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Bale, Suarez and…Pogba?

Let’s face it, Ronaldo and Messi are no longer exciting and the heirs to their thrones are their sidekicks, for now. This leaves us with Zlatan Ibrahimovic as a player we can obsess over and the young and extremely talented Pogba. Zlatan doesn’t have much left in the tank, so let’s dedicate ourselves to a future legend shall we?

Legendary Italian manager Marcello Lippi has graced us with his opinion on the future of Paul Pogba. He believes that it is in Juventus’ best interest that they sell the Frenchman for what could come close to a world record fee, using the cash to add more class to the squad in order to bridge the gap between them and Europe’s elite.

When I went back to Juventus, [Gianni] Agnelli called me and told me he had to sell Zidane,” Lippi recalled in an interview with Sky. “He was the best player in the world, but they gave us €77m (£58m), he told me not to worry, that it would all be spent on the team. “We bought, [Gianluigi] Buffon, [Pavel] Nedved and [Lilian] Thuram, regrouped and the team kept winning. – Marcelo Lippi

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The idea is that you give up one and you gain three or four. It’s not always easy and as we’ve seen, in many cases this all goes wrong. There are so many factors that come into play. Are the potential replacements available? Are the transfer fees appropriate?  Will they fit into the team ethos? Do they even want to join? Football as much as anything else is a game of chance. It’s the clubs that can reduce their risks as best as possible that are able to pull off what Lippi and co did in 2001 and be successful. If Juventus are to sell Pogba, they have the blueprint right in front of them. Once you sell your best player, you can only compete if you re-invest the funds properly on top class, affordable players  who make the sum of the parts better. Many have failed while only a few do this well. Let’s start off by looking at clubs who’ve done a terrible job of rebuilding their teams.

THE BAD

Liverpool: Fernando Torres, 2011 and Luis Suarez, 2014

It was January 2011, the wind was blowing, snow was falling and the red half of Merseyside was in utter disarray. Scrapping for a Europa League spot, Roy Hodgson was manager at the time, Fernando Torres was out of form and Joe Cole was definitely not looking the business. They needed to turn their season around and fast. For whatever reason, the solution was to accept a £50m bid from Chelsea for Fernando Torres. Sure, that was a lot of money, but losing your only recognized striker in January meant someone else had to come in – and fast. Luis Suarez was already on the way for £22m, but at that time not too much was known about him. The answer to the post-Torres conundrum was to spend £35m on Andy Carroll on the basis of a great six month period at Newcastle. The following summer, Liverpool spent more of the Torres money and then some on Stewart Downing (£20m), Jordan Henderson (£16m), Charlie Adam and Sebastian Coates for £7m each. As we now know, Downing was shipped to West Ham where he’s doing well, Adam is warming Stoke’s bench. Coates is now a loan specialist. Andy Carrol was an injury prone flop who was shipped out by Brendan Rodgers for half his original fee. Only Jordan Henderson can be said to be worth anything and even he isn’t a world beater.

That was 2011. Let’s move on the really good stuff in 2014. Luis Suarez turned out to be arguably better than Fernando Torres ever was. After biting off more than he could chew at the World Cup, he was sold for £75m. Now Brendan Rodgers had money to build the Merseyside Galacticos right? Wrong! He spent £110m on Adam Lallana, Emre Can, Lazar Markovic, Dejan Lovren, Alberto Moreno, Rickie Lambert, Divock Origi (loaned back to Lille) and Mario Balotelli. None of them have lived up to expectations. Lovren has been a catastrophe and Mario Balotelli has been a literal non event in the Premier League scoring no goals at all. Already the Reds are discussing selling the Italian. Liverpool have gone from title contenders to scrapping for the Europa League. It might be early, but so far they’ve failed to rebuild twice. This seems to be what transpires with a “moneyball” transfer strategy in football.

Tottenham: Gareth Bale, 2013

If there was an hall of fame for botched transfer windows, Tottenham Hotspur would be the first inductee. Daniel Levy sure knows how to sell players but his manager or Director of Football is useless at procuring their replacements. In the summer of 2013, Levy proved to be a true salesman, selling off Gareth Bale to Real Madrid for a world record £85m fee. This is when Franco Baldini and Levy went into full Football Manager mode and set Tottenham back a few years. In came Paulinho, Erik Lamela, Cristian Eriksen, Vlad Chiriches, Nacer Chadli, Etienne Capoue and the man I famously said would be top scorer –  Roberto Soldado – for a combined £105m. WHAT A MESS THIS TURNED OUT TO BE! With the exception of Eriksen, every one on this list has been a failure, especially Soldado. What makes it worse is that now-former manager Andre Villas Boas didn’t want most of them to begin with. Last month he came out with this sensational quote:

“There were promises that were not kept. I had a group of players I had not chosen. In two years I lost [Rafael] van der Vaart, Modric, Bale, and all the promises made were unfulfilled.”- Andre Villas Boas

If true, then clearly this isn’t the best way to go about rebuilding your team. Sounds like a plan to fail if you ask me.

Honorable mention: Barcelona: Luis Figo, 2000

Spending £32m on Emanuel Petit and Marc Overmars from Arsenal turned into a total bust. The £10m spent on Alfonso didn’t help either. Poor transfers were ultimately responsible for finishing 4th. The season before they were 2nd.

THE GOOD

Juventus have obviously done the best job of rebuilding after losing their best player. We don’t have to delve deep into it. It didn’t take much for Mr. Lippi to convince me of that. It’s the lesser discussed teams that are probably more worth of being in this discussion though.

