Analysis of Europe's most in-demand stars Gianluigi Donnarumma, Virgil Van Dijk, Marco Verratti and Kylian Mbappe

Alex Rea 27/06/2017
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This year’s summer transfer window is already one of the most frenetic and the majority of Europe’s windows haven’t even opened yet.

However, that hasn’t stopped the stream of daily rumours with some of the best players in the world linked with money-spinning switches.

With that in mind, we’ve decided to analyse the four most in-demand players this summer from goalkeeper to striker.

GIANLUIGI DONNARUMMA

Club: AC Milan

Linked to: Paris Saint-Germain, Juventus, Real Madrid and Manchester United

Price tag: €100million

The Donnarumma dilemma has had more plot twists than a Shakespeare drama.

Earlier this month the 18-year-old signalled his intention to leave the San Siro after saying he would decline a contract extension with his current deal expiring next summer.

That sparked a fierce reaction from Milan fans toward the keeper and his agent Mino Raiola, which prompted Donnarumma to publicly back his representative inciting more anger.

Then, he apologised to the Rossoneri faithful for the “uproar” he’d cause and promised to discuss a contract renewal with the club after the conclusion of the European U-21 Championship.

The PR disaster surrounding this transfer saga has been nothing short of amateur but what cannot be denied is that Donnarumma is one of the hottest prospects on the market.

Real Madrid were immediately linked with the Italy international when reports surfaced he wouldn’t sign a new deal while Juventus are also strongly tipped to compete for his signature with the iconic Gigi Buffon contemplating retirement after the 2018 World Cup.

Then, of course, there is Manchester United who will have cash to burn and a No1 spot to fill should they lose David De Gea.

Through all this tension, though, Donnarumma has stayed calm and composed and his mental fortitude is a testament to his talent as a goalkeeper as the psychological elements are crucial for a wold-class stopper.

The reason he is so highly-courted is because his anticipation, judgement, positioning and organisation are supreme, even despite his tender years, and if one positive can be drawn from this drama it’s that the Italy international clearly has his head squarely on his shoulders even if it is being turned by Europe’s big hitters.

Gianluigi Donnarumma of AC Milan

VIRGIL VAN DIJK

Club: Southampton

Linked to: Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City

Price tag: €80million

Liverpool were cleared today of any charge in relation to the accusation they “tapped up” Virgil van Dijk but if reports in the English media are to be correct, it may not be the last time they are linked to the Dutchman.

Indeed, Chelsea have hit the front queue to sign the 25-year-old but Manchester City and the Reds are still lurking the corner.

Quality centre-halves are a premium buy in today’s market with so few talented and trusted defenders in Europe’s top-five leagues, so it is no surprise that top clubs are vying for his signature.

In some corners, Van Dijk is viewed as the best centre-back in the Premier Leaue with his towering physical attributes married to an elegant playing style.

It’s why Liverpool were so steadfast in their pursuit but their eager and aggressive approach perhaps cost them.

Van Dijk has met with Jurgen Klopp and is impressed with the project headed up by the German at Anfield but the leaking of his desire to join the Reds saw Saints threaten to report their Premier League rivals for tapping him up.

Given he is just one year into a six-year contact, Southampton hold all the bargaining power and aren’t willing to see him depart for anything less than €80million.

Still, that’s price the likes of Liverpool, Chelsea and City will deem justified and it’s easy to see why he is one of the most in-demand defenders this summer.

Southampton’s Dutch defender Virgil van Dijk

MARCO VERRATTI

Club: Paris Saint-Germain

Linked to: Barcelona and Chelsea

Price tag: €80million

Macro Verratti might just be the best central midfielder Europe has to offer so it’s no surprise that both Chelsea, and in particular Barcelona are desperate to secure his services.

Poised and purposeful, the Italy international is joy to watch with even the most primitive of audiences able to appreciate his quality.

The 24-year-old has blossomed with PSG and it’s understandable they are fighting hard to ensure he remains in Paris with Barca and Chelsea keen to wrestle him away.

