It seems like the August Deadline Day wasn't all that long ago, but January looms ever closer and the rumor mill is kicking into an even higher gear. Some seriously hot prospects are emerging, and many of them will be courted by the big European teams looking to bolster their strength in the midfield.
Here are 15 midfielders that top-flight clubs will be seeking out in January. As always, if there's any other hot-prospect midfielders you'd like to discuss or you feel like sounding off about the members of our list and their possible destinations, have at it in the comments section.
Linked to: Arsenal, Real Madrid
20-year-old Belgian playmaker Eden Hazard has emerged as one of the hottest and most frequently-discussed prospects for January after making waves last season with Ligue 1 champions OSC Lille. Hazard, who was named to the Ligue 1 Team of the Year two seasons in a row, has received extensive praise for his pace and forward-thinking play and this season, he has been an impact player in both league and European competition for Lille.
The Gunners have been tracking him for a while now, and according to a report from CrunchSports, former French superstar Zinedine Zidane, who is now serving as the Director of Football at Real Madrid, has said the club is prepared to go "all out" to bring Hazard to the Bernabéu.
Linked to: Manchester United, Manchester City, AC Milan, Inter Milan
Napoli playmaker Marek Hamšík and his massive mohawk may be looking at a move to the Premiership, if not in January, then likely over the summer. A strong attacker who has netted 50 goals for the Azzurri, Hamšík looks like he's ready to move on and reports indicate that he may not be truly happy at Napoli.
As his manager, Mino Railoa, was quoted as saying in a report from GiveMeFootball:
"I don’t know if this will be Hamšík’s last year at Napoli, but it is certainly a prison for him, albeit a golden one."
Manchester United has been linked to past moves for Hamšík, where the playmaker would be expected to fulfill the role of the recently-retired Paul Scholes. But after his Champions League performance in Napoli's 1-1 draw with Manchester City, the other Mancunian club also seems interested. First-team coach Fausto Salsano, second-in-command to manager Roberto Mancini, told Radio CRC in Italy that the club was investigating a bid for Hamšík and Ezequiel Lavezzi as possible replacements for want-away striker Carlos Tévez.
Linked to: Manchester United, Arsenal, Juventus
The 17-year-old prodigy was first discovered at age 13 while playing for the academy team at Austrian club LASK Linz. Now a professional with Dinamo Zagreb, Mateo Kovačić has garnered massive praise and comparisons to the likes of Diego Maradona, Croatian legend Robert Prosinecki and Wayne Rooney, along with the nickname "The Croatian Lionel Messi." So naturally, many clubs throughout Europe's top leagues have shown they are very interested in the starlet.
Manchester United has emerged as a potential transfer candidate, along with Arsenal and Juventus, who previously tried to court Kovačić while he was still at the academy. The young playmaker has said he'll stay at Dinamo for now, but he expressed enthusiasm at the interest of the big names:
'I am honoured to be linked to clubs like Juventus and Manchester United. For now I am happy here, but my day will come.'
Maybe that day will come sooner than we think.
Linked to: Liverpool, Manchester United, Manchester City
One of the most surprising transfer rumors to have surfaced very recently is the rumored interest of some of the top clubs in the Premiership in 21-year-old American playmaker Brek Shea. A quick and versatile attacker, Shea has impressed lately on the international circuit, shining for the US Men's National Team in recent friendlies against Honduras and Ecuador.
USMNT coach Jürgen Klinsmann has advised Shea to exercise caution and wait a while before entering the Premiership. As he was quoted in a report from AOL Sporting News:
“Obviously, down the road if he keeps on playing the way he’s shown in the national team then yeah that raises a few eyebrows overseas. I’m very aware of that because coaches call me already in regards to his situation.”
Linked to: Arsenal
Several seasons ago, the Lyon attacker was at the top of his game and one of the most hyped prospects in Europe during his breakthrough spell at Rennes and again while at Bordeaux, and his passing game and playmaking ability earned him praise throughout the world of football.
But a nagging ankle injury and inconsistent performances have spelled a more precarious present for Yoann Gourcuff, although he is looking somewhat resurgent, getting some playing time in Lyon's recent 3-1 victory over Nancy and linking up well with his teammates. But the playmaker, looking for first-team action in order to stay in good standing with the French national team ahead of Euro 2012, may be looking for a new start elsewhere where he can be a higher-impact player.
Linked to: Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur, Inter Milan
24-year-old Slovenian playmaker Josip 'Jojo' Iličić impressed in his debut season for Serie A side Palermo after coming over from NK Maribor in 2010, quickly becoming an impact starter and performing well against the Italian league's top-flight sides, scoring against the likes of Inter Milan, Juventus and AS Roma.
Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur have expressed interest in bringing on Iličić in the past, but it looks as though Inter Milan have emerged as the frontrunners in making a transfer move. The Nerazzurri were tracking him over the summer, and now his agent, Amir Ruznic, has reportedly admitted Iličić would be open to a move to San Siro if Inter came knocking.
"Every player dreams of wearing the jersey of a top club, and Inter are definitely a big team.
I have read about their interest in the newspapers, but they haven't approached me yet. I can tell you that Josip has a buyout clause in his contract, but I can't reveal the amount."
Linked to: Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea, AC Milan, Barcelona
Danish wünderkind Christian Eriksen wowed fans all over world football with his breakthrough season at Ajax, where he helped lead the Amsterdammers to an Eredivisie title and the Champions League and was named Team Talent of the Year all before his 20th birthday.
