Up for Grabs

Aubameyang – The Late Bloomer

The Gabonese poacher has come a long way since leaving the youth ranks of several, irrelevant French clubs and joining AC Milan at the age of 18. Initially thought to be a very promising winger gifted with ridiculous pace, he’d spend no less than four full seasons before ditching the dream of becoming Rossoneri regular and reviving his career in his beloved France instead. Though Ligue 1 really suited the man, his talent simply wouldn’t explode until 23th birthday – the age when many forwards resign themselves to mediocrity.

But not Auba; he was just warming up. Transferred to Dortmund, he’s found his perfect match in form of a team from Signal Iduna Park. Haunted by Marco Reus’ injuries and later, by Robert Lewandowski’s contract expiry, BVB badly needed not one, but two attacking dimensions and their new signing from Saint-Etienne has turned out to be exactly what they wanted. At the age of 27 and three years still left on his contract, he’s hit the form of his life this year and this summer, he will be hitting the pinnacle of his footballing career.

The question is: where? Despite promising his grandfather to kick the ball for Real Madrid one day, Batman from Dortmund will not be arriving at Santiago Bernabéu. Firstly: the Champions League winners don’t have a stellar, first-team place for him; secondly: he himself is already in advanced talks with Paris Saint-Germain, who have both the budget and the will to pay for a £61 million move and a contract worth nearly £9 million a year. It all started in France; it all may eventually end there too…

Well – at least the numbers he’s pulling justify the luxuries he’ll be swimming in at Paris.

In terms of sheer goal volume, Aubameyang is well above the rest of the pack.

Belotti – The Expensive Beast

He’s muscular. He’s strong. He’s determined. He scores most of his goals on the volley, firing from the close range. He uses his ability to predict the ball’s destination very well. He also has weird tattoos, a history of playing for Torino and being neglected as a footballer. Last but not least: due to his relatively young age, he’s got a market value that could result with a massive transfer any second. In 1998, those were the words spoken about Christian Vieri, just before he broke the world transfer record; nearly 20 years later, it all applies to Andrea Belotti too.

Last year, this phenomenal rise to fame caused some serious headaches to Il Gallo’s employer, chairman Urbano Cairo. Faced with a familiar dillema: lose his best forward for a cut price of offer him a new, lucrative deal, he went for the latter, setting Belotti’s release clause at £87 million. Since that dull December day, Vieri AD 2017 has scored 17 goals in 24 appearances, massively helped his club to a comfortable Serie A finish and only heated up the speculations, linking him with Arsenal, AC Milan, Man Utd (of course!) and several other clubs.

Cairo was smart. For one: thanks to his good reflexes, Torino will one day make a massive profit off a player they’ve signed from Palermo at cost of just £6 million. Also, he’s not running the risk of having another Ciro Immobile’s case going on. Three years ago, that former ‘Toro’s’ striker has left for Borussia Dortmund. He flopped, got loaned out to Sevilla, flopped again, went to Lazio last summer and found second wind, scoring twice against his former side. Whichever club comes after Belotti today – it will be forced to stick with him for good. And if it’s a foreign side – that means no his goals against the maroon shirt, ever.

Belotti ain’t afraid to shoot; his accuracy ain’t the best, though.

Dolberg – The Shy Schoolboy

This youngster career just cannot stop surpassing everyone’s expectations. In 2010, the youth academy of Silkeborg IF was willing to wait three years for him to join their ranks; at 15, his talent got noticed by John Steen Olsen, the Ajax scout responsible for enrolling Zlatan Ibrahimović to the club back in 2001. At 17, Dolberg only managed to play three matches for his Danish club before moving to Amsterdam ArenA. Back then, his new bosses were so convinced of his ability, they’d offer him a contract after just one day of tests…

Today, they’re reaping the rewards. With 16 goals in Eredivisie and 6 more in Europa League, their new star has just had a breakout season. The Dane might not the fittest or the strongest forward this Earth has seen but his ability to find space in-behind defenders, combined with really impressive acceleration, terrorized teams like Feyenoord, Twente or Olympique Lyon. Just like a typical Ajax product, Dolberg possesses terrific technique, often finding his teammates with defty crafted first-touch passes. For a teenage forward – that’s a rarity.

