bale may be the subject of flirtatious bids emanating from Spain. Having recently hit tantalising form, both Real Madrid and Barcelona have been linked with Tottenham's prize asset.
The tabloids have also been linking Swansea's Spanish conquistador, Michu, with a move. We all know how little he cost the Swans—contrary to popular belief, his full name is not Two Million Pound Michu—and now he may also be in the crosshairs of some of the continent's leading teams.
It is also old hat that Everton may well be in a jam as clubs circle with bids for their mod-rocker left-back Leighton Baines, long touted as a long-term successor to either Patrice Evra at Manchester United or Ashley Cole at Chelsea..
But, in addition to this triumvirate, who else is rumoured to soon be on the move?
Since his arrival at Anfield in January 2011, two things have been synonymous with Luis Suarez's foray into English football: controversial episodes and virtuoso performances.
Wishing to not dwell on the former—with the nadir coming during the much-publicised racially tinged attack of Manchester United's Patrice Evra—it is the latter which has had pundits cathartically describing him in superlatives.
As Liverpool continue to go through a season of transition, the Uruguayan frontman has been a constant source of hope and delight.
With 18 league goals in 26 appearances, Suarez has proved to be a quasi messiah for the red half of Liverpool, with fans subsequently worshiping him in such a way.
Sitting eighth in the table, they are eight points adrift of that wondrous fifth-placed gateway finish that would bring European football next season, to a stadium which would almost not know what to do with itself if devoid of any continental competition.
And after crashing out of the Europa League last week with all guns blazing to Zenit St Petersburg—a 3-1 vanquish was almost enough, but being 3-3 on aggregate, the Russians' solitary away goal proved adequate to see them through—there does not appear much reason for optimism on Merseyside.
Having crashed out of both domestic cup competitions at early stages, Liverpool can now—reluctantly or otherwise—prioritise on that hallowed league finish.
The caveat being: Does this appease the competitive and ambitious Suarez?
Worries exist within Anfield that the creative player, capable of playing either behind the striker in a "trequartista" role or as a lone frontman, may look to move to a club that is competing in Europe's premier competition at present, rather than in the future pretence that Brendan Rodgers craves.
Pep Guardiola, fresh from his year-long sabbatical of delivering trophies and known to be an admirer of Suarez, will resume his career at Bayern Munich this summer.
With Suarez today saying he would consider a move to Germany, Guardiola could exploit the fact that his brother, Pere, represents the Uruguayan.
In addition, rumours abound that he may look to pair the Uruguayan with another South American, Radamel Falcao from Atletico Madrid. The Colombian looks almost certain to leave Spain this summer in a move which may set the striker transfer roundabout in hyperdrive.
In all the column inches and punditry plaudits that Gareth Bale has, quite justifiably, recently generated, there is one glaring omission: nobody seems to mention the nightmare start that he endured upon his arrival in North London.
Purchased for £10 million from Southampton during that heady summer of 2007, when Sporting Director Damien Comolli and former coach Juande Ramos oversaw a spending spree of maverick proportions, the then 17-year-old was a precocious self-styled gung-ho left-back.
The Welsh international took a while to find his feet at White Hart Lane. Two seasons and 25 games, in fact. He made his debut on the opening day of the 2007-08 season—when Spurs went down 1-0 away to Manchester United—the next two seasons proved somewhat of a roller coaster.
Battling injury and inconsistent form, Bale was very almost shipped out during the 2009-10 transfer window: Nottingham Forest offered a loan move, whilst Birmingham City made a tentative permanent bid. Only 20, the youngster was frustrated at having been involved in 25 league games and not once experiencing victory.
As soon as that changed—during a 5-0 thrashing of newly promoted Burnley—the floodgates opened. Despite having to compete with the in-form Benoit Assou-Ekotto, Bale showed promise, potential and prodigious talent.
Fast-forward a season, to a Champions League tie with Italian giants Inter Milan, and Bale has just left the experienced and once-revered Brazilian left-back Maicon for dead for the third time. Delivering an impressive hat-trick, it may not have been enough to avert a 4-3 defeat to the then-champions of Europe, but the world sat up and paid attention to this lad from South Wales.
This season, under new coach Andre Villas-Boas, Bale has thrived.
Anybody who saw his two goals against West Ham on Monday night will see that the previous hoodoo he experienced—that winless streak, that inconsistency, that finding of feet—could be put down to teething trouble.
