B/R Gossip Roundup: Will Van Persie Leave Utd, and Who Will Replace Puyol?

BR UK NewsFeatured ColumnistMarch 9, 2014

B/R Gossip Roundup: Will Van Persie Leave Utd, and Who Will Replace Puyol?

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    Jon Super/Associated Press

    International football might have overwhelmed the midweek agenda, with plenty of World Cup talk, but speculation surrounding club sides is never far from the newspapers—and this week was no different.

    Robin van Persie, Carles Puyol, Fernando Torres and Jan Vertonghen were among those to feature heavily in the columns this week, with their futures all up for discussion as clubs from around Europe begin to ramp up their summer transfer plans.

    Here, we have taken a number of articles from the past week and offered our own viewpoint on them.

Vertonghen a Good Fit for Reds, but Will Spurs Deal?

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    Chris Brunskill/Getty Images

    Jan Vertonghen recently spoke about the potential fallout from Tottenham Hotspur missing out on Champions League qualification, which was interpreted by some as a "qualify or I'm off" ultimatum.

    In an interview with the Evening Standard’s Tom Collomosse, Vertonghen said:

    What I want is to be playing in the Champions League with Tottenham, so I hope we get in this year.

    Do I have a decision to make if we don’t? I can’t say anything about that. Let’s see after the end of the season, after the World Cup.

    As things stand, the chances of Vertonghen playing Champions League football next season with Tottenham are slim.

    With 10 games remaining in the Premier League season, Spurs trail third-placed Arsenal by six points (they are four points adrift of Manchester City, who are currently in the fourth and final qualification spot, but the latter have three games in hand).

    A late charge could see Spurs nudge their way into the top four, but that’s not something the club’s fans should be putting their house on.

    So, what if they do not make it?

    Reading between the lines, Vertonghen is likely to seek out a move. That is the view of the Mail’s Rob Shepherd, who has suggested the Belgian defender is a target for Liverpool.

    There is certainly plenty to back that up. Central defence is an area Liverpool will look to pep up, with Daniel Agger in the treatment too often for comfort and Kolo Toure very much in the autumn of his career.

    The Reds are well on course to secure a spot in the Champions League, which would bring with it added matches on account of the Reds having failed to qualify for any European competition this season.

    There’s plenty going for the move, but there are also stumbling blocks. It’s likely to be a two-word stumbling block going by the name of Daniel Levy.

    Spurs chairman Levy is renowned for his tough negotiating skills, which would see him demand every last penny if he was to sanction a sale.

    If you couple that with the likely reticence from Tottenham with regard to selling to a Premier League rival, there is enough to make a deal with Liverpool look unlikely to come off.

    Believability Meter: Medium

    Liverpool are likely to be in the market for at least one centre-back in the summer, and Vertonghen fits the profile of a ball-playing defender Brendan Rodgers would target.

    But Tottenham may well favour selling to an overseas club should Vertonghen make it clear he wants to head for a new challenge.

Inter Talk Makes Sense for Dzeko

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    Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

    When Edin Dzeko joined Manchester City in January of 2011, then-Citizens manager Roberto Mancini said he hoped the forward could “make the difference between second place and first.”

    He didn’t; City finished third that season.

    In fairness to Dzeko, in the following season he bagged 14 Premier League goals—second only to Sergio Aguero in the club’s list of scorers—as City bagged their first league title since 1968.

    Rather than that season proving a springboard to a stellar City career, Dzeko has struggled to show his best on a consistent basis and is now no longer first choice in the City attack.

    The forward’s future has been a topic of debate for some time, and Tuesday the Mirror’s John Cross linked him with a £15 million move to Inter Milan.

    Inter would appear a decent fit for Dzeko, as they are under new ownership and likely to want to make a mark after a couple of seasons on the periphery.

    The reported £15 million fee would not prove beyond new Inter owner Erick Thohir, and a switch to Italy would enable Dzeko to revive his career in an environment where he could well be the No. 1 striking option.

    Believability Meter: High

    With the vast wealth at City’s disposal, they do not have a pressing need to sell, but it does appear Dzeko will be surplus to requirements.

    With Inter in need of a new attacking impetus as Diego Milito and Rodrigo Palacio are heading towards the end of their careers, a switch to Serie A football for Dzeko could well happen in the summer.

Carles Puyol's Retirement Has Barcelona Searching for New Defender

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    Manu Fernandez/Associated Press

    Carles Puyol's announcement Tuesday that he was to leave Barcelona at the end of the season immediately kicked off speculation about who the team would sign to replace him in the summer.

    The immediate, and most obvious, answer was Chelsea's David Luiz—a long-term target for the Catalan giants who holds the sort of characteristics admired in the Barcelona style.

    The Telegraph's Jason Burt reported:

    Barcelona hope to conclude a deal swiftly before the World Cup finals kick off in June, with Luiz an important figure in Luiz Felipe Scolari’s Brazil squad.

