Breaking Down This Week's Biggest Rumours: Rooney's Man Utd Future Doubt
The transfer window is open, and the European seasons are, largely, hitting their midway points. It's the perfect time for a look around the rumour mill.
With clubs seeking out new faces and players looking to move on, the first month of the year is always a busy one for speculation stories in the newspapers.
We have thumbed our way through this week's papers to offer our opinion on the stories making the back pages this week.
Read on to find out more.
Italian Clubs' Target Erik Lamela Should Stick with Spurs
If there was one player who defined Tottenham Hotspur under the problems of former manager Andre Villas-Boas this season, it had to be Erik Lamela.
The winger was brought to White Hart Lane from Roma for £25 million as the Spurs boss spent heavily on the back of Gareth Bale's move to Real Madrid.
The 21-year-old has started just three Premier League matches but was named in the first XI on five occasions in the Europa League group stages.
The rise of Andros Townsend with Spurs and England this term has seen Lamela denied the opportunity to make his mark on the first team.
Consequently, it came as little surprise to see Lamela linked with a move away from Tottenham by Paul Jiggins of The Sun (subscription required).
According to the report, a return to Serie A is on the cards with Inter Milan and Lazio eyeing the Argentine player.
Then, on Thursday morning, Martin Lipton of the Daily Mirror threw in the possibility of Juventus offering Mirko Vucinic in a player-plus-cash deal for the Spurs man.
However, Villas-Boas had previously spoken of Lamela in glowing terms, as Laura Williamson and Thom Drake of the Daily Mail noted in September.
But the Portuguese coach also highlighted Lamela's lack of English as one reason why the player might struggle to settle to life in the Premier League and London.
Now Tottenham are operating under a new head coach in the shape of Tim Sherwood, and the slate is clean.
If Lamela needs any encouragement, he should look at team-mate Emmanuel Adebayor, who has thrived since being restored to the first team by Sherwood.
Tottenham might be out of the FA and Capital One Cups, but they remain just two points off the Champions League places, while the Europa League offers another route to silverware.
To compete in both, Sherwood will need a strong squad, and Lamela will have the ideal opportunity to showcase himself without the added political, off-field distractions of Villas-Boas' deteriorating relationship with technical director Franco Baldini.
This season has been a steep learning curve for Lamela and many others at Tottenham, but leaving for a return to Italy would mean too many people admitting defeat. Especially Lamela.
Believability Meter: Medium
There is no doubt clubs such as Inter and Lazio would be interested in signing Lamela after witnessing his form for Roma last season, where he scored 15 times in 33 appearances.
Those are the kind of statistics that ensured Tottenham parted with the best part of £30 million to bring him to the club.
But the lesson to be learned for Lamela at Spurs really is to grab your opportunity, as Bale, Townsend and Adebayor before him proved.
Kevin De Bruyne Deal a Win-Win for All Parties
Darren Lewis of the Mirror has not exactly unearthed a hidden gem with the report that Wolfsburg are closing in on Chelsea winger Kevin De Bruyne.
However, what caught the eye was Lewis stating that the Bundesliga side are ready to shell out £18 million to secure the winger in the January transfer window.
This would be a remarkable amount of money for Chelsea to rake in for a player who has made a grand total of three Premier League appearances for the club.
Taking up the story, Lewis wrote:
Chelsea midfielder Kevin De Bruyne is heading to German side Wolfsburg for a staggering £18 million.
The Belgium international midfielder, 22, is finally poised to cut his ties with the Blues after a frustrating two years in west London that included a season on loan in the Bundesliga with Werder Bremen.
Chelsea had demanded a whopping £25m for a player bought from Genk for just £6.7m in January 2012 who started just TWO league games for them - with Atletico Madrid also interested.
Wolfsburg, however, maintained they were only prepared to go to £18m.
The transfer is a good fit for all parties. De Bruyne is desperate for regular football in what is a World Cup year, while it is also positive for Chelsea, as the player has made zero impression on Chelsea’s first team under Jose Mourinho.
As Lewis pointed out, the deal is positive to Chelsea to the tune of £11 million.
