Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu refused to speculate on whether the Spanish giants will launch a bid to bring Brazil international Neymar back to the Nou Camp.
Neymar, who left Barcelona to join Paris Saint-Germain for a world record €222 million is reportedly unhappy, but Bartomeu chose not to further unsettle the Brazil international with transfer talk.
Instead, Bartomeu talked up Barcelona’s interest in another striker – Atletico Madrid forward Antoine Griezmann – and confirmed both clubs’ Chief Executive Officers met in Spain’s capital on Thursday to discuss the likelihood of a deal.
Bartomeu lent his support to the club’s previous two big-money signings – Philippe Coutinho and Ousmane Dembele – and said star player Lionel Messi does not hold influence over the club’s transfer policy.
The rumour mill is filled with transfer speculation linking household names and high-profile young talents with big-money moves to some of Europe’s top sides.
With the inflated prices being bandied about, clubs would do well to look past the names and identify potential superstars based on encouraging performances that may have been overlooked.
Promising talents often don’t get the attention they deserve because they’re featuring in lesser clubs away from the limelight of a title challenge or the recognition that comes with topping the charts for goals or assists.
A more extensive search though could unearth some hidden gems scattered across the European circuit and in this series, we put some of those players in the spotlight.
Werder Bremen’s tenacious forward Milot Rashica makes our latest edition.
STYLE OF PLAY
The first word that comes to mind when describing Rashica’s game is ‘busy’.
He’s the sort of forward who is never stationary. Always running, always thinking and always making some move or the other to create an opening.
Rashica’s only 1.7 metres tall and his low centre of gravity aids him in driving defenders up the wall with his sharp turns and bursts of acceleration. It’s his pace that saw him begin his career out wide but at Bremen he’s developed into more of a centre forward with the licence to roam.
He often drifts wide to exploit space and favours the left flank from where he can cut inside and have a shot at goal.
Rashica excels with his link-up play as his one-touch passing, flick-ons and lay-offs in the final third are key to creating opportunities for the team. With 1.7 key passes per 90 minutes in the Bundesliga last season, it’s evident that his mind is just as sharp as his feet.
The Kosovo international has the ability to score spectacular goals as well and is something of a dead-ball specialist. While his small stature means he poses little threat in the air, his hold-up play is surprisingly strong, confirming the suspicion that he may be skilled enough to operate as a lone striker.
Under Bremen coach Florian Kohfeldt, Rashica’s energy has also been channelled into contributions off the ball. He presses well from the front and is constantly looking to close down players or track back to make tackles.
Kohfeldt has also been quick to spot the X-factor the diminutive forward brings to the table.
“Milot has a brilliant shot, whether from distance or in the penalty area,” the young German coach explains.
“His right foot is a dangerous weapon. On top of that, you have his small stature that makes him hard to stop.
“Milot can make the difference at any time with an individual action. That’s a valuable asset. You find such players very rarely.”
When playing as a forward, Rashica attempted more tackles per 90 minutes (2.4) than any other in the Bundesliga last season and ranked second for tackles won per 90 minutes (1.3).
SIMILAR TO – Luis Suarez
Nutmegs. Luis Suarez loves them and so does Rashica. Both forwards share an unpredictable dribbling style and the audacity to practice it in impossibly tight areas where often the only way forward is to poke the ball through a defender’s legs.
While that’s eye-catching and speaks volumes of their ability, it also lends to a modest success rate. Last season, the Barcelona striker attempted 2.7 dribbles per game in La Liga to Rashica’s 2.9 per game in the Bundesliga. However, the former only successfully completed 40 per cent of his dribbles and the latter only 43 per cent.
Both lack height with the 32-year-old only five centimetres taller than Rashica and while he’s better than his younger counterpart in the air, he isn’t particularly renowned for his aerial prowess.
Like Suarez, Rashica is relentless whether he’s making countless forward runs, hassling defenders off the ball or vacating his role up front to affect the game. Finally, they are both capable of scoring sensational goals and have a similar style of taking free-kicks.
Rashica was handed his senior debut with Kosovo outfit Vushtrria at only 16. At Vitesse the following year he began to make an impression as an exciting winger and earned a move to Bremen three seasons later.
Given his rapid progress to the first XI and his searing pace on the pitch, his team-mates have nicknamed him ‘Rocket Man’.
His contract at the German club runs until the summer of 2022 with transfermarkt.co.uk placing his market value at £18 million.
WHERE HE COULD THRIVE
Barcelona: Luis Suarez is still a quality striker and the Catalans will want to retain him as their first-choice striker but he’s no spring chicken either. The Uruguayan’s powers have been on the wane and in Rashica they could get the perfect deputy who shares many of the same qualities.
Bayern Munich: The German champions have a habit of recruiting from within the Bundesliga and Rashica would not only serve as a relief striker for the overworked Robert Lewandowski but could also fill in on the flanks where the Bavarians are a little short following the departures of Arjen Robben and Frank Ribery.
Raiola claims he is already in the process of trying to move on the France international, who has been linked with Real Madrid and a return to former side Juventus, and manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is aware of the player’s intention to depart.
“Everyone within the club from the manager to the owner knows Paul’s wishes,” he told The Times.
“Everyone knows the willingness of Paul to move on. We are in the process of that.”
It is the last thing Solskjaer needed to hear with United due to fly to Australia for the first leg of their 20-day pre-season tour at the weekend.
Last month Pogba announced on a promotional trip to Japan that “now could be a good time to find a new challenge somewhere else”.
It is understood he was given permission to be absent for the start of pre-season training this week – as were Marcus Rashford and David De Gea – with Solskjaer taking into account Pogba’s workload over the last 18 months which saw him win the World Cup with France last summer.
United expect him to be on Sunday’s flight Down Under but Raiola’s comments put his future at Old Trafford in further doubt.
Solskjaer, meanwhile, has confirmed Manchester United are working on another two possible signings this summer.
United have already brought in Daniel James and Aaron Wan-Bissaka ahead of the 2019-20 Premier League campaign.
The club are understood to have had a £70million bid for Leicester’s England defender Harry Maguire rejected, while they have also been heavily linked with Newcastle’s Sean Longstaff.
“It’s a long-term and it’s a short-term project. You cannot just think three years down the line, so we’ve got short-term goals as well,” he told manutd.com.
“I think we’ve been quite calm and good in the market as we’ve got the right people, and we’re still working on a case or two.
“Of course, we’re always looking to improve the squad and, all over the summer, I’ve been in touch with Joel (Glazer) and Ed (Woodward) and all the recruitment people and analysis people.
“I’ve got to say it’s been very good so far. I’ve got the backing and we’ve got the people we wanted, for now, and there will probably be some more business being done.”
United have continued their summer business by handing new contracts to academy graduates Andreas Pereira and Axel Tuanzebe.
Pereira, the 23-year-old Belgium-born Brazil midfielder, has committed himself to the Old Trafford outfit until 2023, with the option of a further year.
The midfielder enjoyed a breakthrough 2018-19 campaign after spending previous seasons on loan at Granada and Valencia, and was given a run in the side after Solskjaer took over in December.
Pereira, who has made 35 United appearances, said: “I have spent so long in Manchester that I now regard the city and the club as my home and I’m extremely happy to continue my career here.
“The manager has shown great faith in me and I can’t wait to get this campaign started under him.”
Defender Tuanzebe, 21, has committed until 2022, also with the option of a further year, after spending last season on loan at Championship play-off winners Aston Villa.
Marcus Rashford and Juan Mata have also agreed new deals this summer.
Provided by Press Association Sport