What is not in doubt is that this summer, bids may well rain in for the Premier League's hottest property. Chairman Daniel Levy, an expert at negotiation who managed to sell Michael Carrick for £18 million, will expect top dollar.
Spain could be a probable destination. Barcelona's Dani Alves has already publicly stated he would like to see the Welshman become the latest addition at the Nou Camp.
Whilst the hierarchy of Real Madrid are also known to be big admirers of his barnstorming playing style—compared to that of a certain Portuguese player—but the expected managerial upheaval may go against them.
In football years, it seems like a lifetime ago since Samir Nasri was wearing the red of Arsenal and slicing open opposition defences.
After hitting the high notes during the 2010/11 season, both Manchester teams tussled over his signature in a much-publicised transfer saga. In the end, City were victorious, nabbing the Frenchman for a fee reported to be around £25 million.
And the investment paid off. In his debut season at the Etihad, Samir Nasri was a pivotal component of the Citizens' title-winning team.
With nine assists and five goals in 31 appearances, he became a fan favourite, a feat aided by his goading of former club Arsenal during a feisty encounter.
But this season, he has struggled to replicate that same scintillating form, with City boss Roberto Mancini recently accusing him of complacency. The writing was on the wall during December's Manchester derby when he ducked out of the way of a Robin van Persie free-kick, allowing United to nick a 3-2 victory.
One thing is not in doubt: Nasri still has a lot to offer. With near-360-degree vision and the ability to pick out a teammate with a ball through the eye of the needle, the 25-year-old still has a promising career ahead of him.
But one can pontificate whether that is in Manchester or elsewhere. As Mancini prepares for the summer and the season post-mortem that comes with it, it's looking likely he will stay in a job: chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak has not given the Italian the double-edged, and often ominous, "vote of confidence" but has remained patient.
Barring a cataclysmic implosion of catastrophic proportions, the title looks to be heading to Old Trafford: With a 12-point lead, Manchester United have been ruthless in their bid to attain their 20th championship. Out of Europe, the FA Cup remains the last shot at silverware for City.
Preparing for next season, this summer may see a radical overhaul at the Ethad. There will be no room for passengers, and Nasri may head the departure line. Cash-rich Paris Saint-Germain may prove a favourable destination: A return to his homeland could rejuvenate the Frenchman's performances.
In a season where Manchester United's defence has been placed under the microscope, it is unexpected that a midfielder should be the one fearing for his place in Sir Alex Ferguson's squad.
But that is what has been recently reported. With contract talks being prolonged and drawn-out, as well as several seasons of frustrating performances, Luis Nani may soon be heading out of Old Trafford.
Purchased in the summer of 2007 for over €25 million, the comparisons with his compatriot Cristiano Ronaldo were inevitable.
Both were products of the acclaimed Sporting Lisbon youth academy, having both arrived on the mainland from Portuguese islands—Nani from Cape Verde, Cristiano Ronaldo from Madeira—with both being known for their blistering pace and ability to create, and score, from the wing.
However, whilst his countryman ignited and lit up Old Trafford during his six-year stay, Nani's career is more akin to holding up a beacon, only for it to flicker and, at times, almost extinguish completely.
He has delivered key performances. During that 4-0 FA Cup thumping of Arsenal in February 2008—who were then only three years without a trophy—he nonchalantly submitted a man of the match performance: two goals scored and the whole of the Arsenal team riled by his apparent "showboating" of juggling the ball on his head.
He is a capable member of Ferguson's squad. He has been known to step it up and grab a game by the scruff of its neck.
This was apparent only last week when, against Reading in the FA Cup, he arose from the bench around the 40 minute mark. After less than an hour on the pitch he had a goal and an assist to his name as United ran out 2-1 winners.
But performances of this nature do not happen with the frequency that Ferguson and the fans would like. Often, he has been caught short: whether it be his final ball, his delivery into the box, his propensity to shoot from absurd distances or his reluctance to track back and help teammates, Nani frustrates.
During the recent transfer window, Tottenham were rumoured to have submitted a bid. Whilst they were told nothing would come to fruition, the same cannot be said for this summer.
And with Crystal Palace's prodigious England international Wilfried Zaha arriving in the summer—a winger-cum-striker who plays almost in the mould of Nani—the Portuguese midfielder may wish to mimic Ronaldo and depart after six trophy-laden seasons.
When Paul Lambert arrived in the summer, Aston Villa fans had reason to hope and believe that they had a manager who shared their ambition.