For a club that have had some remarkable transfer errors such as Andriy Shevchenko, Shaun Wright-Phillips and Fernando Torres, making a hefty profit will come as a welcome boost.
Believability Meter: High
Wolfsburg pressing ahead with an £18 million deal for a player who has been kicking his heels for most of this season may be viewed as a risk, but it is likely to be as much down to the inflated state of the transfer market as anything else.
If he realises his potential, it will be a great deal for Wolfsburg, but securing a massive profit for a bit-part player is also a positive for Chelsea.
Monaco a Bridge Too Far for Thomas Ince
Thomas Ince is one of the most vaunted players operating outside of the Premier League, and the Mirror’s Alan Nixon claims he is attracting interest from foreign shores.
Nixon has been following the situation of the Blackpool midfielder extremely closely, as back in December he wrote that Dutch side Ajax had set their sights on the 21-year-old.
The Mirror writer is continuing the theme of foreign climes for Ince, as he wrote:
Moneybags Monaco are keen to snap up contract rebel Thomas Ince from Blackpool in a bargain deal.
The super-rich French club have been tracking the England Under-21 winger and are clear to open talks with him as his deal is up in the summer.
As Nixon pointed out, Ince is in the final six months of his contract, and there has been no indication of him signing a new deal—despite the Seasiders’ desire to tie him to a fresh commitment.
The indications are that Ince will be on his way out of Bloomfield Road, and if Swansea have anything to do with it, he will be playing his football in the Premier League.
Ince’s father, Blackpool boss Paul, confirmed to the Blackpool Gazette that his club are currently in talks with the Swans.
Ince Senior had a successful spell playing abroad with Inter Milan, which has been seized on by Nixon, who claims the midfielder is “swaying towards a foreign switch.”
If it came to a battle of financial muscle, the likes of Swansea and Ajax would have to bow to Monaco.
However, at 21, Ince is merely setting out on his career, and it is fair to say he is not yet at a level of player that a club with designs on making a deep impression in the Champions League, as Monaco have, should be targeting.
Believability Meter: Low
Ince is highly likely to be on his way out of Blackpool, be it in January or the summer, but a switch to Monaco does not seem likely.
A far more feasible option would be a switch to Swansea to continue his education under the tutelage of Michael Laudrup.
Kyle Walker Unlikely to Risk World Cup Spot for PSG Move
In among some of the bigger transfer speculation stories of the week, Tuesday morning's newspapers brought one surprising link.
Paul Collins of the Daily Mail reported that Tottenham Hotspur defender Kyle Walker was a target for Paris Saint-Germain.
According to the article, the loss of right-back Christophe Jallet to injury has seen the Ligue 1 champions turn their attentions to the 23-year-old.
Jallet will be out for several weeks after undergoing surgery on his back, leaving PSG coach Laurent Blanc with a pressing need for cover at right-back.
It is understandable why Walker would be a desirable addition for Blanc and PSG.
The Tottenham defender would not be ineligible for the Champions League with his club competing in the Europa League instead this season.
He also possesses international experience after gaining 10 caps with England since his debut in 2010.
The credentials are there, but the reality of the current world football year makes a January move for Walker redundant.
Walker is on course to be included in Roy Hodgson's squad for the 2014 World Cup finals in Brazil, even though he will face competition from Glen Johnson for a starting berth.
At 23, the Spurs man would also command a significant transfer fee. That is not an issue which would faze PSG, but Blanc will be aware that less-costly options may be available for a midseason move.
Walker also signed a new deal less than three months ago to keep him at White Hart Lane until 2019.
New Tottenham head coach Tim Sherwood will be looking to hold on to key players with the club just two points off the Champions League spots.
Believability Meter: Very Low
The chances of Walker risking his place at the World Cup finals with a move to PSG are minimal.
The England international will be flattered by the attentions of the French champions, but life at Spurs is good at the moment.
There is little reason for him to switch clubs now.
Potential Pay Cut Is Ominous Sign for Wayne Rooney's Future at Manchester United
The clouds gathering over Manchester United have little to do with the city's stereotyped image.
These are dark days for the Old Trafford club after they crashed out of the FA Cup in a home defeat by Swansea last weekend before succumbing to a 2-1 reverse at Sunderland in the Capital One Cup semi-final first leg on Tuesday.
