LONDON – WANTED: GOALSCORERS. Please apply to Manchester United, Arsenal or Chelsea.
For the last month the three clubs have been “set to swoop for” . . . “preparing a bid for” . . . or “targeting” Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and Neymar to mention just three. Away from the goal-men there is United goalkeeper David de Gea whose move to Real Madrid has been “set to happen” for weeks.
Thankfully, the end is nigh. We have only two more days of all this Groundhog Day speculation as the transfer window closes on Monday. The “about to” world exclusives reaching new heights/depths — delete as applicable.
Why on earth Real Madrid would even consider selling Bale and/or Benzema, who has averaged 24 goals per season over the last five years? Why would Barcelona contemplate offloading Neymar?
It is beyond this humble hack. Maybe there is no harm in a club trying for the best players even if it’s like hoping for a lottery rollover win (note to self: drop Charlize Theron a line; hey, you never know).
The media frenzy reached meltdown when one national newspaper’s website reported that Benzema was “not even set” to be unveiled as an Arsenal player before the kick-off against Liverpool (last Monday).
The same website also told us Neymar is reportedly (i.e., the story was nicked from elsewhere) open to the idea of joining Manchester United.
The story said: “It’s thought in Spain that the Brazil star could be following the lead of Gerard Pique. The Real Madrid centre-back used United’s interest to negotiate a new bumper deal at the Bernabeu this summer.”
Close. Pique plays for Barcelona. Facts and stories.
But that is the level of farce the transfer window coverage has become.
To paraphrase the late Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis, just write anything, baby.
Kevin de Bruyne is, yes, “about to” join Manchester City from Vfl Wolfsburg for a cool £54 million, though the Belgium international is an attacking midfielder rather than a traditional No. 9.
The fact is, top-class strikers are becoming a protected species. It is all very well for fans and the media to say this club or that club must sign a striker before Monday, but apart from the aforementioned untouchables the cupboard is worryingly bare.
Let’s put ourselves in the position of a leading club desperate for more goal-power. A glance through the leading scorers in Europe’s major leagues last season highlights the problem they have had in finding a new Robert Lewandowski, Carlos Tevez, Sergio Aguero or Diego Costa.
After Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, the leading scorer in La Liga was Antoine Griezman of Atletico Madrid with 23 goals.
The France international, who has five goals in 18 international appearances, has been linked with a number of clubs, yet he remains in Madrid. Behind Griezman was Artiz Adurix of Athletic Bilbao with 16, but the Basque is 34 which rules him out of any would-be move.
Alexander Meier was the top scorer in the Bundesliga, netting 19 goals in 26 games for Eintracht Frankfurt. He has never played for Germany and at 32 is unlikely to figure on many wanted lists, despite his excellent return last season.
And be honest, had you heard of him?
It is a similar story in Serie A where the joint top scorers were Luca Toni of Verona and Mauro Icardi of Inter with 22 goals.
Toni is 38 while Icardi has yet to break into the Argentina team, playing just eight minutes as a substitute.
I cannot remember such a shortage of striking talent and it does not look like things will improve. A UEFA official who oversees underage tournaments told me he has not seen a young player ready to move up to senior level and make a significant impact.
Staying put: Two players apparently going nowhere are John Stones of Everton and West Bromwich’s Saido Berahino. To push their prospective transfers to Chelsea and Tottenham, respectively, the players put in transfer requests that their clubs rejected.
Many will congratulate Bill Kenwright and Jeremy Peace, the clubs’ chairmen, for not being bullied into selling their highly valued young players.
Peace put the boot into Spurs chairman Daniel Levy when he said: “I have the greatest respect for him, but (you knew there was a ‘but’ coming) he must surely appreciate we would have needed to replace Saido had he left and no consideration of that position has been reflected by Tottenham’s strategy.”
It will now be interesting to see how the pair knuckle down to their jobs with clubs they would like to leave. And how the fans react to them.
Supporters tend not to react positively to players who want to move away from their club.
Balotelli talk: Let’s skip wondering why AC Milan would want to sign Mad Mario, albeit on a season’s loan, because we’d be here all day and still not come up with a credible answer.
Milan should know all about Balotelli, who was sold to Liverpool last year for £16 million, a deal it should still be celebrating. In 28 appearances for the Merseysiders, Balotelli scored four goals, making his cost £571,000 per game and £4 million per goal.
There are enough Balotelli stories to fill a book, but this one takes some beating. Apparently, while at Liverpool he faked a hamstring injury after seeing a teammate with a brand new iPhone 6.
The “injured” Italy international missed training to buy Apple’s latest smartphone. When his teammates had finished training they returned to the dressing-room to find Balotelli with his new phone.
Christopher Davies was a longtime Premier League correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph.
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