Football’s transfer market often moves in mysterious ways.
From wondering why your favourite club has splashed out on a target they, seemingly, don’t need, to pulling your hair out as an obvious signing to improve their fortunes remains ignored. For fans, the summer months can be a confusing – and aggravating – time.
In Sport360’s ‘Transfer Market Mystery’ series, we attempt to delve into some of the glaring scenarios and work out what is going on.
Our latest case under the microscope – with help from WhoScored.com statistics – is the lack of tangible interest in outstanding Morocco winger Hakim Ziyech:
Ziyech is the creative heartbeat of the cavalier Ajax side that stormed to the 2018/19 Champions League semi-finals, plus Eredivisie and KNBV Cup double.
A return of 21 goals and 24 assists across 49 matches, plus devastating displays versus the likes of Juventus and Real Madrid, caused Ajax director of football Marc Overmars to understandably state in May that “many big clubs are buzzing around him”. Bayern Munich, Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal were all contemporaneously linked with an alluring €30-40 million deal.
The ex-Netherlands winger, however, provided a surprising update this week.
“I believe Hakim Ziyech is better than Mesut Ozil,” a perplexed Overmars told AD.
“I would advise Arsenal to sell Ozil and buy Ziyech for half of the money, but they didn’t listen to me. Now there’s a good chance Hakim will stay at Ajax for another season.”
WHY HE SHOULD BE ON THE MOVE
Ziyech is an artist on the football pitch.
He moves at a frenzied pace reminiscent of graffiti artists from his tough childhood neighbourhood of Dronten, rather than the measured style of Rembrandt and the other Dutch Masters that the gravity of his work now demands.
In the Eredivisie, he got the joint-most assists (13) along with team-mate Dusan Tadic. An average of 3.7 key passes per game, however, put him in a class of his own.
Highly rated PSV Eindhoven attackers Hirving Lozano (25) and Steven Bergwijn (26), for example, could not match Ziyech’s combined tally for goals and assists (29).
In the Champions League, only Barcelona icon Lionel Messi (35) and Paris Saint-Germain forward Neymar (32) produced more successful dribbles than him (31). Transfer fees for that pair, plus Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling who also registered 31, would all be north of €170m.
Another eye-catching element of Ziyech’s play is his energy and commitment. He usually starts on the right wing, but can pop up anywhere in the final third.
His suffocating pressing is also essential to head coach Erik ten Hag’s vibrant approach.
Ziyech (28) led the way for tackles in the Champions League for wingers, attacking midfielders and strikers. In the Eredivisie, his average tackles per game of 1.7 was the joint-sixth most for Ajax.
WHY HE ISN’T
A simple explanation could be that suitors decided to bide their time and wait for Ziyech’s Africa Cup of Nations-commitments to end.
It is, however, a fortnight since he missed a critical penalty during the round-of-16 upset inflicted by Benin and no firm movement has taken place.
Grander options may yet appear on the market. Bayern would be happy to pay more than double for either Barcelona’s Ousmane Dembele or Manchester City’s Leroy Sane if their employers exhibit any willingness to deal.
Scepticism about Eredivisie attackers has also grown since Memphis Depay floundered at Manchester United and even ex-PSV team-mate Jurgen Locadia failed to ignite at Brighton & Hove Albion.
A deeper dive into Ziyech’s statistics may show why such hesitancy, especially when compared to Barcelona’s swoop for club-mate Frenkie de Jong that was tied up last January, is at play.
Ziyech’s 62 dribbles was the most in the 2018/19 UCL – but so too was his 31 unsuccessful dribbles. For unsuccessful attempts, Messi and Neymar had nine less; Sterling had 11 less.
Liverpool forward Sadio Mane’s inferior 28 successful dribbles was allayed by a far-superior 17 unsuccessful dribbles.
In the Champions League, Ziyech scraped into the top 50 for average crosses per game (0.9) and was joint 21st for key passes per game (2.2).
Ziyech’s average of 5.3 shots per game was comfortably the leading figure in the Eredivisie. Only 16 goals followed.
A propensity to fire in low-percentage efforts could frustrate. He fired in a leading 97 shots from outside the penalty box; second-placed Steven Berghuis of Feyenoord hit 56.
Ziyech’s frenetic nature is, clearly, both great strength and notable weakness.
Premium quality costs, but such mark-ups do not intimidate Europe’s affluent elite.
This is why Bayern are in desperate need of a wide man and, yet, have not pushed for Ziyech. The same could even be said for Arsenal if Wilfried Zaha cannot be extracted from Crystal Palace.
All know the generous price that the Morocco attacker is available for. All know a deal is there to be done.
As transfer deadlines get closer and holes in squads become more conspicuous, belated offers may occur for back-up options.
Expect Ziyech to depart Johan Cruyff Arena. Just don’t expect it to be well before any interested side’s transfer cut-off date.
Inter Milan head coach Antonio Conte has confirmed his desire to sign Manchester United striker Romelu Lukaku – a player Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has ruled out of Saturday’s clash between the sides in Singapore with a knock.
Two years on from joining from Everton for an initial £75million, the 26-year-old is keen to move onto pastures new and link up with the manager he spurned to join the Old Trafford giants.