United manager David Moyes has seen his hopes of a second-half push for success begin to unravel on the back of three successive defeats before Saturday's Premier League visit by Swansea.
However, after the loss at the Stadium of Light, Moyes and his team were again in the media spotlight when Martin Blackburn of The Sun (subscription required) reported a potential pay cut for the Old Trafford players if they fail to qualify for next season's Champions League.
Further down the article, though, Blackburn reveals how club insiders fear the deduction could cost them the services of Wayne Rooney:
Club insiders fear the get-tough policy could persuade Wayne Rooney to quit Old Trafford.
The England striker has just 18 months left on his contract and talks are due to start soon on a new deal.
But it is highly unlikely he would accept a pay-cut clause, especially as the Red Devils already look likely to miss out on the top four — and a precious Champions League place.
Rooney has been one of precious few highlights for United supporters this season after he was openly courted by Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho in the summer, as BBC Sport reported at the time.
The Stamford Bridge boss remained noncommittal on the subject of a renewed bid for the United striker on Friday, as the London Evening Standard (among others) reported.
The salary-reduction policy has been in place for three years at Old Trafford after being supported by former manager Sir Alex Ferguson and ex-chief executive David Gill, claims The Sun report.
Rooney has 18 months left on his current United deal and was due to begin negotiations in the near future, according to Blackburn.
The report also states that not all players are subject to the pay-cut policy, but Rooney is unlikely to accept that as part of any new deal.
And few would argue that the former Everton forward has not done his bit to help Moyes and the team in a difficult campaign so far.
The 28-year-old has scored 11 times this season for United and provided 12 assists (per WhoScored.com) so far.
They are impressive numbers and are a sure-fire indication that the England international is still at a peak in his career.
In fact, it is now arguable that Rooney could ask for the moon in his new deal, and United chief executive Ed Woodward would have to contact NASA.
These are, indeed, worrying times at United, but a sliver of hope over Rooney would be a successful second half to the campaign.
Pay-cut clauses or not, the striker still craves success. If United do not improve their form before the end of the season, who would blame Rooney for looking elsewhere?
Believability Meter: Medium-High
Rooney has been United's best player this season, but the poor results of the team are undermining his work.
While United and Moyes struggle to find a winning formula, Rooney is bound to question where the club is going, just as he did in 2010.
The player had 18 months left on his contract at that time, ironically the same length of time remaining on his current deal.
News of possible pay cuts as a result of missing out on the Champions League will only hamper Moyes' hopes of bringing in top-class transfers next summer.
It is likely to cost him Rooney as well.
Ilkay Gundogan Could Prove out of United's Reach in January
The word is that David Moyes has upwards of £100 million to go to war with in the January transfer window.
On the back of that speculation from the Express’ Richard Tanner, Manchester United have been linked with a number of players.
In Saturday’s Daily Mirror, a piece from David McDonnell caught the eye.
The writer has made the claim that the Red Devils are readying a £24 million bid for Borussia Dortmund midfielder Ilkay Gundogan.
Such a move would make sense, as Gundogan is the type of player United have been crying out for. He works hard yet is extremely creative in the final third. Last season, he had a pass completion of 87 per cent, according to Squawka.
United signed Marouane Fellaini in the summer, but he is not the missing dimension. Gundogan could very well be, as his creative skills would complement the attacking play of Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie.
It all sounds good. However, there are a couple of drawbacks. Gundogan has been sidelined since August with a back injury, which would make it something of a gamble to shell out £24m on a player in January who may not be fit to go into the heat of battle.
Another potential stumbling block is the push back that is likely to come from Dortmund. The club are still reeling from the loss of Robert Lewandowski to rivals Bayern Munich. Sanctioning the sale of Gundogan would be an extremely unpopular move.
Gundogan is contracted to Dortmund until 2015, meaning he has 18 months remaining on his commitment. The need to sell is not pressing, but that could change in the summer.
Believability Meter: Low to Medium
United are crying out for some creative spark, and Gundogan would fit the bill, but luring him away from Dortmund in January could prove too tough for the Premier League champions.