A cultured playing style? Champion’s League experience? Promising talent? Fulfilling any one of these specifications is enough to send a player’s value sky rocketing. From paying £75 million for the enigmatic services of Luis Suárez to forking out close to £30 million for Érik Lamela somewhat less successfully, Europe’s top clubs have shown that they are hardly averse to spending vast sums of money in the pursuit of glory. At Think Football however, we ask: who are the savvy options come January going for much less?
Full name: Faouzi Ghoulam
Club: S.S.C. Napoli
From the disastrous form of Branislav Ivanović to Manchester City never quite succeeding in finding a top class left back, there is no current shortage of desire for quality full backs in the Premier League. Faouzi Ghoulam fits the bill. The 24 year old Napoli left back has rapidly adjusted to life at the San Paolo stadium since his move from Saint-Étienne in 2014, being bought in January and immediately appearing in the starting line up as the Partenopei secured a third placed finish. Last season, Ghoulam made 21 appearances in Serie A, interrupted only by a stellar showing for Algeria at the African Cup of Nations. Ghoulam was reportedly the subject of significant interest from Arsenal this summer, though with Nacho Monreal staying put at the Emirates the Gunners ultimately had little need for the Algerian, as well as turning the heads of Chelsea and Manchester City. With Napoli’s estimation of the player’s value rumoured to be somewhere around the £10m mark, Ghoulam could be a very astute buy.
Full name: Geoffrey Kondogbia
Position: Central midfield
Club: Inter Milan
With all the hype surrounding Paul Pogba, another French powerhouse in midfield has slipped well under the radar. At 22, the same age as the Juventus star, Geoffrey Kondogbia seems positively wet behind the ears, yet his youthful exterior belies a mature head. Kondogbia has already played for four clubs in three different countries, adapting as seamlessly to life in both Spain and Italy as he did in his native France. Despite interest from both Arsenal and Manchester City, the midfielder signed for Inter Milan in the summer, departing Monaco for a cool £25m fee. With a strong tackle, a dynamic presence in the centre of the park and the kind of powerful shot that punished Arsenal when they faced Monaco in the Champion’s League last term, Kondogbia’s physical presence hides a level of thought lacking in most footballers. In an age where money talks for many of the world’s top players, Kondogbia was perfectly willing to turn down interest from the Premier League, as well as from an AC Milan side he’d flown to Italy to sign for, after being convinced by Roberto Mancini of the merits of life at the blue side of the San Siro. Whilst the Nerazzuri have started brightly, a late collapse may see the Frenchmen disillusioned with the project at Inter and wishing for a move away. At around the £30m mark Kondogbia may not be cheap, but he’s a significantly cheaper alternative to Paul Pogba or William Carvalho, who has a £37m release clause in his contract.
Full name: Vincent Paté Aboubakar
Club: FC Porto
Top strikers are like gold dust, and with Europe’s best unwilling to part with their top finishers, the game is increasingly about spotting talent early. Enter Vincent Aboubakar. Since understandably choosing FC Porto over life in Hull, the 23 year old striker has shown the kind of form that has left Steve Bruce surely rueing his missed opportunity. After scoring 17 goals in 37 games for an indifferent Lorient side in Ligue 1, the Cameroonian’s move to Portugal last summer seems to have done little to slow him down. Whilst 8 goals in 20 games for Porto might be impressive, it is Aboubakar’s five goals in his last five appearances in the Champions League that has heads turning. With Tottenham apparently interested in Sporting Lisbon’s Islam Slimani, Spurs may be looking at the wrong striker in the Primeira Liga. Whilst Slimani may have scored 10 goals in 25 appearances for Sporting, at four years younger Aboubakar seems a much better prospect. With a strong aerial ability and a poacher’s finish, Aboubakar has a natural tendency to take up dangerous positions as well as boasting a rocket of a shot from distance, as displayed against Basel. Valued at around £10m while at Lorient, the Cameroonian is likely now to only rise in price.
Full name: Alex Teixeira Santos
Position: Central midfield
Club: Shakhtar Donetsk
The beguiling ability of Shakhtar Donetsk to maintain a veritable production line of talent manifests itself most recently in the form of Alex Teixeira. The 25 year old dynamic midfielder has generally been deployed in a more attacking role by the Ukrainian outfit, yet boasts an impressive versatility that has seen the Brazilian put in strong performances both out wide and in a deeper position. After his appearance for the Donetsk side in the Champions League against Manchester United in 2013, David Moyes was rumoured to want Teixeira, yet given the spending spree at Old Trafford this summer such a move now seems unlikely. With speed, power and an impressive eye for goal that has seen the Brazilian bag almost 60 goals in 140 games from midfield, Teixeira would be an asset to any team. With a price tag quoted at around £25m two seasons ago, given Teixeira’s increased age, his well-known unhappiness at the situation in Ukraine and the departure of other key players like Douglas Costa and Luiz Adriano this summer, Shakhtar’s tendency to drive a hard bargain for their stars may be easier to test come January than ever before.
Full name: Ezequiel Iván Lavezzi
Club: Paris-Saint Germain
Ezequiel Lavezzi is hardly the most original name when it comes to suggested transfer targets, but the situation has changed. The Argentine winger is an experienced hand in the Champions League, appearing first in the competition while at Napoli before regularly featuring for Paris-Saint Germain and so the 30 year old may not bring youth but certainly brings experience. Having been linked with Chelsea in the past, Lavezzi’s talent has never been in doubt. Since the arrival of countryman Ángel di Maria, however, Lavezzi has proven increasingly obsolete and is reported to be ready to move in January. Amidst reported interest from Valencia and Inter Milan, as well as Liverpool supposedly making Lavezzi their top target in their effort to replace the departed Raheem Sterling, would-be suitors for the Argentine may well have to be prepared to enter a pan-European bidding war. Nevertheless, with the Argentine’s contract set to expire next year, his value is unlikely to escalate too much and so Lavezzi may be an astute purchase.