The gossip columns have already pictured him at either Liverpool or one of the two Manchester clubs – but the youngster remained calm. As his current employers are issuing one ‘hands-off’ warning after another, Dolberg shrugs off various interviewers’ suggestions, suggesting that he should be in England by August: “City or United would be too big of a step now” – he claims, committing his future to Ajax – “All I wanted after Arek Milik’s transfer was to get a chance at becoming my team’s regular; and then, the manager said I am his Number One!” – he adds.

Baby steps? Maybe – but in this lad’s case, they’ve always been bigger than he’d himself expect.

Griezmann – The Slumping Target

The 2016/17 season wasn’t the best one in Griezmann’s career. He started it by missing two golden opportunities in a lost EURO 2016 final against Portugal. Then, new La Liga race followed and the Frenchman was only able to find the net 16 times, as opposed to 22 strikes from both the previous and the 2014/15 campaign. All he’s earned in two games against Barcelona was a yellow card; against Real, he’d only strike once, from the penalty spot. Los Colchoneros got smashed twice by their local rivals in four matches. All in all: a year to forget.

On the other hand: people still believe in Atlético’s #10. The reports of Manchester United’s interest in him are dating back to November 2016; between February and May, they’ve been several, unconfirmed reports regarding his link with Red Devils – ranging from ‘brief talks are being held’ to ‘player has agreed personal terms at MU’. Only two weeks ago, all those speculations have ceased in a heartbeat: hit out of the blue with a transfer ban until January 2018, Diego Simeone suddenly, but understandably took his forward off the market.

That doesn’t change the fact that Griezmann remains an attractive transfer target. At 26, his one of the key players at one of the best clubs in the world; he’s also capable of playing well in at least three attacking roles, including the one’s he’s assumed recently – a deep-lying striker, whose duty is to hurt the opposition on the counterattack. José Mourinho, though unwilling to comment on his potential new protégée, would surely welcome his arrival at Old Trafford. And if he has to wait for it until 2018? That shouldn’t be that big of a problem…

Accuracy and conversion rates. Mbappé in the lead; Griezmann far in the dust.

Lacazette – The Faithful Servant

AS Roma won’t remember this guy fondly. In a crucial Europa League clash, the Italians have been cruising for the first 45 minutes of their visit in France – but then, their nemesis started to deliver. In the second half, Lacazette has undone the damage inflicted on his team by Salah and Fazio; by doing this, he changed the outcome of the game from 1-2 to 4-2. At first, he assisted a superb goal by Corentin Tolisso and then, he scored even better, top-corner finish that left Alisson utterly helpless. There was no stopping him. He was top class that day.

It’s actually hard to believe that this lad still plays for Lyon. Already four years ago, he scored 22 goals in all competitions. In normal circumstances, that accomplishment alone should’ve earned him a ticket to England, Spain or at least Italy. Players like Rémy Cabella, Bafétimbi Gomis, Jordan Ayew, Wissam Ben Yedder or Max Gradel have already managed to build and then damage their careers abroad while the OL poacher was frozen out at Stade Gerland. It’s 2017 now and Lacazette has over 100 league goals for his childhood team. It’s time for him to move!

A month ago everything was so simple. The lad was going to Atlético, to replace his fellow Francophone striker, who was expected to leave for Manchester United. Alas: Griezmann’s deal fell through and with it, the future prospects of Lacazette. Sure: he’s been reportedly on Gunners’ radar for years, but with Arsène Wenger still in charge at Emirates, the possible transfer seemed as unlikely as ever. More than £50 million for a 26-years old forward who somehow got stuck in the French boondocks for almost a decade? No way.

Lukaku – The Towering Reject

Lukaku’s gone. According to both his agent and the man in question himself, he’s already agreed a deal away from Everton, at some other, so-far unnamed Premier League club. He’s also followed a dozen of his former Chelsea teammates on Twitter, which, alongside with Antonio Conte’s text dismissal of Diego Costa, may or may not be an indication of the nearest future. It seems that after a four-year spell in Liverpool marked by 68 league goals and several records broken, the Belgian will triumphantly return to Stamford Bridge.