    Barcelona had a formal bid for Luiz rejected last summer by Chelsea, with manager Jose Mourinho adamant that the defender was not for sale.

    Although Luiz is not agitating for a move it is understood that he would be keen to join Barcelona and, given Mourinho’s recruitment plans—he has acquired French central defender Kurt Zouma from Saint-Etienne for £12.5  million and holding midfielder Nemanja Matic from Benfica for £21 million—he may consider selling.

    That is the crux of the matter for Chelsea, for whom Luiz cannot be considered first-choice but remains a player who would command a bigger transfer fee than most. If Barcelona are willing to pay upwards of £25 million for him, could that money not be used to strengthen the squad in areas of greater need?

    Of course, it is not impossible Barcelona will look elsewhere for their man to partner Gerard Pique in the heart of defence. Jan Vertonghen of Spurs could be one possible option, along with the likes of Villarreal's Mateo Musacchio and Athletic Bilbao's Aymeric Laporte.

    Barca might understandably want a more experienced name, however, which is why Luiz remains the obvious target.

    Believability Meter: High

    David Luiz looks increasingly like becoming the odd man out at Stamford Bridge, just as Juan Mata was before he left for Manchester United. Not first-choice at centre-back or in defensive midfield, will the Brazilian really settle for a career as a fill-in when others around him are injured or being rotated?

    Plus, considering the onus Financial Fair Play puts on a club like Chelsea to sell before they can buy, Luiz is likely to be an asset they struggle to justify keeping. If Barcelona really are keen on him, then Chelsea will likely be willing to do a deal.

    After all, if Mourinho has doubts about him as a defender anyway, why would he worry about selling Luiz to one of the club's major rivals for European glory?

Campbell Will Get His Chance to Shine for Arsenal

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    In the space of 90 minutes, Joel Campbell morphed from relative unknown to headline news thanks to his goalscoring display for Olympiacos against Manchester United.

    Newsdesks around the country were in all probability scrambling around their archives for snippets of information on this Costa Rican. Dedicated Arsenal fans would have already known plenty, as he is a Gunners player.

    Having signed for Arsenal in the summer of 2011, the team farmed him out on loan to Lorient and Real Betis—and it was only two years later that he received the green light to play in England.

    Arsenal clearly felt he needed more experience, as they sent him to Greece to play for Olympiacos. Judged on his display against United, that "apprenticeship" has been well served.

    But what does the future hold for Campbell?

    If the player is to be believed, he does not seem to know. The Star’s Gary Jones has picked up some quotes from Campbell:

    For me it has been an experience that has made me grow as a player. It's not the time to say whether I will play at Arsenal or not.

    But, if I get that chance to play there, I will do as I have always done in my life, fight and believe in myself.

    So Campbell is not sure if he will get the chance to play for Arsenal. We’re sure—he will.

    The Gunners have put a lot of time, effort and commitment into Campbell: scouting him at Deportivo Saprissa, thrashing out a deal, working with the Home Office to get him a work permit and finding him clubs to shape him on a temporary basis.

    It all highlights how highly Campbell is rated within the corridors of the Emirates, and it goes a long way to demonstrating why he will be back at Arsenal in the summer fighting with the likes of Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Tomas Rosicky for a place in the side.

    Believability Meter: Very Low

    There may be a number of clubs interested in Campbell, but Arsene Wenger is pretty much certain to hand him the chance to shine in the summer.

Inter Podolski Talk Is a Poser for Arsenal

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    Matthias Schrader/Associated Press

    Is Lukas Podolski entering the final few months of his Arsenal career?

    That is the impression you get when reading Charlie Wyett’s piece in the Sun (subscription required).

    Wyett suggests Inter Milan are putting together an £11 million offer for the Germany international. The fire has not exactly been dampened by a report from Metro, which carries quotes from the player’s agent Nassim Touihri.

    "At the moment we do not know what will happen in the future," Touihri told CalcioMercato.it (via Metro). "Inter are an interesting club that wants to invest as it has recently also signed Vidic."

    Inter are certainly a side looking to revive their fortunes following a couple of seasons out in the cold. The capture of Nemanja Vidic was a signal of intent, while club president Erick Thohir is likely to make further money available.

    Given the reports from Wyett and Metro, it is apparent that Inter hold an interest in Podolski. But do they hold an interest for Podolski?

    It is fair to say this has been a season of frustration for Podolski, as a serious hamstring injury sidelined him between the end of August and end of December.

    However, he is now back to fitness and has been eased back into the team by Arsene Wenger.

    Wenger is a fan of Podolski, and after the German netted a brace in the win over Coventry in the FA Cup, the Gunners boss hailed him as a “natural finisher,” per John Cross of the Mirror.

    Podolski’s versatility is also a benefit to Arsenal. He can play down the middle and on the flanks, which hands both player and club options.

    There is no pressing need for Arsenal to sell, as The Guardian reported in 2012 that Podolski put his name to a four-year contract upon joining the club.

