Boxing is usually the arena for the summer’s blockbuster bouts, but a rival has emerged this year with football producing its own tasty clashes.
Heavyweight names are going toe-to-toe in the transfer window as either player or club try to manufacture an exit.
Most of them are turning pretty ugly. Head coach Zinedine Zidane recently floored Gareth Bale with a brazen declaration that the Welshman leaving Real Madrid would be “best for all sides”, perhaps not the player himself, however.
Bale is not alone in his struggle and so we’ve looked at his situation plus nine other elite names who are battling their current teams.
Gareth Bale v Real Madrid
Zidane insists it’s nothing personal with Bale, yet everything he has said is to the contrary. In on breath, there’s no issue, in another, the Los Blancos boss is hoping he leaves soon.
That of course is no easy job when Bale’s reported £600,000-a-week wages, on a contract which runs until 2022, cannot be easily matched elsewhere.
The financial risk carries little reward for teams operating in the upper echelons of world football, considering his broken body is so worn and now 30-years old.
Imagine buying a totalled Ferrari with a price tag as if new, that’s effectively what prospective clubs see when they look at Bale. He’s still a Ferrari, but not exactly one you want to actually buy.
It seems China is his only logical destination, but regardless it’s a sorry end to what has been a remarkable career in Madrid.
Neymar v PSG
Now the peculiar context to this contest is that both corners are swinging and the two have landed on their own chin.
Indeed, PSG are happy to sell, the Brazilian wants to leave and yet no concrete offers have been forthcoming with buyers priced out of a move.
Like an annoying ex-husband, Neymar has practically sent Barcelona midnight text messages ever since an acrimonious split in 2017.
But the Blaugrana are unlikely to answer back having moved on and spent big money on Frenkie de Jong and Antoine Griezmann this summer.
That leaves Neymar short of suitors and with Kylian Mbappe demonstrating last season he’s ready to lead PSG, the Parisians are more than happy to back him.
Returning sporting director Leonardo and owner Nasser Al-Khelaifi skewered Neymar earlier this summer for his “celebratory antics” and so neither side is particularly pleased. However, like separated spouses living under the same roof, there may be little option but to remain together.
Mauro Icardi v Inter
The Neymar-PSG marriage was purely metaphorical prose, but an actual husband-wife tale sits at the heart of Icardi and Inter narrative.
This toxic relationship is closer to soap opera than it is sport and the timeline of events stretches so far back it’s difficult to squeeze into a few hundred words.
Hold your breath.
Essentially, Icardi was dropped by Luciano Spalletti and stripped of the captaincy following a bitter dispute over a new contract, alongside his wife-agent Wanda Nara’s controversial remarks about the team on Italian TV.
The club wanted him to find a new representative, Icardi stuck by his wife and then subsequently made himself unavailable because of a knee injury which the club insisted didn’t exist.
He eventually returned to the team late in 2019 with the contract row unresolved. Antonio Conte took charge of the club and wants him out, but the Argentine is desperate to stick around.
No club wants to go near Icardi, Manchester United reportedly rejected him being used as part of a deal to acquire Romelu Lukaku and so this ugly scenario appears to have no end.
Romelu Lukaku v Manchester United
The chain reaction of Icardi is felt in Manchester where the Inter striker’s misguided stubbornness has left Lukaku in an awkward spot.
Conte is pleading with his new charges to sign the hulking Belgian, but the Nerazzurri’s wallet is pretty empty and the only way to refill it is by selling Icardi.
Hard to imagine he is not chuckling away at this situation.
The Italian’s £54 million bid was last week rejected by the Red Devils, and justifiably so because if this deal was reversed Inter would likely ask for double.
Lukaku has, though, already stated he wants to go having fallen behind Marcus Rashford in the No9 pecking order, leaving Ole Gunnar Solskjaer with a club-record asset on the bench.
That’s not exactly a designation befitting one of Europe’s premier goalscorers and his desire to exit Old Trafford is understandable.
The problem for him, is so too United’s stance on his transfer fee. It’s obvious the club will sell, but they won’t be particularly stressed if he stays while Inter continue to lodge derisory low offers.
It’s a saga which is simmering, expect Lukaku to ensure it boils over if a switch looks unlikely.
Wilfried Zaha v Crystal Palace
Speaking of comedy offers, let’s welcome Arsenal to the stage.
Yes, the Gunners had the football world laughing after reports of a £40m bid for Crystal Palace’s electric winger Wilfried Zaha.
The hysterics made way for horror when everyone realised it wasn’t a joke, though. That offer might buy Arsenal a ‘ha’, but good luck funding the rest for Zah.
Arsenal are pretty notorious for bizarre offers – think £40,000,01m – but what exactly did they hope to achieve with this?
Now, Zaha’s aspirations to play for a bigger club are certainly matched by his talent. Him wanting to join Arsenal makes sense for both sides but then perhaps he should have backed his own ability last year before locking himself into a long-term deal.
That’s effectively jailed his ambition and Arsenal simply don’t have the money to bail him out having failed to qualify for the Champions League. They emptied their wallets and £40m is all that has fallen out, to make up the rest, Arsenal will require emotional blackmail from Zaha.
