Julian Brandt, Nabil Fekir and Kostas Manolas among this summer's underpriced stars

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Julian Brandt

The 2019 summer transfer window is a seller’s market.

Bloated fees have left clubs at bursting point in their attempts to finance crucial deals as teams see opportunity to cash in on their assets with the market gone wild.

The result is a change in perception of what is considered cheap and expensive as €30m has become the new €50m. There have been some standout signings, both over and underpriced, though.

We looked at four overpriced players first, now it’s time for the underpriced stars, but bear in mind loan deals and free signings aren’t up for consideration in this series.

Kostas Manolas €36m | Roma-Napoli

Roma’s failure to qualify for the Champions League this season means their hands have been tied by Financial Fair Play constraints.

To comply, assets had to be stripped and one of the biggest was Kostas Manolas.

Napoli paid up the Greek’s release clause, partnering one of Serie A’s finest centre-backs with another in the form of Kalidou Koulibaly.

Considering the tier Manolas sits in and the dearth of high-quality centre-backs around Europe, the fee is cheap.

In Manolas, Napoli have acquired a player who is absolutely electric and can genuinely claim to be one of the fastest defenders in Europe.

After all, there’s a reason he’s called ‘Greece Lightning’. The 28-year-old has the ability to cover vacated space in the channels as if a bolt has struck the pitch, just zipping into position before zapping the ball away.

Carlo Ancelotti’s remit is to win a major trophy in 2019/20 and the bedrock of their success could be cemented by signing a Greek cornerstone.

Julian Brandt €25m | Bayer Leverkusen-Borussia Dortmund

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Take away the Mats Hummels and Paco Alcacer deals, and any one of Dortmund’s other summer buys could have featured after the Christian Pulisic money, plus change, was wisely reinvested into acquiring Thorgan Hazard, Julian Brandt and Nico Schulz.

Brandt is surely the highlight, though. The Germany international further developed his unique ‘Brandt’ of attacking qualities at the Bayer Leverkusen talent factory, embracing and thriving in multiple positions last season.

According to Whoscored.com, he was deployed in six different roles in 2018/19, although Peter Bosz made the bold move to shift him into a deeper midfield slot for the large part having pretty much lived out his career as a winger.

Brandt was outstanding, scoring seven goals and assisting a further 11. The 23-year-old, alongside his former team-mate Kai Havertz, represents the present and future of German football. He’ll likely feature in a double pivot with Axel Witsel in Lucien Favre’s 4-2-3-1, but Brandt can also provide cover for both Hazard and Jadon Sancho, he could even partner Marco Reus in a 4-1-4-1.

He’s young, fast, dynamic, can pass and shoot plus play in various positions – that’s a lot packaged into a €25m purchase.

Nabil Fekir €19.75m | Lyon-Real Betis

Jean-Michel Aulas has a reputation for being a tough negotiator, yet that seems rather misguided on the basis of some key Lyon sales.

Samuel Umtiti (€25m), Corentin Tolisso (€41.5m), Alexandre Lacazette (€53m) and now Nabil Fekir have all been sold for amounts below their true worth.

There’s the mitigating factors of Fekir entering the final year of his contract and the fact Liverpool pulled out of a deal last year because of concerns over an historic knee injury.

But the Reds were willing to pay €60m for the World Cup winner just a year ago and 12 months on his price plummeted without his talent doing the same.

Fekir is premier No10, his record of 69 goals and 46 assists in 193 run-outs for Lyon reflects that.

He’s the type of player who can create space for others through his quick movement, and unlock it for himself with quality control of the ball. Indeed, Fekir is a four-pronged attacker, one able to score, create, dribble and provide a genuine threat from set-pieces.

The 26-year-old can drop in and drive forward or arrive late to finish chances with conviction. There are not too many players of his ilk in world football and yet he has cost Betis a snip.

Okay, the Basque side had to sign his unheralded brother as well, and the deal with Lyon contained a 20 per cent sell-on clause, but the initial outlay is remarkably cheap.

Alexander Isak €6.5m | Borussia Dortmund-Real Sociedad

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First it’s important to preface that there are strong reports Dortmund have wisely included a buy-back clause, but still €6.5m for Isak is an absurdly good piece of business for Sociedad.

The Swede has been likened to Zlatan Ibrahimovic, mainly because he’s a tall striker and Swedish, but the two are not alike.

Isak is altruistic and more of a team player, but he is an archetypal modern striker, a complete forward who can drop in to drive the build-up phase with a devastating right-foot to finish off attacks.

He was strongly linked with a move to Real Madrid before maturely deciding on Dortmund, yet his career stalled in Germany before a loan move to Willem II last season witnessed an explosion of his talent.

In Isak’s opening 12 league games after joining the Eredivisie side on a January loan, the 19-year-old recorded 12 goals.

He was outstanding beyond the goals as well, silky smooth on the ball and intelligent off it.