Ernesto Valverde has made Verratti is top target this summer with the midfield vacuum left by Xavi’s departure two years ago still be plugged.

While the Azzurri star is not a carbon cope, he does offer the same intensity as the former Barca captain with his work rate persistent and tenacious.

Barca’s midfield has long been their strength but last season it lacked bite and should they snap up Verratti they will add much needed impetus.

However, convincing PSG to part with their prized asset will prove no easy task.

His influence at the Ligue 1 giants is sizable and the squad has virtually been built around his supreme talents.

There is every chance they will dig their heels in with the purported €80million fee perhaps not even enough to seal a move to Camp Nou.

Paris Saint-Germain’s Italian midfielder Marco Verratti

KYLIAN MBAPPE

Club: Monaco

Linked to: Arsenal, Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United, PSG, Real Madrid

Price tag: €145million

Has their ever been a teenager more coveted than Kylian Mbappe?

Practically every top club in Europe is prepared to smash the world-record transfer fee to sign the 18-year-old Monaco attacker.

Two bids of €130million have already been received and rejected according to several reports with the Ligue 1 champions quoting a fee upwards of €145million.

It’s an eye watering sum of money but then watching Mbappe last season would have left scouts opened mouthed and prospective clubs salivating.

Mbappe has the core potential to be a Ballon d’Or winner one day and amid this transfer tussle he seems to have the maturity and calmness crucial to unlocking that prodigious skill on the biggest stage possible.

Pace, penetration, a velvet touch, youthful exuberance, enterprise, goals, assists, versatility, Mbappe seems to have it all and his package of talent at just 18 years of age is why the likes of Real Madrid are so furiously chasing his signature.

The Champions League and La Liga champions are thought to be the France international’s preferred destination but Manchester City are hopeful the project headed by Pep Guardiola could persuade him to move to the Premier League.

Liverpool have stated their intention to be part of the conversation if Mbappe wants a move to England why Arsene Wenger is another man in the hunt.

PSG believe a switch to Paris would be “beautiful” while Manchester Unitea and Chelsea are two other clubs monitoring the situation.

Indeed, there is quite a list for Mbappe to choose from but ultimately he could be set for one more year at Monaco, albeit with an exponential pay rise, before setting sail next summer.

Monaco’s French forward Kylian Mbappe

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Ousmane Dembele "dines" with Man City boss Pep Guardiola as Liverpool make first move for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain

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With the transfer window set to open next month, the frenetic nature of speculation has already begun.

Rumours are starting to gather pace and we take a look at the latest stories doing the rounds in the media.

Will any of the following deals happen?

Get in touch with your thoughts on Twitter and via Facebook.

OUSMANE DEMBELE

Paris Saint-Germain and Barcelona were thought to be leading the chase for Ousmane Dembele but according Le 10 Foot the Borussia Dortmund forward has met with Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola.

It is understood Dembele is keen to leave the Bundesliga giants this summer and the report says he dined with Guardiola in Manchester on Monday night to discuss a potential move to the Etihad Stadium.

RATING: 6/10

SPORT360 VERDICT

A couple of things to point out with this one. Firstly, surely if this was true it would be a quite blatant attempt at tapping the player up and secondly who is following Guardiola round to see where he eats?!

Anyway, the ambidextrous France international is a top target for new Barca boss Ernesto Valverde and if the Catalans are serious it’s difficult to envisage the 20-year-old playing anywhere but Camp Nou next season.

ALEX OXLADE-CHAMBERLAIN

Liverpool have begun the process of signing Arsenal midfielder Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain after making an enquiry regarding his availability.

The Daily Mirror have quoted a £25million fee for a player entering his final year at the Emirates Stadium with Liverpool long-term admirers of the 23-year-old.

RATING: 5/10

SPORT360 VERDICT

It’s hard not to be cynical with this one. Contract negotiations have begun with Arsenal and it’s well documented they’ve hit a sticking point.

