Tuesday 18 December 2018

Six transfer targets that have caught the eye at the World Cup


Aleksandr Golovin (right) looks destined to move to England. Photo: Getty Images
Aleksandr Golovin (right) looks destined to move to England. Photo: Getty Images

David Moss

David Moss, former head of scouting at Celtic and head of football operations at Huddersfield, picks his six World Cup talents who will now be on the radar for Premier League clubs.

1 Ante Rebic (Croatia)

Sergej Milinkovic-Savic
Sergej Milinkovic-Savic

Some wingers have a reputation for laziness but Rebic bucks that trend. He is over 6ft, very fast and powerful, a fine dribbler and so direct in his play, forever seeking the byline rather than tracking back inside and slowing the build-up play. But, while he is offensively aggressive, he is just as proactive defensively. His work-rate is phenomenal. The 24-year-old is ever eager to close down defenders and regain the ball, averaging around 30 challenges per game. He presses and works feverishly, making him a huge asset on the flank or through the middle.

He needs to improve his finishing given he works himself into fine positions, while his decision-making on the ball, perhaps because he runs so fast, is also a work in progress and he is prone to over-elaborate. That comes down to football intelligence but it may be something he learns with time. Most sides want to press from the front these days, so would be attracted to Rebic for that work-rate, pace and physical presence.

Would he suit the Premier League?

At the start of last season, one top-flight club agreed a fee of around £4m with Fiorentina, but Croatia were not fully formed members of the European Union and Rebic was not a regular in the national side so he did not automatically qualify for a work permit. His case went to a tribunal and the move was turned down. He ended up going on loan to Eintracht Frankfurt and now, on the back of a fine World Cup, he would most likely cost in excess of £30m.

2 Juan Quintero (Colombia)

South America was not an area I had scouted particularly heavily so, when I saw Quintero play against Japan, I thought: 'Wow, who is this?' The playmaker's exquisite technique is of the top level. His first touch, passing, dribbling and shooting are all up there. He has that ability to sense teammates' runs and supply key passes, and his delivery from open play against Poland took the breath away, as did the way he carried possession forward.

Yet Quintero, owned by Porto but on loan at River Plate, does not offer as much defensively. Colombia play a 4-3-3, so he needs a strong defensive midfielder behind him to provide cover. That makes you wonder if there is a laziness to his character, or does he simply not have the tactical understanding of the defensive game? That said, so many teams sit deep against elite clubs these days, and the 25-year-old can unlock opposing defences in tight areas. That is a rare gift.

Would he suit the Premier League?

Maybe not. Quintero has had two brushes with European football, with Porto - who still own him - and on loan at Rennes, where he hardly played. His best form has come in South America. Maybe there have been adaptation issues because he is not young. In that context, he might actually be better suited to Spain or Italy.

3 Sergej Milinkovic-Savic (Serbia)

Milinkovic-Savic arrived at the World Cup with a burgeoning reputation and his performances for Serbia merely enhanced it. The Lazio midfielder, at 6ft 3in, is an imposing presence, strong in the air both offensively and defensively, and puts his foot in when required. But his major asset is his eye for goal. To have scored 12 from 35 games in Serie A last season was outstanding and the stats show he fires off shots from all angles. Everything about him is attack-minded: he is confident dribbling, has excellent technique and close control for such a tall man, and good vision to make those cute passes for runners.

The only drawback is a lack of explosive pace. He has a languid, one-paced running style and that gives the impression he is ambling through contests. The reality is very different - he makes challenges and has a spikiness to his game - but the absence of a burst of speed holds him back.

Would he suit the Premier League?

Instinctively, he looks a perfect fit for Manchester United. The 23-year-old boasts the stature to play in a José Mourinho side, has worked with Nemanja Matic and would be an upgrade on Ander Herrera or Marouane Fellaini. Yet the price may be prohibitive. I first scouted him in Serbia back in 2014, playing for Vojvodina, when he was available for £600,000. Genk snapped him up and then sold him a year later for £9m. Now Lazio will be seeking nearer £80m.

4 Manuel Akanji (Switzerland)

Akanji has everything you'd look for in a top-level central defender. He is over 6ft and powerfully built, has excellent technique and is quick, sharp on the turn and able to match forwards for pace in one-on-one situations. A player who stepped up to the national team only a year ago, he can pass accurately short or long. For someone who turns 23 later this month, those attributes mark him out, and he has impressed in a Switzerland team who have taken plenty by surprise.

Other aspects require work. For a centre-half, he is not yet as dominant in the air as he might be, though that may come with age. The stats suggest he does not intercept the ball as much as you'd like, which indicates that his positioning can be marginally out. But that, too, may merely be down to a lack of experience. The potential for future growth is frightening.

Would he suit the Premier League?

For a player who spent two and a half years at Basel, it feels as if he has sprung to prominence from nowhere. He'd played barely 40 league games for the Swiss club before Borussia Dortmund forked out £20m on potential in January. Already, you can see Akanji developing into a player who would settle in seamlessly at an elite Premier League club, but he would cost at least £50m.

5 Yerry Mina (Colombia)

Everything about Mina's game smacks of elite level. At 6ft 5in he is bigger than Akanji, and a real threat from attacking set-plays while his passing statistics are everything you would expect of a player recruited by and schooled over the last six months at Barcelona. His comfort in possession makes the 23-year-old perfect for a team who play it short from the back. He tackles, is athletic and quick, making it easy to see why Barca set his release fee at an eye-watering £88m.

His defensive heading stats are not quite so impressive, but that may be the sign of a player developed in South America at Palmeiras and now in Spain. His longer passing, in truth, is quite average, but Barca do not demand that of their defenders. Indeed, Mina has everything to succeed at the highest level: size, speed, technique, game intelligence.

Would he suit the Premier League?

He would fit in at any of the top six clubs, who will surely monitor his progress in Spain given he finds himself behind Gerard Piqué and Samuel Umtiti at the Camp Nou. He has made only five La Liga appearances. Does he remain at Barca as third-choice behind established names or does he seek an opportunity elsewhere?

6 Aleksandr Golovin (Russia)

The Russia playmaker looks destined to move to England sooner rather than later. Golovin has energy and mobility, playing either as an attack-minded No8 or all-out No10. He carries possession impressively and creates chances at will for teammates. Even defensively, he puts in a shift: not necessarily by flying into tackles but certainly winning duels by closing down space. That work-rate is an asset for a player who, at 5ft 10in, is relatively slight.

There needs to be a better goal return. He scored that fine free-kick against Saudi Arabia but he managed only five goals at CSKA last season and three the season before, a disappointing tally. The stats suggest he scuttles into good areas but is not firing away enough shots. But there is plenty to work with. He is mobile, energetic and a creator: a player of huge potential.

Would he suit the Premier League?

Undoubtedly. If you're Arsenal, he'd be an excellent replacement for Aaron Ramsey if contract negotiations do not go well. At Manchester United he would add more creativity than Herrera. At Chelsea he would give more offensive energy with Cesc Fabregas now 31. A fee of £25m would be a very good price in today's market.


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