The disparity between the "fortunes" (in both senses of the word) of football's rich and poor seems to be increasing.
This was spectacularly evident during Manchester City and Real Madrid's summer spending sprees, which included the purchases of £80 million winger Cristiano Ronaldo and £25 million striker Carlos Tevez.
While many clubs are struggling in the long shadow of crippling debt following chronic economic and footballing mismanagement, many more are making big statements throughout Europe in particular.
In this article, I take a look at the latest "wanted list" which many ambitious, wealthy clubs will be flicking through in the coming months.
Of course, this is not an exhaustive list. There may be some talented, if not "unearthed," players I have missed. Feel free to contribute your nominee(s).
ESTABLISHED TALENT: In the Premier League this season, Cesc Fabregas and Wayne Rooney have lit up stadia throughout England. The former has almost single-handedly kept Arsenal in the title chase. The latter showed yesterday that he is growing into one of the best all-around attacking players in the world with a dazzling display for Manchester United.
Aaron Lennon has torn defences apart for the last three seasons at Spurs. However, despite a recent injury, he has added productivity to pace, trickery and work-rate. Expect a £25 million bid from Manchester United this summer, as they start to contemplate life without Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs.
KEEP AN EYE OUT FOR: Adam Johnson has been highly impressive for Middlesbrough, despite his club’s Championship struggles. If the 22-year-old winger does secure a deadline-day £7 million transfer to Manchester City, he is poised to explode onto the Premier League, having impressed sporadically a few years back.
ESTABLISHED TALENT: Alexandre Pato has an outstanding goal-scoring record for AC Milan. At the tender age of 20,he is set for a big-money move abroad. Recently named Serie A Young Player of the Year, a bid in excess of £30 million is sure to prise him away from the San Siro. That fee would not deter Manchester City, as they seek to replace the immensely disappointing Robinho.
KEEP AN EYE OUT FOR: Sebastian Giovinco is making headlines at Juventus for his silky playmaking skills and is set fair for an extended run in Ciro Ferrara’s side. At 23, he has talent in abundance, an excellent attitude and huge potential. Perhaps the natural successor to Alessandro DelPiero?
ESTABLISHED TALENT: Gonzalo Higuain has been a bright spot for Real Madrid. He has exceeded already high expectations so far this season and comfortably outshined the more expensive and wasteful Karim Benzema. The tall, powerful, goalscoring 22-year-old Argentine is set to take over from Raul as the lynchpin of the Galactico’s squad.
Gerard Pique has starred at the heart of Barcelona’s defence again this season, following his disappointing stint with Manchester United. If he can cut out the odd error at the back, Sir Alex Ferguson may have another look at him very soon.
KEEP AN EYE OUT FOR: Guillem Balague has waxed lyrical about this relatively unknown left-back. Getafe signed him from Almeria last season after a string of outstanding displays. Aston Villa just failed with a bid of £9 million for the tall, strong and quick player. He has continued to impress in La Liga. With a dearth of decent left-backs in Europe, Mane is hot property throughout Europe.
Other Players To Look out for in 2010
Douglas Costa is a 19-year-old Brazilian wunderkind who Shakhtar Donetsk signed recently for €6 million. He possess unbelievable quality on the ball, has a wonderful left-foot and is a set-piece master. Another Brazilian set for the very top.
In 2009, Hernanes was listed by the Times’ footballing experts as the most promising player in the world—and for good reason. Despite only one cap for Brazil and a modest goals-to-games ratio, the 24-year-old Sao Paolo midfielder has abilities similar to Steven Gerrard. With a little more experience and muscle, he is set to become a footballing legend.
Sofiane Feghouli is a 20-year-old French winger of Algerian descent, who is set to be plucked out of his Grenoble-based obscurity by either Marseilles or Lyon. He is thought to be on the mind of Les Bleus boss Raymond Domenech following Karim Benzema’s Spanish struggles.
Clifford Mulenga is a Zambian winger who caught the eye of Real Madrid and PSV during his appearances at the 2007 African Youth Championships. It helped him earn Man of the Match in his nation’s semifinal exit and the CAF Young Player of the Year award, following in Taye Taiwo’s footsteps. He is nicknamed "The Master" for his vision and footwork. He will shortly make a successful transition to European football.
Miralem Sulejmani is an Ajax striker of Serbian origin. He has six caps for his country, as well as 10 goals for Ajax following a much anticipated €16.25 million transfer from Heerenveen. He is considered to be one of the finest players in the Eredivisie and has caught the eye of Arsene Wenger on more than one occasion.