Ben Jacobs’ transfer briefing – Haaland, Phillips, Chilwell, Leao, Kim-min Jae, Bellingham
Every week Ben Jacobs provides the lowdown on some of the biggest transfer speculation in football. This week the futures of Erling Haaland, Kalvin Phillips, Ben Chilwell, Jude Bellingham and Mateo Kovacic are up for discussion.
Erling Haaland to Real Madrid
I don’t think Erling Haaland to Real Madrid is in any way imminent with a view to this summer, as Haaland has ultimately only just arrived at Manchester City and is scoring goals and breaking records for fun and Manchester City see him in the short-term future as untouchable. It would obviously take an astronomical offer to change that narrative.
And Real Madrid are looking to strengthen in a variety of areas over the course of the summer, each of which are going to cost them a huge amount of money. They are in the race for example for Jude Bellingham, and at some point Real are going to have to prioritise who’s feasible in the summer, but also if they win more than one big race, what is actually financially possible as well.
And this is where the Premier League clubs are able to blow them out of the water. And there’s really not that many teams that can afford to sign Erling Haaland because now he’s ingrained and successful within the Premier League, you don’t just have to find the transfer fee, which would be humongous.
You also have to be able to afford to pay the player’s wages. And this is why Real Madrid are going to struggle. So Erling Haaland does have a release clause, which kicks in next year, and that is set at €200million. And it’s normal to have a clause like that in the contract.
But of course, if things go to plan at Manchester City, they can always look to renegotiate and change the narrative, but that clause is there to ultimately protect the value and cannot be activated anyway, at this point. It’s not true by the way, that there’s anything in the Haaland contract that is Real Madrid specific either.
So we heard some rumours when Haaland first joined that there was a Real clause and Pep Guardiola has since denied that, and that is my understanding that ultimately, Erling Haaland cannot go anywhere at the moment in terms of somebody triggering a clause and even when the clause sets in Manchester City view that as a formality, rather than something that they’re fearful of, and you put it in there from the club’s perspective to protect the value not because you genuinely think that anybody is going to trigger it and take the situation out of your control. So Manchester City are very calm about the situation as is Erling Haaland as well.
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Kalvin Phillips exit
It hasn’t been an easy transition from Leeds United to Manchester City for Kalvin Phillips. And of course, the less he settles and plays, the more it will also impact his chances for England as well. So my understanding is that Phillips himself would like to fight and try and get into the team, but it hasn’t been an easy transfer because when he first made the move, I think the feeling was that he’d done enough at Leeds and shown enough that Manchester City would be using him more regularly.
And it’s been a bit of a battle really to get up to match fitness and speed and also gel into the system. So we’ve seen him be a bit part player and Phillips ultimately needs to get as fit as he can and as sharp as he can as fast as possible.
And that has been the challenge for him and then breaking into that Manchester City midfield is really difficult as well.
So there is a possibility that if the right offer comes in Manchester City might consider an early exit, but it’s not advanced at this point.
From Manchester City’s point of view, they still want to assess how he actually develops because he’s relatively new at the football club. So it’s not a given that Kalvin Phillips will leave, but it hasn’t worked out as all parties had hoped.
Up until this point, there’s still time to change the narrative but it’s not unthinkable come the summer, that he’ll exit and West Ham are one of the Premier League clubs looking. Leicester have taken a look as well. But at the point when Leicester for example, were scouting Kalvin Phillips, about three windows ago, the feeling was that he would move to a top four club and play Champions League, which is exactly what happened.
So that’s what’s kind of interesting about the situation now that whereas when he was at Leeds, people only thought it would be one of the big six and a Champions League club that could get Kalvin Phillips but now a year on potentially come summer we’ll have to wait and see what the level of suitors are that are interested in him and which club thinks they can get the best out of his game.
And a happy Kalvin Phillips, a fit Kalvin Phillips, a sharp Kalvin Phillips is still in my opinion, an elite level midfield player.
Ben Chilwell, Man City links
Manchester City are going to be looking at a left-back because Joao Cancelo doesn’t seem particularly intent to come back. It’s only a loan deal, but there’s a very strong possibility that he doesn’t play another game for Manchester City after falling out with Pep Guardiola.
And Chilwell is a player that Guardiola has appreciated for some time, but at the moment Chilwell’s sole focus is on Chelsea and Chelsea don’t want to let Chilwell go.
They’ve been looking at over the course of the last two windows a slightly more budget option as well away from Chilwell, Borna Sosa, who’s doing really well at the moment and would be available in the market for a fraction of the price of Ben Chilwell, and there’s other left-sided options as well.
But I think that Manchester City were also to an extent even though it was bubbling over for quite some time, just a little bit blindsided by the whole Joao Cancelo situation because behind closed doors, they were trying to deal with the player and mend a few bridges and get him incentivised and excited about the plan at Manchester City and what was expected of him both on and off the field.
And I think that for some time as this story was developing prior to the loan move away, Pep Guardiola and Manchester City still felt like the relationship with the player was for want of a better word salvageable.
Then, of course, the transfer came relatively out of nothing. And now we have to wait and see whether there’s any way back and if there isn’t, then obviously, that left-back position becomes a big priority for Manchester City come summer.
Rafael Leao links to Man Utd
Well, I think the first thing to say is that Manchester United are looking at a variety of different strikers. And they want a traditional kind of number nine, and the options are growing by the day because they know that some of the targets will have multiple suitors and other players are not exactly the right fit if that remit is a traditional striker, or number nine and so Rafael Leao has been looked at more by Chelsea and even Manchester City have scouted him as well.
And although he may creep into the conversation for Manchester United as well, the key point in all of this is Milan have always said they’ve had the situation in their control.
