B/R Gossip Roundup: Van Gaal Will Wield Axe, Vidal and Pogba Futures Uncertain
With the World Cup over and the new domestic seasons still a few weeks away (in Europe, at least), we are moving into a period when transfer rumours dominate most of the football landscape.
This week was a taster of what is to come, with whispers surrounding World Cup stars and speculation over the plans of certain newly appointed managers topping the agenda.
Sami Khedira, Paul Pogba and Louis van Gaal were among those to feature heavily as we build up to the start of the new campaign.
Here's a closer look at some of the bigger rumours from the past week.
Paul Pogba Move to Chelsea from Juventus Does Not Add Up
The rumour mill was abuzz after Juventus star Paul Pogba was pictured in west London recently.
The London Evening Standard was among those media outlets to notice that the France international was a mere stone's throw away from Stamford Bridge.
However, the Standard also notes the £60 million price tag placed on the former Manchester United player by the Serie A club.
And that is one reason why any deal for the 21-year-old is unlikely to happen.
The days of Chelsea flashing the cash under Roman Abramovich are gone, with the Blues' owner seeming to prefer a more measured approach to the transfer market in the days of Financial Fair Play rules.
There is little doubt that at a young age, Pogba is an important asset for Juventus, and the Serie A club are well within their rights to make such demands for the player.
However, there would also be the matter of where Pogba would fit into a Chelsea squad brimming with midfield talent.
While Jose Mourinho's team lacked strikers last season, the same could not be said of the central area of his team. One look at the Chelsea squad will underline that.
The west London club were also able to release a club legend like Frank Lampard at the end of the Premier League season in light of the numbers of midfielders available in the squad.
Throw in the names of Cesc Fabregas and Mario Pasalic as summer additions to Chelsea's midfield, and you realise that there just might not be the space to accommodate Pogba.
As Bleacher Report's Chelsea writer Garry Hayes noted, the logical solution would be to offload Ramires, while John Obi Mikel is another possible outgoing player this summer.
However, with Pogba playing a similar role as Fabregas, is it logical to add the Frenchman to the squad for big money?
Believability Meter: Medium
There is an understandable interest from Mourinho in the best players in the world, and Pogba comfortably fits that description.
But there is little room for Chelsea to work with at the moment, unless a number of others are moved on.
Sami Khedira Would Be Major Statement of Intent by Arsenal
The morning after Germany's World Cup triumph over Argentina, some of the participants were linked with a variety of clubs, but one rumour stood above the others in our eyes.
According to David Kent of the Daily Mail, Germany international Sami Khedira was set to join his Brazil 2014 team-mates Mesut Ozil, Lukas Podolski and Per Mertesacker at Arsenal.
Kent points out, however, that the reports originally emanated from Spanish newspaper Sport and other media outlets in the country where Khedira plies his trade with Real Madrid.
That fact alone gives this rumour some credence—if only because these are Spanish newspapers with a particular interest in events at the Bernabeu.
However, the sale of the 27-year-old seems to make sense, with Toni Kroos heading toward the Spanish giants this summer, according to the Press Association via The Guardian.
Last summer, Gunners fans were celebrating the club-record arrival of Ozil for £42.5 million, but this potential purchase could prove even more significant.
The north London club arguably might require a more defensive-minded midfielder than Khedira, but his form in the World Cup will be more than enough to suggest that Arsene Wenger has his eye on creating something special before the end of his deal in 2017.
And Wenger has form for altering the positioning of forward-favouring midfielders to a more defensive role, with Mikel Arteta and Emmanuel Petit the most notable examples.
But Khedira's signing makes this such a notable story.
After several years of underachievement and a hurtful lack of silverware, the Gunners ended that run with the FA Cup victory over Hull City in May.
However, the Premier League and Champions League campaigns crumbled after the turn of the year, ostensibly on the back of in-form Aaron Ramsey's injury on Boxing Day, which, subsequently, kept him out for several months.
Wenger looked to his bench and saw...no one. Khedira represents a change in that.
Khedira also has a point to prove after a season in which injury plagued him. He missed the majority of Real Madrid's campaign after suffering a serious ligament tear, but he returned to play in the Champions League final against Atletico Madrid—albeit for just the opening period as Carlo Ancelotti chased an equaliser.
His absence from the World Cup final last weekend was a major disappointment after his performance in the semi-final demolition of Brazil.
Khedira possesses strengths in his passing and positioning, while he is also an adept ball-winner in midfield. Throw in his physical presence at set-pieces, and you have to question why Real would sell him.
Arsenal, though, offer a place where Khedira can shine, and his signing would represent a serious message of intent by Wenger.
Believability Meter: High
All the signs are that this deal is imminent—it may even have happened as you read this—and Arsenal fans should relish it.
Where Ozil was a marquee arrival a year ago, Khedira represents an all-round midfield talent riding a wave after his World Cup.
Adding the two together in the Gunners team could prove to be an inspired move by Wenger.