The creative playmaker, who can count Johan Cruyff among his fans, made headlines again earlier this month as he helped Denmark defeat Portugal in the Euro 2012 qualifiers, sealing his side's spot in the tournament. His performances have many top-flight European clubs salivating, among them the Premier League classic "Big Four," Barcelona and more recently AC Milan, who reportedly sent scouts to watch Eriksen play in the victory over Portugal.
Linked to: Liverpool, Arsenal
Adam Johnson has been on the transfer prospects radar for a while now, as a highly talented winger who just can't seem to break into Manchester City's first team. If Johnson were to move, it looks as though he would stay in the Premiership, as Liverpool and Arsenal have both been linked to winter bids for the 24-year-old.
A January move for Johnson may be looking a bit more hazy, however, as he is getting more time on the pitch, scoring in recent victories over Blackburn Rovers and Aston Villa. He contends he's satisfied with his impact-sub role at Eastlands. As he said on the Manchester City website:
“If there are two games a week and you play in one of those games, I think you have to be happy with that - it’s the price of playing at such a big club."
But with Euro 2012 looming ever closer, if international playing time and squad selection is a priority for Johnson, he may be looking for a new home where he can crack the first-team in order to remain in good graces with Fabio Capello.
Linked to: Arsenal, AC Milan, Inter Milan, Juventus, Real Madrid
The latest Brazilian wünderkind to join the January transfer rumor race along side Lucas, Neymar and Ganso, among others, São Paulo midfielder Casemiro has attracted the big names after a string of impressive performances, among them a strong run in Brazil's victorious campaign in the U20 World Cup in Colombia.
Casemiro has been praised for his "tough-tackling," attack-minded style and skill, and his stock will only go up from here as Europe's big names begin courting him for January.
Linked to: Manchester United
Defensive midfielder Bruno Soriano has been an institution at the Yellow Submarine ever since his arrival to the senior team in 2006. A powerful defensive presence on the pitch, Soriano was a key player in Villarreal's arrival to Champions League play, and has reportedly impressed Sir Alex Ferguson, who was rumored to be considering a bid for Soriano.
Rumors have surfaced about a possible bid from Manchester United to lure Soriano, rated at €25 million, away from El Madrigal, but manager Juan Carlos Garrido contends no formal offer has been made yet and that his high-impact DM will be staying with Villarreal.
Linked to: Arsenal, Manchester United, Real Madrid
The hot-prospect Borussia Dortmund playmaker was one of the first names circulating around the rumor mills following a breakthrough season with the BVB, which ended with a Bundesliga title and a trip to the Champions League. He is also a figure of increasing presence on the German national team, scoring his first goal for them back in August.
Mario Götze has been linked to moves to the Premiership and La Liga, most recently and notably to Real Madrid, but Borussia Dortmund general manager Hans-Joachim Watzke has called the rumors "nonsense."
Götze himself has said that he's content to stay with the BVB for now, but a move to Real Madrid to join German national teammates Mesut Özil and Sami Khedira could prove tempting.
As he was quoted as saying in Eurosport:
"I am very content where I am, but you never know what will happen. Sahin also came from this club’s youth system and now? He plays at Santiago Bernabéu.
Playing with Ozil and Khedira for Germany is a dream for me because they are Real Madrid players. It is quite special to play with them."
Linked to: Chelsea
Another hotly-rumored prospect around the August Deadline Day that has since died down, the race for Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Luka Modrić may heat up again before the January window.
Manager Harry Redknapp successfully fought off a pair of sizable summer bids (the highest at £27 million) from London rivals Chelsea back in August, but with reports that Modrić is still unhappy at White Hart Lane, complaining about the "old-fashioned" training regime and expressing concern that Redknapp will leave the club, perhaps that move to Stamford Bridge could happen after all.
Linked to: Liverpool, Arsenal
The Argentine defensive midfielder has contributed to two Belgian Pro League championships and three Belgian Supercups since his arrival at Anderlecht in 2006, and he has become a fixture for the Belgian side.
A confident and easily adaptable midfielder, the £8 million-rated Biglia has reportedly been tracked by Liverpool, who would likely use him in tandem with Lucas Leiva, and Arsenal in the hopes of strengthening their midfield.
Linked to: Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur, AS Roma, Real Madrid
Lucas has quickly become one of the most sought-after young Brazilian players in the world after impressing in the U20 World Cup with his speed, explosive attacking and forward-thinking style, helping the men in yellow and green to the championship title and earning a spot in the senior Seleção. Among the clubs linked to the playmaker, who comes with an €80 million release clause, are Liverpool, AS Roma and Real Madrid, whose scouts the player has impressed.
But Lucas may not be ready to make the move to Europe quite yet. In an interview with FIFA.com, Lucas said he was focused on the Paulistas for now, but he could be tempted with an eventual move abroad:
"I’m happy that big European clubs are interested in me, as it shows I’ve been doing my job well. But I’m still very young and I’ve got a lot to learn. Right now my mind is fully focused on São Paulo. I want to win titles here, write my page in the club’s history and only then, yes, will I think about a move abroad."
Linked to: Arsenal, AS Roma, Paris Saint-Germain
The 22-year-old attacker and playmaker has been an influential figure since his arrival at Loftus Road and was instrumental in getting Queens Park Rangers promoted into the Premiership last season. Now, with a handful of clubs reportedly knocking, most notably Paris Saint-Germain, who reportedly offered QPR a £13 million bid for Taarabt last summer.
Taarabt may be an impact performer for QPR, but a slew of summer signings and recent mounting tensions with teammates (most notably Joey Barton, who called Taarabt a "sulker" after he walked out after being replaced at halftime in QPR's derby defeat to Fulham) and with the club may help spur a move for Taarabt.