They’ve tried for a number of months to offer Rafael Leao improved terms, and they remain hopeful that that extension is not dead. So it’s not an unthinkable scenario, whereby Rafael Leao actually extends at Milan.
And that’s why the next month or two is very key, because as soon as the window opens Milan are on the backfoot. But in the months before the window opens, they can shut out a lot of the speculation if they can get him to sign improved terms. Confidence has wavered at different levels over the course of the last few months from a likelihood he won’t sign all the way through to a possibility now that Leao might.
Chelsea thought theycome quite close to striking a verbal agreement but were unable to agree a fee and Milan have always held out relatively highly, wanting at least 85 million euros, and some say even more, because the player is in form.
What’s interesting now is that if we look at his form, in 2023, comparative to when there was such a buzz around him, it’s dipped and dropped. And some say that’s because of the uncertainty over his future, but whatever the cause of it Rafael Leao is not quite the same player as he was when he was drumming up interest from three or four different Premier League clubs.
It’ll be interesting to see whether that changes anybody’s opinion as to whether to move for him. And I think that Manchester United, first and foremost, are still seriously looking at Victor Osimhen, and it’ll be intriguing to see whether knowing that his dream is the Premier League, Napoli can hang on to him.
Manchester United have got a variety of targets. I think that Leao is a player that they’ve looked at, but there’s nothing much more to it than that at this stage.
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Kim Min-jae to Man Utd
Clubs looking at centre-backs will inevitably be scouting Kim Min-jae.
Luciano Spalletti has already termed him one of the best centre-backs in the world and you only have to look at his form and intelligence and awareness to understand why and there are Premier League clubs looking for sure.
Manchester United are in a difficult position with that type of player because he sees himself as a starting centre-back and they’ve obviously got Martinez and Varane there, but there’s other teams that are looking to drop somebody straight into their starting lineup.
Tottenham are another club that have scouted the player and they would be looking to bring in a starting centre-back, as with Liverpool as well. And I think that that would give those two clubs a slight advantage over Manchester United because if Erik ten Hag is going to play a back four and Varane and Martinez are fit, then it becomes extremely difficult to persuade a player in the form and with the potential of Kim Min-jae to go to Old Trafford over those two other clubs, especially also when you consider that he’s not an 18-year-old.
He’s 26 years of age, so he will want regular and immediate gametime. The other thing to point out in all of this is just that he only joined Napoli in July. So as a consequence, he’s played less than 35 games for the club at the time of recording having moved from Fenerbahce and Napoli are flying there on a procession to Serie A. They are genuine Champions League contenders.
All of that adds up to Napoli, come the end of the season, trying to change the terms and get an extension for some of the stars in order to protect their value and improve the terms. And with Kim Min-jae the contract I think is until June 2025. And there’s an option to extend for another two years.
But there is a release clause for around £40-43million. So that might be seen given his form as quite a reasonable fee and that’s why the end of the season is going to be very important to see whether Napoli try to do anything with the contract to raise that number or change the terms because otherwise even if Napoli don’t want to sell there becomes a window of opportunity for Premier League clubs if they’re prepared to match that number.
When you look at the market and you look at for example Wesley Fofana going to Chelsea for somewhere in the region of £70million, a 26-year-old in great form like Kim Min-jae might be seen as reasonable value for just over £40million so that might give a Premier League suitor some kind of incentivisation.
Jude Bellingham to Liverpool
Well, Liverpool still see Jude Bellingham as a priority in that midfield and contrary to some reports, Bellingham hasn’t made up his mind. But Liverpool have done a lot of legwork and have a large amount of confidence. As a result, they haven’t given up and they don’t believe that missing out on Champions League football will necessarily impact things too much because what Liverpool do is give players a consistent narrative.
They always start courting those they want early and developing relationships with the player and their family and their agent. And by having that trust and by having that relationship they believe that they can sell based on the project and the ambition of the club and the manager rather than solely on what they do or don’t have come the end of the season so Bellingham will be a big priority for Liverpool.
They’ll be up against Real Madrid and also Manchester City and some believe that Manchester United especially under new owners might come into the equation as well. Chelsea are there, they are minor players, they’re certainly not serious contenders at this point. And the advantage Liverpool have as a Premier League club is they might be able to blow Real Madrid out of the water in terms of the price that they’re prepared to pay.
Whereas with Real they will always be entering into the Bellingham equation, hoping that they would be able to get him for x or under 100 million which now seems pretty ambitious. And obviously the situation with Bellingham can still be complicated because if he signed a new contract with Dortmund, then the value would go up even higher. That would benefit Premier League suitors as well.
Signing a new contract doesn’t by the way, mean in any way that Bellingham would stay come summer. It’s just a way in the short term of Bellingham getting a pay rise and Dortmund being able to change the terms in order to get the best possible sale.
READ MORE: The 48 midfielders Liverpool have been linked with in the transfer gossip columns: Bellingham, Nunes…
Mateo Kovacic to Liverpool
I don’t think there’s too much in the Kovacic links at this point. Liverpool will have other preferences and priorities. But the other thing about Kovacic, even if Liverpool did choose to explore that, and there’s nothing significant at this stage, I think you’d be looking more of a player like Wolves’ Mateus Nunes as seriously on their radar.
But if they did, or any other club wants to pursue Kovacic, then you have to bear in mind that Chelsea have kind of changed their position a little bit because they’ve got rid of Jorginho and they realised that Kovacic has got leadership and can also chip in with the odd goal.
And they’re always spectacular goals by the way!
So now Chelsea’s position on Kovacic has changed from maybe six months ago. And their preference would be to try and agree something if they can, that keeps him at the football club. So whereas maybe towards the end of last year, we were talking about Kovacic as being a player more likely to leave than stay.
Now I think Kovacic is, arguably, more likely to stay than to leave.
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