B/R Gossip Roundup: PSG Eye Hazard, Arsenal Striker Targets and £50m Barkley
The transfer window opened for business earlier this week, which has only added fire to the rumour mill.
There have been stacks of transfer talk over the course of the past seven days, some believable, some less so.
We have thumbed the newspapers to monitor the latest transfer links and gossip, and here we offer our view on some of the biggest stories of the week.
Mata's Napoli Link Could Work Out Well for All
Juan Mata is a player on the outside looking in at Chelsea, which is a far cry from the previous couple of seasons when he was named player of the year for the Stamford Bridge club, and he is now a target for Napoli—according to the Mirror's Martin Lipton.
Things changed for Mata in the summer when Jose Mourinho arrived and made it clear, per a report from the Mail’s Matt Barlow, that Oscar would be his preferred option at No. 10.
The challenge was thrown down to Mata, as reported by Metro's James Boylan, with Mourinho looking for the Spaniard to prove he should be in the team.
There have been only fleeting glimpses from Mata of the player Mourinho wants in his side, the type of midfielder who will be combative, aware of his defensive responsibilities and also swift to move the ball forward.
While Mata has struggled to adapt, Oscar and Eden Hazard have taken on the baton, and in recent weeks Willian has emerged from the shadows—with his stunning goal against Southampton highlighting his talent.
Mata had the chance to show his value to Chelsea when he was handed a start against Southampton on New Year’s Day. It did not go according to script, as Mata failed to influence the game and was subbed off on 53 minutes—with the game at 0-0.
Mata was not impressed with being replaced, as reported by the Standard’s Simon Johnson, and salt was rubbed into the wounds as Chelsea powered to a 3-0 win in the second half—with Willian netting one of the goals.
The transfer rumour mill has moved into overdrive in the past couple of days, with conflicting reports as to the future of Mata.
The Express’ James Dickenson claims Chelsea will not sell the midfielder to Manchester United, Liverpool or Tottenham, while the Mail’s Matt Barlow says the midfielder will resist attempts to force him out of the club.
However, the intriguing piece was the line from the Mirror’s Lipton, who claims Napoli made contact with Chelsea within 24 hours of the Southampton game.
Believability Meter: High
Mata has said little with regard to his own future, but he has a World Cup to think about and a move, certainly to Napoli, would hand him regular playing time in a bid to impress Spain boss Vicente del Bosque.
Napoli are coached by Rafa Benitez, who guided Mata so well at Chelsea last term, and there is sure to be great trust between the pair.
The Naples club are battling for the Serie A title, along with a bid to qualify for next season’s Champions League, and the arrival of Mata could spark them into life in the second half of the season.
It would certainly hand an opening to Mata and could work out well for all parties.
Joleon Lescott Right to Prefer Premier League over Besiktas
The future of Joleon Lescott at Manchester City has been clouded so far this season, so reports of interest in the player from elsewhere should come as no surprise.
David Kent of the Daily Mail reported on New Year's Day that Turkish club Besiktas were interested in taking the former Everton and Wolves man from the Etihad Stadium.
But the article also highlighted that the 31-year-old remains keen to stay in the Premier League.
And on Thursday, David Anderson of the Daily Mirror reported that City would fight to keep Lescott to bolster their four-pronged assault on silverware this season.
The central defender is free to talk to other clubs this month with his current City contract set to expire in the summer.
Under Manuel Pellegrini, Lescott has found first-team opportunities at a premium, but his ability to step in for the injured Vincent Kompany make him a vital squad presence for the Chilean.
The arrival of Martin Demichelis in the summer ensured Lescott fell further down the first-team squad, with Kompany and Matija Nastasic also vying for places.
But the City player knows any hope of regaining his spot in Roy Hodgson's England squad for the 2014 World Cup finals in Brazil rest entirely on finding regular first-team matches.
And that's the conundrum for City and Lescott. The club need the player as insurance, while the defender has his eye on the world elite in the summer.
Lescott's agent James Featherstone confirmed contact from Besiktas to Sky Sports, but it is the mention of other clubs expressing an interest which should alert the player and City:
It is true that Besiktas have made contact regards Joleon.
Joleon is able to talk to interested clubs now as he is in the final six months of his contract and a number of clubs have expressed an interest in him.
However, at the moment Joleon is focused on doing his best for Manchester City and is ready to give his all when called upon.
Joleon is a Manchester City player, so if any club are interested in signing him prior to his contract expiring they have to agree something with Manchester City first and then we will see if we can take it any further.