Southampton: Every notable Englishman, 2014

When Southampton sold Gareth Bale to Tottenham, as well as Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to Arsenal they were considered by some a team with a great academy and little ambition. Last season, the Saints were the surprise package of the league. They started brightly but ultimately faded. That said, their 8th place finish was an incredible over-achievement. It also helped that under Mauricio Pochettino, they played some entertaining stuff with a predominantly British team. It was inevitable that they’d lose their star players but the sheer scale of the garage sale outside St. Mary’s was incredible. Adam Lallana (£25m), Dejan Lovren (£20m) and Rickie Lambert (£4m) all went to Liverpool (none have done well). Luke Shaw went to Manchester United for £30m and Callum Chambers joined Arsenal for £16m. Even the manager got poached away by Tottenham.

Many had Southampton pegged as relegation candidates. Even their captain, Jose Fonte, said he was growing increasingly worried:

I cannot be a hypocrite and lie – yes, I was worried, everyone was worried,’ he said. ‘It did not look good for us, but then when we appointed the manager it became easier. ‘I thought, “Well, we have lost players but we have got a very good manager”. Then we started signing players and my confidence grew, slowly at first then more came in.’

They currently sit two points ahead of Manchester United in 3rd place. How did they get here? Well, firstly they hired Ronald Koeman which was a very savvy move. He’s an experienced coach at the top level so the fact they managed to bring him aboard was spectacular. The signings were inspired as well. Dusan Tadic (£11m), Graziano Pelle (£8m), Fraser Forster (£10m), Sadio Mane (£10m) have all come from foreign leagues to take the Premiership by storm. The Saints have used the loan system well, too. Bertrand, Aldeweireld and Elia have turned out brilliantly. Whether or not Southampton maintain this top-four form is irrelevant. They’ve managed to build a team ethos that is better than what they had previously and should last for years to come.

Atletico Madrid: Every striker, every year

You can go as far back as Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink if you want to but I’ll keep it current for the reining La Liga champions. In my eyes it all started when Atleti sold Fernando Torres to Liverpool for somewhere around £30m with Luis Garcia moving the other way. El Nino was the golden boy and to placate the fans Atleti would need to bring in someone who could hit the ground running. They did just that with Diego Forlan. The Uruguayan had a great time at Villareal scoring 59 goals in 128 games. Aleti decided that was enough to part with £18m for his services. He didn’t disappoint, scoring 96 in 196 games. His strike partner was Sergio ‘Kun’ Aguero. Aguero was critical to the team that won the Europa League in 2010, earning himself a £25m move to Manchester City. Forlan was sold to Inter Milan and Atletico needed to reinvest the cash on a quality striker…same old story. This time they went really big and brought in the most dangerous man in Europe – Porto’s Radamel Falcao. The £40m had to be co-financed by third party Doyen Sports Group, but boy was it worth it. 70 goals in 91 games was a ridiculous return on their investment. A £45m Euro move to Monaco ensued, but this time Atleti didn’t buy a big name striker. Diego Costa, purchased in 2012, was given a central role while David Villa was brought in to chip in from time to time. Over the last five years, Atleti have brought in squad players who buy into the team ethos. Look at Diego Godin and Arda Turan. During a three year loan, Thibaut Courtois was incredible in replacing David De Gea. Koke was promoted from the youth setup. This holistic approach brought the team another Europa League triumph in 2012, La Liga title in 2014 and UCL runners up in the same year. This season they lost Diego Costa to Chelsea for £35m and brought in not only Mario Mandzukic, but also the incredible Antoine Griezmann. More recently, manager extraordinaire – Diego Simeone – has brought back fan favorite Fernando Torres and an early brace against Real Madrid could be a sign of his resurrection. To summarize, Atleti’s ability to replace key players has been and remains absolutely phenomenal.

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Honorable mention: Porto: They had a wonderful team under Jose Mourinho that won the Champions League. Almost all those stars were sold. Sure, Portugal isn’t a powerhouse league and Porto have a lot of money allowing them to compete but Andre Villas Boas oversaw a team that won the Europa League in 2011 with Hulk and Radamel Falcao leading the way.They sold him but replacing him was easy enough. Look at Jackson Martinez now. The scouting network there is Europe’s most expansive so they do know how to rebuild.

Paul Pogba and the future of Juventus:

Most people say it’s impossible to keep Arturo Vidal and Paul Pogba in Turin. Both seem content to stay but realistically, Juventus aren’t a big enough force to reject the advances of the rich teams outside of Italy. Arturo Vidal will be 28 this year, so he’s going to be at the peak of his powers. That said, it’ll be tough to move him for the £50m valuation placed on him last summer. so they might as well keep him. Pogba on the other hand, is a potential Ballon D’or winner and at only 21, he’s nowhere near his peak. Frightening. His value is somewhere between £60m-£80m and that’s not at all unrealistic in this market. With that kind of investment, Juventus can replace the outgoing Carlos Tevez (the Argentine claims not to want to renew his contract). Stefan Jovetic could do the business. Perhaps an attacking midfielder of quality like Henrikh Mkhtiryan or, if they really want to dream big, Marco Reus and any other squad players they will need.

Juventus have proven that they know how to invest their funds in the transfer market. After Zizou, they did a good job. Once Pogba is sold, they need to follow their own example and not the bad trends set by their friends in England.

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