Following the regressive reigns of Gerard Houllier and Alex McLeish, the faithful now had a young and dynamic manager who had just ensured Norwich enjoyed a wraught-free return to the top flight. If that wasn't suffice, he had pre-empted that with presiding over the Canaries' back-to-back promotions.
Chairman Randy Lerner had to fight hard to get his man in a tussle, which threatened to mar Lambert's place in the affections of Norwich fans.
But, safely instilled at Villa Park, Lambert oversaw a hectic transfer window. With youth the order of the day, Matthew Lowton, Jordan Bowery and Ashley Westwood all arrived, as to compliment fellow recruits, the experienced Ron Vlaar and Karim El Ahmadi.
It was Christian Benteke, however, who really caught the eye. Aged just 21 when Villa had a £7 million bid accepted, his experience of playing in continental competition for Standard Liege was alluring.
Not to mention his nationality: Europe's top managers all seem to be seeking to exploit the surplus of talent currently emerging from Belgium.
With a physical playing style in the mould of Didier Drogba, athleticism akin to Robin van Persie and an eye for finishing as ruthless as Sergio Aguero's, here was a player who could excite and excel in equal proportions.
But in a dismal season, where Lambert's inexperienced charges have struggled to acclimatise to the Scot's tactics, Villa have found themselves in the lower reaches of the table.
Lingering with the relegation zone more so than they did under Houllier and McLeish, there have been calls for Lambert to depart. With his players showing promise and signs of improvement, that looks unlikely.
The same cannot be said for Benteke. Nobody can fault his commitment, and he continues to shine. But if Villa do not climb the table, he may have to look elsewhere.
With Jermaine Defoe perennially struggling with injuries and Emmanuel Adebayor appearing disinterested, Tottenham could be a probable destination. It has also been well-documented that Arsene Wenger has money to spend this summer, as fans desperately call for him to invest in new signings.
If either team are to make a bid, they should prepare themselves to delve deep. Aston Villa have already made it abundantly clear that they won't let their prized asset go on the cheap.
As Arsenal's trophy abstinence continues into its eighth season—whilst still in the Champions League, few fancy them to overturn a 3-1 deficit away to Bayern Munich—a recurring theme has accompanied this sombre period.
Throughout the last few seasons, there has been one player of particular ability who has proved a shining ray of light in an epoque otherwise shrouded in darkness.
Last season it was Robin van Persie and his delivery of 30 goals in 38 Premier League outings. Before him, it was Samir Nasri and his defence-splitting passes. Prior to that, Cesc Fabregas came into his element, topping the club's goalscorer charts with virtuoso displays.
Before them came Emmanuel Adebayor, whilst Kolo Toure, Matthieu Flamini, Alexander Hleb, Ashley Cole and Thierry Henry, all consistently performing at a level higher than their club's league standing.
As well as all having their own solo moment in the limelight, these players all share another defining feature: they were all sold not long after their career-changing stint at the Emirates (or, pre-2006, Highbury).
Currently in fifth and a gargantuan 21 points behind leaders Manchester United, the Gunners are resigned, once again, to not being able to win the league, something that has eluded them since the 2003-04 season.
However, of a more pertinent issue, Arsenal fans could soon find themselves wondering which of the current crop may be prone to join that list of now-departed players. And there is one diminutive and nimble-footed standout candidate.
Arriving from "nouveau riche" Malaga—who now find themselves not so riche—Spanish midfielder/playmaker Santi Cazorla has experienced a meteoric debut season in the Premier League. Whilst his nationality almost dictates that he will be other-worldly before he's even kicked a ball, Cazorla has been an inspired signing.
At time of writing, he has scored 11 goals from 27 league games. This includes the double against Aston Villa as well as December's hat-trick against Reading, with both opposition teams spellbound by his movement and vision.
With 51 caps to his name, he is a trusted player in Vicente del Bosque's all-conquering Spain squad. After converting a crucial penalty in the quarterfinals, he was part of the team that vanquished Euro 2008. Whilst cruelly missing out on the World Cup win of 2010 through injury, he returned at Euro 2012, doubling his European Championship winners medal collection.
Purchased for a fee of around €15 million by Arsene Wenger last summer, if they sell—and it's a big "if," as their recent announcements of hefty profits mean they have less inclination to sell—the Gunners will want a fee tantamount to that they received for Samir Nasri two years ago, £25 million.
At 28, Cazorla is three years older than the Frenchman, but that won't deter inevitable interest from his home nation and possibly either Milan clubs.
That hallowed May evening of 2012 in the Allianz Arena seems like a long, long time ago now for Chelsea fans and players alike.