Yaya Toure to Manchester United Never Had the Ring of Truth
Friday's Daily Star contained one story of interest to fans of both major Manchester clubs. The newspaper reported that Manchester United had proposed a £40 million transfer for Manchester City talisman Yaya Toure.
According to reporter Jeremy Cross, United attempted to sign the midfielder after he had made it clear earlier in the summer that he was contemplating an exit from the Etihad Stadium.
United saw a chance to lure the Ivory Coast international across town to Old Trafford in what would have been a sensational transfer coup.
United bosses let it be known Toure was on their shopping list and were hopeful of pulling-off a £40m deal.
But Toure has told the fallen giants he has no interest in joining his neighbours at United because he is holding out for a move to Paris Saint-Germain instead.
Toure's status at City had been the subject of much speculation all summer, after both he and his agent expressed their dissatisfaction with the club. Toure's agent claimed the player had been disrespected after the club effectively ignored his birthday, while the player himself subsequently reported he had been denied leave to visit his ill brother. (The club has always denied that claim.)
These declarations were widely interpreted as an attempt to engineer a move away from the club, or at least force a pay rise through the offer of a new contract. United, however, evidently thought it was the former—and that a move just across the city was a viable possibility.
Toure, 31, is obviously a player that United would want—being one of the best in the Premier League—even if it is not so long ago that United instituted a policy of not paying large transfer fees for any player over the age of 27.
City, however, would surely have been loath to sell their star to their arch-rivals—even if the sum proposed was more than they could ever hope to gain elsewhere on the market.
Fortunately for them, later the same day Toure committed his future to the club, ending the speculation about where he might end up.
Believability Meter: Low
It may take some time for Yaya Toure's motives this summer to become clear, but it seems highly improbable that making the move to Manchester United was remotely on his agenda.
United may well have made tentative enquiries with their local rivals, but it seems improbable a deal was ever even on the cards.
Louis van Gaal Will Give Fringe Players Time to Prove Themselves
On the day Louis van Gaal was set to be unveiled as Manchester United manager, the Daily Mirror led its sports section with a report that the Dutchman was set to cut as many as 10 players from his squad at the first available opportunity.
David McConnell wrote:
Louis van Gaal will show his ruthless streak now he has his feet under the table as Manchester United boss—with a major clear-out of the club’s dead wood.
As many as TEN players are facing the axe under the Dutchman, who is determined to overhaul the squad that fared so disastrously under sacked boss David Moyes last season.
The players poised to be shown the door by Van Gaal include Ashley Young, Wilfried Zaha, Marouane Fellaini, Bebe, Anderson, Tom Cleverley, Nani and Nick Powell.
Van Gaal has a reputation for being a dictatorial manager—something he was asked about at his first official press conference—but these sort of "clear the decks" stories seem to appear every time a new manager is appointed at a big club. However, such stories rarely come to fruition.
Believability Meter: Medium
Van Gaal will surely want to streamline a squad that has become too bloated with mediocre talents in recent times. However, he is too experienced and wily a coach to dismiss any players out of hand without having the chance to look at them up close.
The players mentioned may well end up out the Old Trafford door before the summer transfer window closes, but Van Gaal is likely to give them at least a few training sessions (and maybe even a friendly or two) before that decision is made.
Antonio Conte's Juventus Exit Could Well Have Been Sparked by Vidal Future
Late on Tuesday, Juventus surprisingly parted company with manager Antonio Conte, sparking immediate rumours about the cause of the mutual termination.
The Daily Star suggested that Conte's exit was related to recent speculation surrounding Paul Pogba and Arturo Vidal, two midfielders who have been linked with big-money moves to the Premier League in recent weeks.
The theory, also published in other publications, was that Conte was adamantly against the sale of one or both players, and decided to walk out rather than continue as head coach when the board made it clear that they would like to cash in on one or both of their assets before the season started.
In a statement confirming his departure, Conte suggested he thought it would be difficult to replicate the form of past seasons that has seen Juventus win the last three Serie A titles—adding weight to the reports that his squad was about to be significantly weakened.
The manner of Conte's departure—on the eve of preseason—suggests he had not been planning to leave all along (surely, if he felt he had taken the club as far as he could, he would have resigned at the end of last season?) while the club's almost immediate appointment of Massimiliano Allegri hints that they had anticipated Conte's exit being a possibility for at least a few days.
Adding two and two together and possibly making five, it nevertheless seems plausible that Conte, having heard that the plan was to sell either of his two midfield stars, put an ultimatum to the board—who called his bluff when they knew they had Allegri (a man whose reputation was left so shot by his tenure at AC Milan that he surely feared he would not get such a high-profile offer again) as a Plan B.
Believability Meter: High
Obviously we'll see how the season plays out in this instance, with the futures of Vidal and Pogba either proving or disproving this compelling theory.
But leaving a club as preseason is just starting is an odd move for any manager, and one that in this instance suggests it was sparked by a specific incident rather than something Conte had been planning for a while.
Juventus have just signed Alvaro Morata for an eight-figure fee, so it will be interesting to see how the club ends up balancing the books.