    But if the reported £11 million offer from Inter is true, that would represent a break-even price on a player who will turn 29 in the summer. Not a bad return, it could be argued.

    Believability Meter: Medium

    This is a difficult one to pin down. The money reportedly on offer would be a good return for the Gunners, but there is no pressing need to sell, and the German is one of the most reliable performers in Wenger’s squad.

    We’ll watch this one develop with interest over the coming months.

Inter Milan Interest in Fernando Torres Will Intrigue Chelsea

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    Speculation continues to percolate around the future of Fernando Torres, who remains something of an enigma at Chelsea—struggling to justify his £50 million transfer fee with his performances over the seasons.

    On Saturday the Daily Mail published an interesting story by Matt Barlow suggesting Inter Milan were ready to offer £20m for Torres in a bid to lure the Spaniard away from Stamford Bridge.

    The report states:

    Atletico Madrid's Diego Costa, Monaco's Radamel Falcao and AC Milan's Mario Balotelli are among [Chelsea's summer] targets but Chelsea must recoup much of their spending to keep within UEFA's Financial Fair Play restrictions.

    Torres is one who will command a decent fee, even if his value has plummeted during three inconsistent years at Stamford Bridge.

    Inter's new owner, Indonesian businessman Erick Thohir insists he will not waste millions on rebuilding the team but he backed manager Walter Mazzarri in January by funding a £17m swoop for Hernanes.

    Representatives from the Italian club were in dialogue with Chelsea during the January transfer window, asking about Juan Mata and offering Fredy Guarin in return. No deals were struck but contact was strengthened and the Italians could return for Torres.

    Inter under Thohir have been linked with almost every player possible in recent days; since confirming the signing of Nemanja Vidic, the likes of Javier Hernandez, per the Sunday People's Tom Hopkinson, and Lukas Podolski have been linked. That is both an indication of the club's perceived level of ambition and the lack of concrete knowledge among the press about their transfer plans.

    Nevertheless, it is easy to see why Chelsea would be amenable to a deal for Torres at £20m—it might be a loss of £30m on their purchase price, but it remains a decent sum for a soon-to-be 30-year-old who has struggled at the club.

    What is more, Inter fit the profile of the sort of club Torres would move to—he is unlikely to attract an elite European club's interest (unless Chelsea offloads him for virtually nothing) but would tempt a "second-tier" side aiming to make that leap toward the Champions League.

    Believability Meter: Medium

    Chelsea would surely sell Torres given the chance, and it may be that Inter are the only suitors.

    But another possibility should not be overlooked—Torres could potentially return to first club Atletico Madrid should they sell Diego Costa in the summer (especially to Chelsea). The stars would need to align first, but Torres would surely love to return to his boyhood club after a few years where he has seemed to fall out of love with the game a little.

Speculation Heightens Around Robin van Persie's Old Trafford Future

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    Rui Vieira/Associated Press

    The first full week of March has seen a gradual increase in the number of stories about the future of Robin van Persie; by Sunday, you could not pick up a newspaper that did not include some sort of story about the Dutchman's desire to depart the club.

    Van Persie's dissatisfaction at Old Trafford has been a story ever since he seemed to criticise the team's tactics following the Champions League first-leg defeat to Olympiacos, and it is a story that has only grown in subsequent days.

    On Sunday, Simon Mullock of the Mirror claimed that van Persie was prepared to walk away from a £10 million loyalty bonus in order to push through a move away from the club—with Juventus keen on the striker. Metro's James Boylan, however, claims van Persie wants to return to Arsenal.

    The Sunday Telegraph's Mark Ogden weighed in by suggesting David Moyes could sell his striker as a "statement of intent" for his managerial reign.

    Moyes substituted a clearly frustrated van Persie after just an hour in the win over West Brom on Saturday, with Ogden writing, "It was a big moment, one layered with significance, and how it plays out from here could define Moyes’s reign as United manager."

    The inference being that Moyes might sell van Persie to take his squad in a different direction.

    If van Persie does depart, then Juventus will surely be the favourites for his signature—assuming they can match the transfer fee and wage demands of club and player. AC Milan are also reported to be sniffing around, per Boylan, although they are unlikely to be able to offer the enticement of Champions League football.

    Believability Meter: Medium-to-low

    These stories of dissatisfaction crop up all time but do not automatically mean a player is going to depart. After all, Wayne Rooney is still at Old Trafford, isn't he?

    At 30, van Persie is on the declining end of his career, but he still has as many as five good seasons left in him, making it harder to countenance selling off a player of his quality so soon. The onus should be on player and manager to work out a way to draw the best from each other, rather than one simply sell the other off because of their differences.

    If van Persie rediscovers his form and goalscoring touch before the end of the campaign, the likelihood is he will stay. There are only so many strikers of his ilk at the top of the game right now—replacing him would be far more expensive than coaxing the best back out of him.