If that isn't a "come and get him" plea, we don't know what is.
Besiktas have made their move for Lescott, but the next step for the defender won't be Turkey.
There remains much to admire in the defender for Premier League clubs, and Tottenham and Newcastle are among the interested parties, according to Chris Wheeler of the Daily Mail. Both of those clubs would be far better options for the City man.
Pellegrini insists he will not entertain the departure of Lescott this month until he knows his backline is back to strength after Demichelis picked up an injury on Christmas Day, as Alex Kalinaukas of the London Evening Standard reported.
But any questions over the future of the City man do appear to be on the way to a resolution this month.
If Lescott does realise his dream of playing for England in Brazil this summer, he can be grateful to Besiktas for opening the door for him.
Believability Meter: Low
Lescott might have slipped off the radar for major clubs after falling down the pecking order under Pellegrini, but he remains a crucial squad member at the Etihad.
However, any hopes of the defender regaining his international place in time for the 2014 World Cup finals will be dependent on him finding regular first-team football.
Both Lescott and City will know that a move to the Turkish Superlig is unlikely to send Hodgson scurrying to the shores of the Bosphorus.
However, news of the Turkish club's interest has reminded bigger English clubs that the 31-year-old is looking to resurrect his World Cup dream.
Eden Hazard to PSG Is a Non-Starter
Eden Hazard has been in sparkling form for Chelsea this season, so much so that he has caught the eye of Paris Saint-Germain—according to the Star’s Nick Lustig.
In his piece, Lustig wrote:
PSG president Nasser Al-Khelaifi is a huge admirer of Hazard, 22, and will offer the former Lille star a bumper contract to return to France next summer.
Manager Laurent Blanc has made the signing of a new creative midfielder at the club a priority after splashing £53m on Uruguayan striker Edinson Cavani in the summer.
PSG are the emerging force in Europe and have bundles of money to spend. As such, they can draw up a list of targets that are from the cream of the crop.
Belgium international Hazard certainly fits into that category, given the form he has shown for Chelsea in the past six months (eight goals and five assists in the Premier League this term).
He is no one-season wonder, having repeatedly delivered for Lille in Ligue 1 prior to his move to Chelsea in the summer of 2012—so much so that he was named Ligue 1 player of the year two seasons in a row.
PSG’s scouting network may well have highlighted Hazard as a player to make a big push for, but Chelsea are not a selling club. Not since the arrival of Roman Abramovich in 2003 have the Blues been anything other than big hitters in the world game.
With Hazard producing consistent excellence, still being only 22 and having cost Chelsea in the region of £32 million for his signature, it would be a staggering turn of events were the Blues to sanction a sale.
Believability Meter: Very Low
Hazard is fast establishing himself as one of the most effective attacking forces in world football. Rather than him being sold in the summer, the likely scenario is that he he will be rewarded with a bumper new deal by Chelsea.
Manchester United Plan to Spend £50m on Everton's Ross Barkley
The week kicked off with a big story from the Manchester Evening News, which breathlessly reported that Manchester United were preparing to bid £50 million for Ross Barkley in January.
United's need for additional midfield reinforcement has been well-documented ever since the summer transfer window closed, and the MEN reported that Barkley was top of David Moyes' wishlist, with the article noting:
Roberto Martinez insists that not even a Gareth Bale-sized bid of £86m would be enough to prise the 20-year-old away from Goodison Park—but the Merseysiders are bracing themselves for a host of big-money offers in January.
United—who made a last-ditch attempt to sign Bale before his summer move to Real Madrid—do not want to miss out on another superstar of British football.
They believe a bid of £50m will be enough to get Everton around the negotiating table—but the Premier League champions also know there will be plenty of bridge-building if there is any chance of a deal being done.
Later in the week, however, United were also linked with moves for midfielders, including Arturo Vidal and Koke, suggesting that, while the media may know the identities of the players United are scouting and keeping an interest in, they are not sure which one player is the priority—or indeed when they might make a move.
Believability Meter: Moderate
Barkley is clearly an extremely talented young player, whose attributes Moyes should be intimately familiar with. But he has also stated on numerous occasions that he is not yet ready or willing to leave Everton.
Similarly, £50m is a lot to spend on a 20-year-old who remains relatively unproven—in terms of games played at the highest level, not necessarily in terms of his potential—who is unlikely to sizeably impact United's immediate fortunes.
Barkley is the profile of player United should be looking at in the summer, where he might also be more open to a move. But, in January, there are surely other players who would offer more immediate advantages in their pursuit of Champions League qualification.
