The transfer window officially opens tomorrow, though this one has been so eagerly awaited that some clubs have jumped the gun. It is slightly odd that this should happen in a season when all interest in the title race will most likely be over by the end of January but, perhaps because they feel the deal properly belongs to last summer, Liverpool went ahead early with the announcement that they had agreed to pay Southampton a record £75m for Virgil van Dijk.
Not to be outdone, it emerged days in advance of the window that Everton would not be letting slip another opportunity to bring in a proven goalscorer, although early reports that Besiktas had agreed to allow Cenk Tosun to leave for £25m were a trifle premature.
It still remains conceivable that the two players could face each other in Friday’s FA Cup Merseyside derby, meaning that the coming month may not be dominated by José Mourinho pleading poverty or Manchester City weighing up a move for Alexis Sánchez after all.
It used to be said until quite recently that summer was the only time to do good business and that January was a last-chance saloon for those desperate enough to pay silly prices, but that view may be changing. The prices are still silly, naturally, but most clubs have a little more spending money these days and long-term targets can be landed just as easily in January as in summer.
To describe Van Dijk and Sánchez as long-term targets for Liverpool and City would be an understatement – both deals might have happened six months ago – but Ronald Koeman was outlining the importance of replacing Romelu Lukaku weeks before the last window closed and Sam Allardyce has been tracking Tosun for so long he initially recommended him to Crystal Palace.
The other name that would normally come up in this category is Antoine Griezmann of Atlético Madrid, long assumed to be a Manchester United target. That deal could also have gone through last summer but for a transfer ban being placed on Atlético. The embargo is now up and Atlético have a returning Diego Costa in the pipeline but, though the path to Old Trafford is now clear, it appears the French forward is more likely to stay in Spain. Barcelona have agreed to pay Griezmann’s £90m release clause, a figure Mourinho is understood to feel is too high anyway, but would prefer to welcome him in the summer rather than mid-season.
This does not make Barcelona any less keen on Liverpool’s Philippe Coutinho, a deferred move that at some point in 2018 is likely to put the capture of Van Dijk into perspective, but though Atlético would not object to United hijacking Barcelona’s move for Griezmann, or at least entering into a bidding war with the Catalans, the noises coming out of Old Trafford indicate the player is no longer their No 1 target, if indeed he ever was.
Supposition has long had it that United would move heaven and earth to capture Gareth Bale but, though Real Madrid now seem willing to part with a player who has made only half-a-dozen league appearances this season, Chelsea are also keen on the former Tottenham winger. While Bale would be a welcome addition to the Premier League’s roster of eye-catching entertainers, even with his well-documented injury problems, to an extent he is a fading force, if not quite yesterday’s man. Bale is 28 and unlikely to match in England what he has achieved in Spain.
Real Madrid have enjoyed his best seasons and are attempting to recoup some money on a player who has become close to peripheral at the Bernabéu. It would be ironic in the extreme were the Spanish giants to take money from an English club to help finance a bid for Harry Kane.
The Tottenham striker, as he has just proved with his record-breaking 39 goals in 36 league games in 2017, is undoubtedly the real deal. As good at putting the ball in the net as anyone in Europe, there can be no more questions about him. Since his breakthrough season in 2014-’15 he has improved year on year and, at 24 and operating at Champions League level, he is red-hot property even before Tottenham’s famously modest pay scale and unimpressive trophy record are taken into account.
Sean Dyche, the seventh of eight opposing managers to witness a Kane hat-trick in 2017, merely stated the obvious when he said any club in the world would love to have him. That must include Manchester City as well as Manchester United. Tottenham may not be prepared to sell him to a Premier League rival, but there is an opportunity here for United or Chelsea to do something other than moan about City’s clear superiority, or for City to make the most decisive move yet to ensure its continuation.
Real Madrid are thought to value Kane at around £180m and plan to make a move in the summer, but why should Spanish clubs be considered the only ones capable of blowing rivals out of the water with a bid Tottenham cannot possibly refuse? Are English clubs not richer than ever, and are there not still five of them in the Champions League?
Even if Kane has expressed a preference for staying where he is, and even if Spurs are willing to double his money, that is not the way football generally works. It will be a surprise if Kane is still at the same club in a year’s time, and in fact people are betting against it already. No one expects a move mid-season, though the first window of opportunity is about to open, the target is clear and anyone truly ambitious ought to be ready. To dare is to do, as Spurs may have heard. The gun can be jumped.