In one of the performances of the century, Chelsea—led by the now-departed Roberto Di Matteo—threw bodies on the line to thwart the perpetual and never-ending tide of maroon, as Bayern Munich swarmed forward time and time again.
Holding their nerve until the roulette that is a penalty shootout, Chelsea became champions of Europe and completed a journey which some months previously had looked nigh on impossible.
That historical victory in Bayern's backyard provided a remarkable addition to a 2-1 FA Cup final victory over Liverpool some several days earlier.
One Chelsea player who cemented his place in the club's folklore that season was Frank Lampard. Born in East London, it is West London where he will be forever fondly cherished and remembered.
His ascension to club icon status will be further consolidated when, not if, he can score four more goals to take his Chelsea haul to 203 goals, thus surpassing Bobby Tambling's 43-year-old record.
With all that in mind, and Lampard continuing to defy his 34 years of age and playing like someone 10 years his junior, why is it he is in the final months of his contract without an extension being offered?
It is well-documented that the inside activities of Chelsea are a myth: Di Matteo's sacking, Jose Mourinho's sudden departure, the random purchases of players (Jiri Jarosik, anyone?). But with chairman, owner and chief-in-arms Roman Abramovich's refusal to budge on his stance, fans and pundits have been left scratching their heads.
If he does choose to depart—and, barring a last minute Abramovich change of heart, it looks likely he will—Lampard should find himself overwhelmed with suitors.
As well as his phenomenal goal haul from midfield, Lampard is also a seasoned international, only six caps short of completing his century.
Following the renaissance of Paul Scholes and the age-defying accomplishments of Ryan Giggs, a transfer to Manchester United could be a possibility as Lampard would certainly fill the creative void that currently plagues the Old Trafford side.
Failing that, he may move abroad. After David Beckham's departure, there is a current vacancy at LA Galaxy for an English superstar with a gilded right foot. As well as enjoying time away from the glare of the British media, Lampard would fit the bill.
Options exist in Europe. Andrea Pirlo recently talked of his admiration for Lampard; a move to Juventus could be on the cards.
As Portsmouth, stricken with debt and ownership woes, sink lower and lower into the abyss, there is one player who will be forever grateful to the Fratton Park club.
Bosnian goalkeeper Asmir Begovic joined the south coast club as a promising 15-year-old. After nomadically moving around the world with his parents—taking up residency in Germany and Canada, as well as his homeland—he showed promise and potential from an early age.
That ease of moving around and acclimatising to different settings boded well for his start to English football: loan spells in Belgium and the English lower leagues allowed the rangy and athletic keeper to cut his teeth and get to grips with the game.
It was during that fateful 2009-10 season that Begovic made his mark at Pompey. Deputising for the injured David James, he went on to make nine league appearances but was helpless as the team, rocked by financial troubles, plummeted down the table and finished 20th.
After seven seasons in the top flight, they were consigned back to the Championship. But Begovic had a route out: signed for just over £3 million in February of that year by Tony Pulis, he had a move to Stoke lined up.
Now in his third season at the Britannia, he has displaced Thomas Sorensen as the club's No. 1, not an easy feat considering the great Dane's pedigree.
Submitting a string of assured displays, being the last wall of resistance to an already staunch Stoke defence, he has augmented his reputation as a shrewd stopper. Fans of the Premier League's Fantasy Football game all flock to get him as their goalkeeper, with his relatively low price and reliability making him popular.
And now it seems real-life Premier League managers are following suit. With keepers placed under more scrutiny than ever before, with the avalanche of data available allowing a no holds barred of questionable stoppers, it is an uncertain time for a lot of the leading clubs' keepers.
Whereas the likes of Joe Hart, Pepe Reina and Petr Cech previously basker under the glow of being the league's best goalkeepers, now it does not seem so clear-cut. Following glaring and costly mistakes, they have all found themselves under renewed pressure.
And that is before we begin our analysis of messrs. Wojciech Szczesny and David de Gea: being Arsenal and Manchester United's respective No. 1s, both young keepers have found themselves the subject of speculation.
With Jack Butland due to arrive at the Britannia Stadium, it was insightful to see that the prodigious England goalkeeper chose Stoke over Chelsea because of the chance of regular football. This may suggest he knows something we don't, and that the No. 1 jersey will soon be vacated.
In regards to where Begovic could go, he is known to want to stay in England. This leads to either of the Manchester clubs being potential suitors, or indeed a migration down south to the Emirates.