United sneaked ahead of Conte’s Chelsea to complete that move in 2017, and now the Italian is looking to link up with him at Inter, who face Solskjaer’s side at Singapore’s National Stadium on Saturday.
“I think frustrated is a big word,” he said in English when asked about the inability to complete a deal.
“Lukaku is a United player and this is the reality. You know very well that I like this player, but also in the past when I was Chelsea’s coach and I tried to bring him to Chelsea.
“But I repeat, today Lukaku is a player of United and this is the reality and this is the truth.”
Pushed on Inter’s interest in him, Conte said: “I think that at this moment, I repeat, we’re talking about a player of another club.
“For this reason, I think that it’s right (we) don’t talk about Lukaku because I have great respect for United.
“As I said before, for sure, I like this player and I consider him an important player for us to have a good improvement. But, at the same time, there is a market, a transfer market.
“We know very well which is our situation at this moment. We’ll see, we’ll see what happens but now, for sure, Lukaku is a United player.”
Conte confirmed striker Mauro Icardi, just like midfielder Radja Nainggolan, would not be part of the ‘Inter project’ moving forwards, a decision that leaves them light in attack.
“For sure it’s not easy to play without a striker at the beginning of the season like this,” Conte said. “It’s not easy to play against teams like Juventus and Manchester United without strikers.
“But the market is open so there is still a process for players to come in and out.”
Conte’s frustration in failing to sign Lukaku is understood to be echoed by the player himself.
The Belgium striker watched United’s training session from the bench on the eve of the International Champions Cup match against his potential employers in sweltering Singapore.
Lukaku was at one point seen in animated conversation with a member of the United backroom team during the session, one of many he has missed during the pre-season tour.
After missing missed the wins against Perth Glory and Leeds, the 26-year-old will again fulfil a watching brief in Singapore.
“No, he’s not fit so he won’t be available,” Solskjaer said in Singapore, two hours before Conte sat in the same chair.
When asked if he believed Lukaku would be at the club next month, the United manager said: “I don’t have any updates from the last time I spoke to you. So, yeah, I do.”
Struggling to pick out the facts from the figures? Reality from the rubbish? Sense from the silly season? We’ve got you sorted in our daily dose of the Transfer Predictor, where we round up the latest rumours with an analytical spin.
We sort through the most eye-catching transfer reports of the past 24 hours and give a balanced judgment on whether the move really will happen – and why.
Today’s edition features potential signings for Leicester City, Tottenham and Paris Saint-Germain:
Barcelona -> €50m -> Manchester United
The Red Devils have registered interest in the experienced Croatia midfielder and Barca may sell to raise critical transfer funds, according to SPORT.
Why it will happen: Barca’s desire for a lavish reunion with Neymar is putting Barca’s bank account under stress. Sales are required to make the operation possible and Rakitic could be adjudged expendable, especially now Netherlands international Frenkie de Jong is on-board. For their part, United are hunting a quality replacement for Ander Herrera. Rakitic easily fits this billing.
Why it won’t happen: Rakitic almost joined Paris Saint-Germain last summer and could be a makeweight this summer. The Ligue 1 champions should be more attractive than fallen giants United. The 31-year-old also does not fit the characteristics United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has been pursuing; young and British. Rakitic’s wish is also reported to be for a stay in Catalonia
Transfer Predictor: 2/10
Lille -> €40m -> Inter Milan
Inter have identified Lille striker Leao as a half-priced alternative to Manchester United’s Romelu Lukaku, according to Gazzetta dello Sport.
Why it will happen: Antonio Conte coveted Lukaku at Chelsea and his intentions remain the same now he’s at the San Siro. The £75m+ price tag, however, is a major impediment for Financial Fair Play-conscious Inter. This is where Leao comes in. The versatile Portugal Under-20 forward is a long-term target for the Nerazzurri, wants to increase his wages and would like to make the step-up to a larger club.
Why it won’t happen: Leao has exhibited plenty of promise in his nascent career, but his numbers do not come close to Lukaku’s. There is a nagging sense that he is being used as a stalking horse, showing Inter have other options to pursue if United don’t cut their demands. There is also plenty of other interest being shown in the Sporting Lisbon youth product from Valencia, Everton and Napoli.
Transfer Predictor: 3/10
Tottenham Hotspur -> £20m -> Paris Saint-Germain
The Ligue 1 champions are leading the chase for another England left-back that Spurs are willing to cash-in on, according to Sky Sports.
Why it will happen: A summer exit appeared inevitable from the moment the Champions League finalists stated Rose was “not travelling on tour to explore prospective opportunities with other clubs”. At 29-years old, the time has come for them to profit on the £1m paid to Leeds United in July 2007. PSG head coach Thomas Tuchel does not appear to trust Layvin Kurzawa and wants to put pressure on first-choice left-back Juan Bernat. Rose has the quality, in abundance, to do that. Witnessing opposite number Kieran Trippier this week swap Spurs for Atletico Madrid may inspire a continental European adventure of his own.
Why it won’t happen: When the prospect of Rose exiting first appeared two years ago, a desire to return to the north of England was raised. Whether a move to PSG suits is unclear. Schalke 04 are also linked with his signature and the Bundesliga side would offer a greater guarantee of starts.
Transfer Predictor: 7/10