This could get ugly at the speed of Zaha. The player’s brother has already pleaded with Palace to let the 26-year-old “realise his dream”.
There are growing concerns Zaha will damage his relationship with Palace and by extension the fans to force through a move and the same will be reciprocated by Arsenal lowballing them.
Laurent Koscielny v Arsenal
Oh the irony. Arsenal have their own vexed star to deal with this summer, but the timeline for Koscielny is a little further ahead than Zaha.
The animosity between captain and club has unusually spilled out in the public domain, with the Gunners releasing an official statement detailing Koscielny’s refusal to travel on their pre-season tour of the USA.
The Frenchman handed in a transfer request having been left aggrieved when Arsenal triggered their one-year extension.
The 33-year-old believed he was set to become a free agent this summer with his heart set on a return home after talks over new contract broke down.
According to the BBC, the defender was upset with their new offer and with the latter part of his career ripped apart by Achilles tendon issues, Koscielny was apparently concerned with the way his playing schedule was managed.
Lyon, Bordeaux and Rennes have all been cited as potential destinations but the Gunners are seeking around £10m to secure his exit.
Naturally, this had a knock-on effect in their campaign to sign Zaha with Unai Emery keen to sell Shkodran Mustafi to help fund that deal, only for his centre-back partner to then request a move instead.
This situation is messy in the extreme, especially given how out of character this is for Koscielny.
Leroy Sane v Man City
This one is effectively a proxy war between Bayern Munich and Manchester City.
Sane won’t sign a new contract as he wants more a prominent role in Manchester.
There’s always been an undertow of tension between the German and Pep Guardiola with the Catalan boss previously declaring that he won’t stand in the way of players wishing to leave.
This despite the fact he’s labelled Sane as one of the world’s best wingers and his rather bristly response when asked about Harry Maguire recently.
“I know some people like Bayern Munich like to talk a lot about Leroy [Sane], but usually, I never speak about players at other clubs,” he said.
It was arguably the first time Guardiola had really shown an intent to retain him, but one thing is for certain, City won’t be bullied into a sale by Bayern.
Now, the attraction of returning to Germany playing for the best club in the Bundesliga as one of his nation’s biggest stars must be strong.
But City won’t even discuss a deal unless something in the region of €100m is on offer. Bayern want him, but the question is how much.
Jerome Boateng v Bayern Munich
There’s a trend emerging here isn’t there? Bayern are doing their best to unsettle a desired talent, while concurrently possessing an undesired player they can’t seem to get rid of.
The Bavarians have embarked on the biggest investment in their squad ever and much of that money has been used to reinforce their cracking backline.
Youthful recruits Benjamin Pavard (23) and Lucas Hernandez (23) have been added at a steep cost and both will compete with Niklas Sule (23) for the centre-back slot.
Veteran defender Mats Hummels has already left with Bayern citing the new competition as his reasoning to rejoin Borussia Dortmund, while Boateng was widely expected to follow.
When he left Bayern’s pre-season tour of the US, the noise around a departure grew louder, yet the news in Germany has suggested it was due to personal reasons as opposed to any nefarious transfer rumour.
Still, his game time at Die Roten will be drastically reduced next season and the only tentative links are in Italy.
Although Boateng’s behaviour has been nowhere near as egregious as some of the other examples examined, instead he’s actually been praised by head coach Niko Kovac, but the club need sales to reinvest into the squad and Boateng isn’t helping.
Gonzalo Higuain v Juventus
A quite amusing Juventus training clip emerged last week. Higuain and Cristiano Ronaldo were shown taking part in speed drills.
The Argentine lumbered up to the line, laboured to meet an awaiting blocker before staggering to drop his shoulder and evade.
Ronaldo repeated the drill and it was as if the video all of a sudden hit fast-forward such was the stark contrast to Higuain.
Granted his career was never hallmarked by speed, but Ronaldo is three years older than the 31-year-old and the footage is the tangible proof of his sharp decline.
He remains one of the highest paid strikers in the world, netting an estimated €350,000 per week (before taxes), and with two years left to run, Higuain is proving difficult to shift – metaphorically and physically.
A loan spell at Chelsea under the guise of a manager who brought the very best out of him at Napoli, failed to reignite his career and Maurizo Sarri is unlikely giving him another chance now he’s the Juve boss.
The market for an aging and physically declining striker is narrow, Roma are reportedly showing feint interest, but that really is about it.
Juve want him out, Higuain’s brother and agent has already stated the player wants to stay and so another fraught situation in Italy has surfaced.
Danny Rose v Tottenham
There’s no war as such with Rose and Spurs with both sides pretty amicable, however, the left-back was left out of the contingent travelling to Asia for their pre-season tour.
The word in England is that he was left behind to help him engineer a move away from London. Rose has been on sale since last summer, but a committed buyer has yet to to step forward.
According to reports, the defender wants a move close to where he grew up near South Yorkshire, but there are no slots available.
Everton, Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool, Leicester and Wolves are all well stocked in the position and it’s unlikely Rose, valued at £25m, will join a club any lower than last season’s top 10.
There’s been no falling out with Mauricio Pochettino, yet with Spurs closing in on acquiring the services of Fulham’s Ryan Sessegnon, Rose’s 12-year stay appears over, regardless of whether he stays or goes.
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