Despite a depressed transfer market thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, a number of top centre-backs, old and young, are expected to be on the move across Europe this summer.
With clubs forced to keep a more careful eye on the figures than ever before, any transfers in may have to be offset by transfers out, while any club letting someone go will also need a replacement. That means a potential domino effect once a few deals start to be agreed.
Here’s a look at eight top centre-backs expected to be on the move this summer, where they could go and what potential knock-on effect there might be…
Sergio Ramos is increasingly expected to leave Real Madrid at the end of the season, with talks over a new contract failing to produce an agreement. It has even been said that Real expect Ramos, who has undergone surgery on a knee injury, to move on rather than stay.
Regardless of age, any top club would jump at the chance to sign a proven winner like him. But there is more to it than simply admiring a player who is world class. Although he would be a free agent, suitors might believe his wage demands to be too much or not be willing to commit to any deal longer than a year, especially so soon after knee surgery. There are also Ramos’ personal preferences to consider and he has never seemed keen on moving to England.
PSG are the obvious candidates as they try to build a dream team, even for the short-term, capable of winning the Champions League. It wouldn’t likely be a defender that leaves Parc des Princes to make room, but Kylian Mbappe if Real Madrid can gather the necessary funds.
With Ramos potentially on the way out, David Alaba is the man Los Blancos would turn to. Previously a midfielder and left-back, the Austrian international has established himself as one of the best centre-backs in the world in recent years with Bayern Munich and is seeking a new challenge.
Like Ramos, Alaba is on course to be a free agent after deciding to run down his contract and so wouldn’t cost Real anything in terms of a transfer fee.
If the club successfully clears enough of the current deadwood in the squad to make room for Mbappe, there should also be enough space on the wage bill for Alaba as well.
Coming in to replace Alaba at the Allianz Arena would be Dayot Upamecano from RB Leipzig, with a release clause active this summer making him available for a fixed price of €42m.
That is low for a defender of his reputation, quality and long-term potential and Bayern have already kicked off talks with the Frenchman’s representatives, a story confirmed by both sides.
Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea have also been linked with Upamecano, with the latter two named as being Bayern’s direct competition, but a move to Munich seems inevitable.
Manchester United are in the market for a centre-back in 2021 and if it isn’t Upamecano, which looks increasingly unlikely if they aren’t even engaging in early talks, it could potentially be emerging Villarreal and Spain defender Pau Torres.
90min previously revealed in November that United are admirers of the 23-year-old and he is near the top of their list of potential targets. A release clause in the region of just under £60m makes him expensive but not unaffordable, especially if an existing centre-back is sold.
What’s more, Torres is left-footed and United have been prioritising someone like him to add balance to the back four, which is why they were briefly eyeing Nathan Ake before Manchester City made their move for the Dutchman last summer.
Centre-back has been a major issue for Liverpool this season because of long-term injuries to Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Joel Matip. The Reds have always been gearing their plans towards the summer to recruit for the long-term, although urgent needs accelerated things in January.
Even if loanee Ozan Kabak makes a permanent switch from Schalke for a fixed price of £18m, he alone at 20 may not be enough, especially if Van Dijk or Gomez suffer any relapses. We already know that Matip has been injury-prone for a number of years and Ben Davies is a stop-gap at best.
Konate hasn’t been free of injuries, but at 21 he offers long-term potential and a £39.5m release clause, much like Upamecano, means no bidding war or price escalation. It means for less than £60m, Liverpool could land two promising defenders this summer with huge long-term upside.
Chelsea are the other Premier League side chasing a top centre-back this summer, with 36-year-old Thiago Silva brought in as a short-term solution at most. It is not unreasonable to think they could land Raphael Varane from Real Madrid because he still has plenty to offer at 27.
Varane, a World Cup winner and four-time Champions League winner, is out of contract with Real in 2022 and the idea is out there that Los Blancos could sell this summer if he doesn’t renew.
Chelsea wouldn’t be the only club interested in the Frenchman, whose value may have fallen by half to €50m (£44m) from its €100m peak a couple of years ago. Chelsea are also likely to have money to spend in the market because new coach Thomas Tuchel is expected to make changes.
If Real Madrid replace Ramos with Alaba, they could also replace Varane for Sevilla starlet Jules Kounde as part of a wider refresh of a struggling squad with an eye on the long-term.
Still less than two years after he joined Sevilla, Kounde is very highly rated and admitted that he personally spoke with Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola last summer. In the end, City went with Nathan Ake and Ruben Dias and are unlikely to be after another centre-back for a while.
Real poached Ramos from Sevilla 17 years ago and it proved to be one of the best decisions they ever made, so there is an element of passing the baton just as the veteran prepares to leave.
Chelsea have been linked with Jerome Boateng, with bringing in numbers at the back perhaps important to the Stamford Bridge club given that the likes of Antonio Rudiger, Kurt Zouma and Andreas Christensen have all been mighty unconvincing.
Boateng has won it all, but he is out of contract in the summer and Bayern look prepared to move on.
As a free agent, he offers Chelsea and other suitors value for money because there would be no transfer fee, while he might feel he has unfinished business in England following a single disappointing season at Manchester City back in 2010/11.
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