Suffice to say, he’s one of the more impressive young strikers in Europe and next season, he’ll be spearheading an attacking contingent which contains Martin Odegaard, Mikel Oyarzabal and Adnan Januzaj, handing him a prime opportunity to further his glowing reputation and make the fee look very conservative.

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Manchester United slip down to sixth in Forbes' list of most valuable sports clubs

Press Association Sport 10:57 24/07/2019
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United's fortunes have tumbled after a dismal season.

The Dallas Cowboys top Forbes’ list of the world’s most valuable sports clubs for the fourth straight year as English Premiership giants Manchester United slipped four places to sixth.

In figures released on Tuesday, Forbes pegged the value of the Cowboys at $5 billion (4.484 billion euros).

The NFL club owned by Jerry Jones generate twice as much sponsorship and seating revenue at their AT&T Stadium than any other team, the financial publication said.

Major League Baseball’s New York Yankees jumped from fifth last year to second, it’s value coming in at $4.6 billion.

The values take into account earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization.

Twenty-six of the NFL’s 32 teams appear on the list of the 50 most valuable clubs in the world.

The Yankees are among seven Major League Baseball teams to feature.

La Liga giants Real Madrid ($4.24 billion) and Barcelona ($4.02 billion) and the NBA’s New York Knicks ($4 billion) round out the top five.

Manchester United saw their value drop from $4.12 billion to $3.18 billion.

United endured a dismal 2018-19 campaign, finishing sixth in the Premier League and missing out on a place in the Champions League.

Success on the field is not the only guarantor of value, however.

The Cowboys go into the 2019 NFL season as the defending NFC East division champions, but they haven’t reached the Super Bowl since winning Super Bowl 30 after the 1995 season.

Nevertheless, nine of the 50 highest-rated US sports TV broadcasts in 2018 were regular-season Cowboys games, Forbes noted.

Their popularity has helped Jones generate an estimated $340 million in sponsorship and premium seating revenue at their home stadium.

Provided by Press Association Sports

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Juventus, Napoli, Barcelona, Liverpool and Real Madrid possess best centre-back pairings

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Football is well versed in debates over the best attacking trios, yet we all seem to be forgetting arguably the most important partnership on the pitch – the centre-backs.

If you think of a team as like the human body then the attackers are its muscle with midfield creators supplying the blood allowing them to flex.

But before any of that can happen, a team needs structure and the centre-backs are the bones of every side.

It’s a multi-layered relationship which goes beyond skillsets and moves into character traits, too.

A telepathic understanding is required to ensure supreme organisation of space and personnel, and next season could see some of the strongest centre-back partnerships.

We’ve taken a look at five of the best pairings from Europe. Bare in mind Inter and Leipzig aren’t highlighted as both Antonio Conte and Julian Nagelsmann will likely implement a three-man defence, despite the obvious individual qualities of Diego Godin, Milan Skriniar and Stefan De Vrij for Conte, and for Nagelsmann through Dayot Upamecano, Ibrahima Konate and Willi Orban.

NAPOLI – Kalidou Koulibaly & Kostas Manolas

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Napoli not only managed to retain one of Europe’s most in-demand centre-backs this summer, but they also paired him with another.

Kostas Manolas was prised from Roma for €36 million and the Greece international will work alongside Kalidou Koulibaly as Napoli target a major trophy in 2019/20.

By fusing thunder and lightning, Carlo Ancelotti has two elements to spark a legitimate challenge.

In Manolas, Napoli have acquired a player who is absolutely electric and can genuinely claim to be one of the fastest defenders in Europe.

There’s a reason he’s called ‘Greece Lightning’. Indeed, the 28-year-old’s ability to cover vacated space in the channels is as if a bolt has struck the pitch, he just zips into position before zapping the ball away.

But those scenarios are when others are caught out of position, rather than himself, because Manolas is a classically-trained tight and attentive marker. He’s strong, too, not in a bulldozing manner but rather through stiffness. He’s both immovable and incredibly mobile, but what his profile allows is for the shackles to be released from Koulibaly.

With a dependable watchman behind him, the Senegalese is free to pick locks instead of standing guard. Aside from his obvious physical gifts, Koulibaly is outstanding on the ball and his progressive traits have largely been wrapped up.

The defence has hinged on him putting out fires with a 33-year-old Raul Albiol and an erratic Mario Rui to his left.

With superior quality next to him, Koulibaly won’t be required to physically push team-mates into position as he laughably did to Rui last season.

JUVENTUS – Matthijs de Ligt & Giorgio Chiellini

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Napoli have chosen to combine two different but complimenting personalities, but Juve’s defensive wall is clad with the rocky experience of Giorgio Chiellini and decorated by the luminous brilliance of Matthijs de Ligt.

The Dutchman is a generational talent and the Bianconeri effectively emerged from a European royal rumble which included PSG, Barcelona and Manchester United among others, to capture this centre-back jewel.

Indeed, Juve have a strong lineage when it comes to iconic defenders and De Ligt has the potential to carry on that tradition.

The 19-year-old walks into this team immediately, his financial package rumoured to be €15 million per year in wages and €75m in transfer fees dictate that, but so too does his skillset.

