According to Deutsche Presse Agentur, Bayer 04 Leverkusen managing director, Wolfgang Holzhäuser has confirmed the German club's willingness to let Chile international Arturo Vidal move to Serie-A giant, Juventus Turin, for the upcoming season.
The transfer fee is expected to stand at around 15 million Euros.
"We have had talks with Juventus," he announced in an interview, apparently hinting that these would continue and in all probability lead to the departure of one of the best Bundesliga midfielders to the Italian league.
Vidal, 24 years old, developed at Colo Colo of Santiago and is part of Chile's young "golden generation" of players, who almost succeeded in winning the 2007 World Youth Championships before falling to traditional rivals Argentina in a controversial semifinal.
Chilean champion in 2006 and 2007, Vidal moved to Bayer Leverkusen for the 2007-2008 Bundesliga season, where he has blossomed into one of the top three midfielders in the league.
Last season, only Nuri Sahin—recently transferred from Borussia Dortmund to Real Madrid—was rated higher at the creative central midfield position in Germany.
The dynamic and fast-paced Vidal scored 10 goals and set up 12 more in the 2010-2011 season for Bayer 04 Leverkusen, regularly playing behind the forwards in an advanced, central position.
But for Chile he has also played successfully both at left and right back, as well as on the wings, making him an extremely versatile footballer, who can certainly bring quality to most top European clubs.
Accordingly, his suitors—aside Juventus—are reported to have been AC Milan, Inter and apparently FC Chelsea as of late.
Yet, with his former Leverkusen head coach and mentor, Jupp Heynckes, moving to league rival FC Bayern München this season, it was assumed that Vidal might follow and join the traditional Bavarian powerhouse one year before his current contract expires in 2012.
Bayern München and Jupp Heynckes Will Not Be Amused
Heynckes, charged with re-establishing Bayern's unchallenged dominance in the Bundesliga and leading Germany's record champions to the final of next season's Champions League, is still eager to add his favorite "pupil" and has publicly stated as much on several occasions.
This open courtship—spiced with the offer to quadruple Vidal's salary to six million Euros per year—has drawn outspoken criticism from management at Bayer 04 Leverkusen and especially from their sport director, German legend Rudi Völler, who have firmly excluded any possibility of a Vidal transfer to the team they see as their primary competitors for the Bundesliga crown, which has consistently eluded the Rhenanian side in the past.
But Heynckes' perseverance on the issue has also led to some head-scratching in the Bavarian capital, with many Bayern players and observers openly questioning the rationale behind this anticipated transfer.
Midfield is the area FC Bayern already seems sufficiently manned, with Bastian Schweinsteiger, Franck Ribéry, Thomas Müller, Anatoliy Tymoshchuk, Toni Kroos, Danijel Pranjic, newly signed Luis Gustavo and returning Austrian international David Alaba all competing intensely for the starting positions.
According to statements made by Heynckes to Kicker-Sportmagazin, he would like to bring in Vidal as an alternative to Brazilian right-back Rafinha, who was just signed for a 5.5 million Euro fee.
Possibly, Heynckes is also targeting Vidal for a more offensive role on the right wing, in case Dutch international Arjen Robben again falls to the tenacious muscular injuries, which have considerably limited his number of appearances for FC Bayern the past two seasons—if he doesn't, in fact, leave Munich altogether, as has been repeatedly speculated.
Can Bayer 04 Leverkusen Fill the Gap Vidal's Departure Leaves and Still Contend?
So, though it now seems certain that Bayern will not be able to immediately secure Vidal's services, it is also obvious that the potent midfielder will not be available for Leverkusen when play resumes shortly—naturally dealing a severe blow to Bayer 04 aspirations, not only in the Bundesliga, but also in Champions League competition.
Is it time, then, to definitely count out the "Werkself" as a serious Bundesliga title contender for the upcoming season?
Robin Dutt still has a very talented side at his immediate disposal, with Renato Augusto (23), Tranquillo Barnetta (26), Sidney Sam (23), Simon Rolfes (29), Hanno Balitsch (30), Lars Bender (22) and, of course, veteran Michael Ballack (34) forming an impressive midfield roster.
In signing German international Andre Schürrle (20), Leverkusen added yet another creative offensive option, who can play deep behind strikers Eren Derdiyok (23) and Stefan Kiessling (27) should tactics so require.
Dutt has also been experimenting with newly signed Karim Bellarabi (21) in offensive midfield, and adding a potential right defensive back in highly regarded Danny da Costa (17) from the club's U-19 side, could also free up former U-19 European Champion Gonzalo Castro (24) to roam the right side.
Considering that Leverkusen can eventually draw back on considerable talent developing in its successful youth teams—Germany U-17 World Cup sensations Okan Aydin (17) and Samed Yesil (17) are both signed to long term contracts—Bayer 04 is well positioned to compensate the loss of the Chilean playmaker, albeit suffering a loss of technical finesse in the short term.
Thus, Leverkusen is apparently looking at further possible additions, with the latest transfer rumors circling around Maccabi Tel Aviv playmaker Haris Medunjanin (26), who could join Bayer 04 for a transfer fee of about two million Euros, according to transfermarkt.de.
With the reported departure of Vidal expected to fill the club's coffers with between 10 and 12 million Euros (30 percent of the player's rights are still owned by Colo Colo), it is safe to assume that Bayer 04 Leverkusen will again become active on the market before the current transfer window closes.
Though a second-place finish will be hard to replicate, it would be foolish to discount Bayer 04 in the season ahead. The UEFA Cup champions of 1988 are following the lead of Borussia Dortmund in systematically rejuvenating their squad and style of play.
In the 41-year-old Robin Dutt, they have put a head coach in charge who has gathered experience in grooming young players and translating disposable talent into efficient and cohesive teams at SC Freiburg.
Personally, I would not discount the Ballack effect.
Back from injury and geared up by his fresh dismissal from the Germany team to prove that he still rates among the best German midfielders, he might just provide the leadership the young, fast and hungry side requires to play a formidable season.
Direct Champions League qualification should be attainable for Leverkusen.
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