Using Liverpool’s interest to gain some leverage is a cheap tactic but it’s difficult to see how Arsenal would be willing to let one of their brightest young talents leave to a domestic rival.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on the ball against Liverpool in March

RIYAD MAHREZ

Arsenal are inching closer to getting one of their rumoured targets as Leicester City winger Riyad Mahrez is apparently opting to join the Gunners having “grown tired of waiting for Barcelona.”

Sport say the Algeria international is considering a four-year deal from the North London outfit with Barca focusing their attentions on PSG midfielder Marco Verratti.

RATING: 8/10

SPORT360 VERDICT

Whether Barcelona are genuinely interested in Mahrez is besides the point because ever since he signalled his intention to leave the Foxes, Arsenal have seemed destined to snap him up.

The 26-year-old is an archetypal Arsene Wenger player and providing the two clubs can agree on a fee, it’s likely he’ll be flying down the wings of the Emirates Stadium come next season.

Riyad Mahrez in action against Arsenal last August

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Next 'Zlatan Ibrahimovic' Patrik Schick has all the talent to fulfill his grand potential at Juventus

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Star of the future: Patrik Schick.

In the space of two months, Patrik Schick has had to deal with two pretty lofty comparisons.

On April 23, Sampdoria’s official Twitter account made a bold declaration: “Dennis Bergkamp who? Meet Patrik Schick.”

The reason was a stunning goal the 21-year-old had scored against Crotone; receiving a pass with his back to goal, he quickly flicked it over centre-back Gianmarco Ferrari, darted into the penalty area and finished without any hesitation. It was eerily reminiscent of Bergkamp’s famous flick around Nikos Dabizas to score for Arsenal against Newcastle in 2002.

On June 1, it was the turn of fellow Czech Pavel Nedved who, in trying to court his countryman to Turin, said: “Schick reminds me of Zlatan [Ibrahimovic] from the time when he came [to Juventus] in 2004. He was 23 back then, and he had slim arms and quite few muscles.”

It was perhaps no great surprise that three weeks later, Juventus with Nedved appointed vice chairman at the club where he made his name in 2015, were paying €30 million (Dh123.34m) to bring the forward to the Bianconeri, earmarked as a long-term successor to Gonzalo Higuain.

Schick left the Czech Republic Under-21 camp on Wednesday, a few hours after helping the national side beat Italy in the European Championships 3-1 to undergo his medical and seal a move to the 33-time Scudetto winners.

Internazionale, Napoli, Atletico Madrid, Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham and Borussia Dortmund all wanted him and had scouted him extensively, but Juve spent €5m (Dh20.55m) above his release clause to get him.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Free agent: Zlatan.

Nedved added: “He has a big future ahead of him. I think that he has the right mindset and if he will want it bad enough, he can make a big career. He has to work a lot to improve and in order to become the greatest, but he has enough talent to do it.”

Meterioric rise is a term liberally used in football but in Schick’s case, from not being able to get into Sparta Prague’s first team to signing for the world’s second-best side in less than two years, it is accurate.

Schick’s signing has certainly been one of Sampdoria’s best deals in recent history and is testament to their own scouting network.

In his home country, Schick couldn’t get in Sparta Prague’s line-up and he spent 2015/2016 season on a loan at mid-table Bohemians, the club most well-known for being the home of legend Antonin Pane-nka, who now serves as chairman.

He scored just seven goals in 27 league games for Bohemians, who finished 13th of 16 teams in the Czech First League, and despite playing only 35 league minutes in total for Sparta, Samp gambled €4m (Dh16.4m) on developing him.

However, at the beginning of his time in Italy, Schick struggled to breakthrough, due to not speaking the language and feeling homesick as he struggled to settle in Genoa.

“He got into the starting line-up only after three months. I was very sad in the start, but it was vital that I refused to give up,” he revealed earlier this year.

Call it luck or fate, but the fact he marked his full Serie A debut on October 26 with a goal 12 minutes into the second-half against Juventus proved somewhat prophetic.