Leonardo Bonucci is 32 and there have been obvious signs of decline over the last two seasons. Chiellini may be two years older and will be 35 before the season begins, yet he showed in 2018/19 his quality remains undiminished, even if his body is beginning to break down.

What Bonucci does bring to the side, though, is high-quality passes with a lot of variation from the back.

De Ligt has shown at Ajax he can serve that requirement with his confident and serene ability on the ball, while also providing a significant goal threat.

There’s also, and naturally so given his age, been times when he’s needed his hand held for both club (second-half against Tottenham) and country (in the defeat of England in the Nations League).

At Ajax, Daley Blind has taken on that role, for the Netherlands it’s been Virgil van Dijk, and by shrewdly pairing him with Chiellini, De Ligt has another experienced commander to learn from before he becomes the undisputed leader.

Good luck to attackers in Italy and Europe next season because it’s difficult to find a weak spot here.

REAL MADRID – Raphael Varane & Sergio Ramos

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Reputation rather than recent form sees Varane and Ramos included.

Last season teetered toward embarrassment for Real Madrid with their unbalanced side leaking goals at one end and failing to score at the other.

Varane and Ramos are apportioned blame, but not totally because there was plenty of dysfunction around them to provide a mitigating factor.

Zinedine Zidane has addressed some of the team’s biggest issues with the energy of left-back Ferland Mendy in both directions solving the gaping hole vacated by a negligent Marcelo.

There’s genuine competition for Varane in Eder Militao and that should bring the best out of a player who has long been considered a future Los Blancos captain.

And his best is among the very best in the world. Indeed, the natural selection process would find its completion with Varane because he’s an athletic freak, blessed with pace, strength and height.

Positionally, he can be lax at times but that’s why captain Ramos is so crucial beside him.

Every defensive partnership carries with it authoritative roles of a number one and two, and there are few better leaders in world football than Ramos.

The evidence of his influence was no more clear than in Real’s second-leg collapse against Ajax in the Champions League when, without their suspended skipper, the sense of timing to know when to calm things down and when to fire the side up was lost.

Last season can be considered a rare blip for this colossal defensive pairing and a reasonable expectation is that in 2019/20, they will once again emerge as one of the outstanding partnerships in Europe.

LIVERPOOL – Virgil van Dijk & Joe Gomez

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To the outside world a perplexed reaction might greet the name of Joe Gomez inhabiting the sidekick role next to Liverpool’s own Superman, Virgil van Dijk.

From December onward, Joel Matip was outstanding alongside the Dutchman after Gomez’s equally brilliant season was punctured by a broken leg.

The Cameroonian developed into a key offensive weapon for Jurgen Klopp with his slaloms into midfield dragging players out of position while his precise passing and tackling became a massive feature.

But make no mistake, Gomez is in the same category as De Ligt in terms of being the best young defender in Europe.

The 22-year-old’s progress has been blunted by a series of unfortunate injuries, issues which don’t point to an injury-prone player breaking down due to sapping demands, but rather unlucky impact scenarios.

Before his leg fracture against Burnley, Gomez at times looked like the world’s most expensive defender as opposed to Van Dijk.

That’s praise with plenty of weight but it was justified because Gomez is the most physically gifted English centre-back since Rio Ferdinand. He’s faster than most strikers, stronger, too while being dominant in the air and a deceptively good passer.

Granted, his recent trajectory has certainly been helped by playing alongside Van Dijk, the two certainly compliment each other well, aided by their friendship off the pitch.

But there’s no denying his talent and Liverpool are looking at a centre-back partnership which will blossom over the next few years.

This is without barely mentioning Van Dijk incidentally, although enough has been written about his monstrous ability and his claim to being the world’s best centre-back.

BARCELONA – Gerard Pique & Clement Lenglet

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Barcelona are another outfit containing three world class centre-backs in their squad and because of the issues surrounding a problematic knee, Samuel Umtiti, as happened last season, drops out for his French compatriot and fellow left-footer Clement Lenglet.

The 24-year-old made Barca supporters forget about Umtiti, and that is no mean feat given the season prior he was undoubtedly one of the world’s premier defenders.

But Lenglet was quietly superb, amassing a reputation as one of the most underrated centre-backs in Europe with performances hallmarked by a cool mentality and a cold ability to freeze out attackers.

His response to danger was super quick, even the emergency services would have been impressed, and when the sirens rang with Umtiti injured, Lenglet answered the call, blanketing doubts over whether he could replicate his excellent form for Sevilla at the Camp Nou.

Crucially, an understanding with Barca’s backline captain was struck both in La Liga and in the Champions League with Pique returning to his best form following an erratic start to the season, alongside Lenglet.

The requirements for Barcelona centre-backs are much different to the combinations examined here because their high line often means they spend a lot of time in the opposition half.

Being brave under pressure is vital and that’s what Pique and Lenglet bring.

Given what Barca dictate from their defenders, these two really do have the complete package when it comes to intelligent positioning, quality on the ball and a fearless disposition.

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