A lot has changed in London since his exile triggered by the penalty miss in the 2013 UEFA Super Cup final against Bayern. Out of the squad he’s been in then, Frank Lampard has retired; Oscar and Ramires both moved to China; David Luiz has managed to leave Chelsea, win nine trophies in France with PSG and get back to square one. Lukaku changed as well: with 133 league appearances more under his belt, he’s already a seasoned veteran, capable of handling pressure better than ever – which he proved twice against Manchester City this season.

Now, it’s time for Champions League experience; quite likely, it’s also time for a fierce rivalry with fellow compatriot Michy Batshuayi, who’ll surely contest the lone strikers’ spot in Chelsea’s starting eleven. Regardless of it’s outcome, ‘Big Rom’ will be entering CFC’s dressing room with a huge credit of trust from his manager, who dared to ditch a 20-goal striker for a four years younger replacement from Everton. Only time will tell whether that decision was correct; as of today, the ex-Anderlecht forward still has plenty to prove in yet another, blue-themed shirt.

Crucial goals. Lukaku leads the last-gasp goals chart.

Mbappé – The Swiftest Kid

£90 million from Arsenal? £100 million from Manchester City? £120 million from Real Madrid? The speculations about this young kid’s future have already surpassed anything Monaco’s management has ever witnessed – and that includes the transfer sagas of Thierry Henry, David Trezeguet or Anthony Martial. From the moment he’s set his foot on the professional pitches in December 2015, Kylian Mbappé was destined to have a spectacular career, starting with an equally spectacular transfer. Today, we’re only waiting for both to happen.

Not without a reason. This year, despite being used sparingly and often assuming the role of Radamel Falcao’s sidekick, the wonderkid has been statistically more clinical than any other Champions League player – and that includes Leo Messi, who’s been absolutely unbeatable in that department for several years. It was Mbappé, who inflicted only the third Borussia Dortmund’s home defeat under Thomas Tuchel; it was Mbappé, who broke Gianluigi Buffon’s 689-minute UCL clean sheet streak. Things couldn’t have possibly been better.

Ironically – this might prompt the youngster to stay at Stade Louis II for another season. Praised by Zinedine Zidane, hunted by several English clubs, the freshly capped ‘new Thierry Henry’ has a big decision to make. Delaying it by further 12 months cannot do too much harm to a lad who’s not even 19 years old yet and still has to weigh the pros and cons of joining a giant club with formidable bench. After all, even the great Thierry Henry chose wrong once and it took him years to recover from his Juventus failure.

Who knows – maybe ASM are doing Mbappé a favor by rejecting those absurd bids?

Morata – The Ambitious Nomad

Until certain point, it’s been a perfect prodigal son’s story in reverse. A footballer raised in a rich neighbourhood leaves homeland that never really accepted him. He spends two years abroad, honing his skills and dreaming of a glorious return. Meanwhile, his original peers run into him in the Champions League and leave that encounter empty-handed. They finally reconsider their poor judgement and a striker, who’s once been deemed as worthless, accomplishes a rare feat – being bought back by Real Madrid after getting banished from it earlier.

Too bad that the next chapter of this tale will certainly collapse the previous impressions. At 24, Alvaro Morata is at a crossroads again, as his position in Zinedine Zidane’s team merely boils down to making impact from the bench. For a forward in the prime years of his career, that’s not nearly enough. As Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo continue to lift one Champions League trophy after another, their young Spanish colleague is purging his Twitter and Instagram from last remaining links with Los Blancos – reportedly setting his sights on Manchester.

This summer, we could witness something unprecedented. The signing of merely a substitute forward might cost United 60 million pounds. Last time they’ve spent so much money on an attacking player from Madrid, it didn’t end particularly well. On the other hand: with a job opening created by Zlatan Ibrahimović’s departure and the goalscoring proficiency Morata displayed in his cameos this season – things might still work out. Assuming, of course, that the Spaniard does better than Ibra’s 28 goals in 46 appearances for the red shirt.

Super-sub: Morata’s goal-to-game ratio truly stands out here.


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