“It was the first time I saw him. For me, it was immediately a shock to see such a young player to shoot with his elegance and quickness. He showed great skills,” Gaetano Mocciaro of tuttomercatoweb.com recalls.

It still took him time to earn a regular spot in Marco Giampaolo’s attack, though, with veteran Fabio Quagliarella and Colombian Luis Muriel first choices, limited Schick to sporadic substitute appearances until he nailed down a place at the turn of the year.

From January 7 to the end of the season, he averaged a Serie A goal or assist every 118 minutes. And while his production doesn’t necessarily leap out it was the nature of how he was scoring.

“The value of this boy rises by €10 million each time he nutmegs an opponent. And that happens every two seconds,” Italian Football Daily’s journalist Fede Manasse joked.

To view Schick’s highlights offers a snapshot of the Ibrahimovic and Bergkamp similarities: at 6ft 1ins he’s not outrageously tall but has a thin frame which exaggerates his height.But he’s in that exclusive and unique group of lean strikers who have an elegance and gracefulness on the ball: Berbatov, Ibrahimovic, Bergkamp – you get the picture.

“I have seen many players who arrived as already famous and failed in the first season. For example, Thierry Henry or Dennis Bergkamp in the past, or not so long time ago Edin Dzeko,” Mocciaro adds.

“Tactically, Serie A is still the hardest championship in the world. A player from abroad needs time to adapt to different defenders and especially different way of defending. Very seldom a foreign player has such as big impact in Italy and you would never imagine a player from a mediocre Czech team make it.”

Patrik Schick.

The Czech star enjoyed a stellar time with Sampdoria.

Given he’s barely a ‘half-season wonder’, there has to be a degree of trepidation in terms of managing expectations around Schick and weather he can make the next step up.

From unknown prospect to Serie A sensation; he’s barely established himself as a household name in his home country, yet is now the third-most expensive under-21 player in Serie A history.

As he remarked earlier this month, he never picks himself when playing on FIFA 17. Not because of modesty but because the game’s creators were taken by surprise just as much as anyone else and he’s just really mediocre in the game.

There was always concern that despite his technical brilliance, Schick’s inability to work for the team would hold him back but it seems a combination of Serie A’s discipline and the grounding he gets from his family have helped him blossom.

Ivo Taborsky, chief scout at International Sports Management who have Schick as a client, says: ‘Patrik has great parents and that is very important. They brought him as young to Sparta not with a conviction that their son would make amazing money. They just wanted him to enjoy his game.

“From the start, it was clear that he can become an exceptional player.

“Over the 17 years I have spent in this business, I have met only two families like this. The another were Tomas Rosicky’s. There is a belief that Schick could make it even further than Rosicky.”

Sampdoria were desperate to hold onto Schick, for obvious selfish reasons; and there were many quick to tell him his development would be better served playing regularly for the Blucerchiati, rather than sat on the bench for Juve as, most likely, fourth-choice striker.

But there is another school of thought that expectations will now be lower in Turin, due to his pecking order in the squad, and he will be afforded the time and patience to grow.

Plus there is the crucial presence of seasoned campaigners and role models of the likes of Gianluigi Buffon, Giorgio Chiellini and Andrea Barzagli, while working daily with Higuain, Paulo Dybala and Mario Mandzukic can only beneficial.

“Allegri wants to play 4-2-3-1 and, of course, Higuain will be in the line-up. Then, there are players like Dybala and Mandzukic, so Schick is realistically behind them in the order,” Mocciaro says.

“However, I think it is still a good move from him because he has the chance to learn a lot from the best players in Serie A: skills of Dybala, the eye for goal of Higuain, or mentality from stars like Gianluigi Buffon. And all that will make his growth faster.

“He has killer instinct of striker, is elegant and intelligent. He has many skills all in one and that’s hardly usual for a player in such as age.

“It’s up to him, but choosing Juventus, the club with best professional players and ideal environment, will help him to become better and better. He has to work a lot to improve and in order to become the greatest, but he has enough talent to do it.”

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