Forget Diego Costa; Mario Mandzukic Fits the Bill for Arsenal
When Arsene Wenger was quizzed about the possibility of Diego Costa joining Arsenal from Atletico Madrid this month, he simply laughed.
John Cross of the Daily Mirror reported that the Gunners boss saw only a figure of £145 million being adequate to tempt the La Liga club into entering any kind of negotiations for their star striker.
So we can pretty much scratch that one, certainly for the time being at least.
However, one other name that appeared in Saturday's papers does have more credence.
Last season, Bayern Munich forward Mario Mandzukic could do no wrong for the Allianz Arena club. His 22-goal haul for the campaign helped Jupp Heynckes' team secure a treble of Bundesliga, Champions League and German Cup.
And now Sami Mokbel and Neil Ashton of the Daily Mail have credited Wenger with an interest in a move for the Croatia international.
Timing is always the key for such moves, and the pieces appear to be falling into place on this one.
Nicklas Bendtner has picked up an ankle injury, while Olivier Giroud missed the New Year's Day win over Cardiff and the FA Cup triumph over Tottenham through illness.
The full extent of the Denmark international's injury will determine whether Wenger enters the transfer market this month.
Mokbel and Ashton claim any move for Mandzukic, 27, is unlikely to happen in January, but a major move on Saturday may just see Wenger chance his arm with Bayern head coach Pep Guardiola.
The Bundesliga leaders confirmed the signing of Robert Lewandowski from Borussia Dortmund on a pre-contract agreement in a move which will cost Bayern nothing, as Timothy Rapp of Bleacher Report highlighted.
The move comes with little shock value with the Poland international persistently linked with Bayern since the Champions League final in May.
To date, Mandzukic has scored 12 times for Bayern this season, maintaining his strike-rate for the club.
But the arrival of Lewandowski in the summer will offer the forward and his club food for thought about the future.
Mandzukic's hopes of playing at the 2014 World Cup finals are unlikely to be threatened by either staying or leaving this month.
However, the prospect of bringing the forward on loan for the remainder of the season with a view to a more permanent transfer must be tempting for Wenger.
Believability Meter: Moderate
The Daily Mail article concedes the prospect of Mandzukic arriving at the Emirates Stadium this month is unlikely, but Wenger should examine the option at least.
As Bleacher Report featured columnist Simon Edmonds points out, Mandzukic does not fit the profile of the "False Nine" Guardiola prefers to employ.
And our Bundesliga correspondent Clark Whitney noted in November that Mandzukic's nose had been put out of joint this season.
Bayern and Guardiola will not openly consider allowing the forward to leave this month, but this is still a move which deserves consideration for all parties.
Newcastle Expect to Sign Remy Cabella
Newcastle are hoping to seal a January deal for Montpellier midfielder Remy Cabella, according to Simon Jones of the Daily Mail this week.
Alan Pardew has previously said he would like to strengthen his squad in January if possible, with one-time Arsenal target Cabella now being discussed as a likely option.
The 23-year-old has been linked with Manchester United for most of the season but Newcastle have contacted his club and are keen to conclude a deal this month for the versatile player.
Montpellier president Louis Nicollin declared they would sell for £14 million in November but privately they are open to negotiations as they look to bring in much-needed revenue.
Newcastle want a defender and a striker also, with Lyon’s Bafetimbi Gomis still on their radar.
Cabella's arrival could mean the end for Hatem Ben Arfa, however, with his fee needing to be covered somehow. Luke Edwards of the Telegraph added on Thursday:
Newcastle will need to pay around £14m to land Cabella and have not made an official bid at this stage, but they have asked Montpellier if they are willing to sell their star player in this transfer window.
The 23-year-old can play on either wing and has scored six goals in a struggling side this season, but Newcastle will hope Manchester United do not enter the race to sign him as they have also been watching the France international.
Cabella’s arrival would provide more competition for Ben Arfa, who has been unable to hold down a regular starting berth this season, with manager Alan Pardew preferring the hardworking Yoan Gouffran and Moussa Sissoko on the wings.
Believability Meter: High
Newcastle's penchant for French (or France-based) players is no secret, and Cabella appears to be a player who is available to move in January. The only question is whether another club might come in for the player—Arsenal, for example, have previously been linked—and scupper the move.
Whether Ben Arfa will depart, however, is harder to guess. It is difficult to see where the market is for the player right now, but if a suitable offer comes in for a player who cannot currently get a regular spot in the starting XI, you have to wonder if it might be accepted by the notoriously money-conscious owners.