The financial ramifications of the global pandemic have devastated European football, leaving countless clubs in precarious situations as we close in on almost a year since the ball temporarily stopped rolling. Although many of Europe’s elite clubs aren’t affected in the same devastating ways that sides in the lower breaches of football are, the lack of matchday revenues has meant creative solutions are needed in order to obtain a foothold in the transfer market.
We have already seen clubs favor loan deals and incentive-based contracts, however, another cost-saving measure yet to be regularly implemented is swap deals. Simply put the trade of two players between clubs with a bit of monetary value to bridge the difference in value, swap deals are perfect in order to simultaneously bring in new talent and get rid of dead weight.
With three major international tournaments this summer and numerous clubs requiring back up in various positions, the January window has all the elements to be more than just the dull unexciting 31 days it normally transpires as. In this piece, we will analyze four potential swap deals, capable of benefiting both players and clubs involved.
Dele Alli (Tottenham Hotspur) ⇄ Ander Herrera (Paris Saint-Germain)
Almost 20 years to the day since Mauricio Pochettino’s departure from Paris as a player, the Argentine has returned to the capital as a manager. With him comes new ideas and a set of transfer targets that the Qatari investment fund will no doubt sign off on in order to get Pochettino’s project off the ground. One transfer could be José Mourinho castaway Dele Alli, who enjoyed the better part of four years alongside Pochettino at Spurs, where he made the step from League 1 talent to England international.
This season Alli has fallen down the pecking order at Spurs, appearing for just 29 minutes since Matchday 1 in the Premier League. With a European tournament in the summer and Alli by no means guaranteed to feature having not been called up to Gareth Southgate’s squad since the Nations League finals in the summer of 2019, routine game time is a must in the coming months.
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Paris Saint-Germain provides an appealing prospect, with a manager who he has excelled under in the past, and a club with good prospects to compete both domestically and on the continental stage. Though he won’t be a nailed-on starter, PSG have lacked a creative midfielder, with Neymar often dropping from the wings to pick up possession and create from deep. A more attacking presence in the middle of the park could ease the burden on the Brazilian, allowing him to maintain a higher wider position with less space to bridge between picking up the ball and fashioning an opportunity on goal.
Much of the off-field aspects make sense as well, with Paris, like London, a large metropolitan city. Although a new country and different culture will still present its challenges, going to a city of international stature like Paris will ease some of the burdens, allowing Alli to fully focus on his football which he is looking to turn around in a very short time frame.
On the other side of this deal we have Ander Herrera, a seasoned Premier League veteran who was an integral figure in the United side coached by Mourinho. In Herrera’s five seasons at United, the Spanish midfielder played his best football under Mourinho, bringing bite and tenacity into the midfield which led to him becoming the Fans’ Player of The Year in 2017. Herrera’s impressive performances are reflected in his praise towards his time spent under Mourinho’s guidance at United, stating in a recent interview with Football London:
“I’ve only got words of thanks for him … He’s got personality, yes, but if you’re upfront with him, work hard, don’t hide and don’t try and mess him about, you won’t have any problem.”
Though a far more prominent figure at PSG than Alli is at Spurs, Herrera is also not the nailed-on starter that he would have hoped to become in his second season in France. With only 12 of Herrera’s 21 appearances this season coming in the starting XI, as well as just 25 minutes across PSG’s final two must-win fixtures in the Champions League, Herrera could constitute a makeweight that Pochettino would be willing to let go to bring in Alli.
According to L’Équipe, PSG are looking to thin the squad this window, with sporting director Leonardo failing to hit his task of bringing in €60.00m in sales over the summer, meaning a second attempt will be made this January. Leandro Paredes, Idrissa Gueye, Julian Draxler and possibly Ander Herrera or Thilo Kehrer are all cited as players who could face the chopping block. Though Herrera joined the club just last summer, PSG are no strangers to quickly offloading new signings, with the likes of Gonçalo Guedes and Giovani Lo Celso only spending two seasons in France after failing to lay a marker down.
Mourinho too could have space in his roster for the Spaniard midfielder, with Tottenham’s continued assault on four fronts meaning that extended depth is a must for the post-winter months. Particularly in defensive midfield, a lot has been asked of new signing Pierre-Emile Højbjerg, with the Dane having played every minute of the Premier League campaign, as well as an additional 539 minutes across all other competitions. Though Højbjerg has been a sensation since joining from Southampton, a back up in midfield is desperately needed, something Herrera could provide in a double pivot alongside the likes of Harry Winks.
Héctor Bellerín (Arsenal) ⇄ Julian Brandt (Borussia Dortmund)
Héctor Bellerín’s future looks to be away from Arsenal, with the 25-year-old fullback being hotly monitored by a host of European clubs and looking unlikely to sign an extension on his contract that runs out in 18 months. Though Barcelona will present the most enticing offer, seeing as Bellerín came through the youth system at La Masia and president Joan Laporta has stated the signing of Bellerín as one of his key mission statements, the likes of PSG and Inter Milan remain interested.
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However, one left-field shout that could materialize as a major win for both clubs involved is Borussia Dortmund. Like Arsenal, the start to the 20/21 season has not gone without difficulties for Dortmund, firing coach Lucien Favre in early December after a disastrous 1-5 defeat to VFB Stuttgart saw them 2 points adrift of the final Champions League spot. Though €48 million was spent on additions this summer, not all have been as resounding a success as 17-year-old Jude Bellingham, with most notably Thomas Meunier falling well below the standard expected.
Error-prone and without the pace and attacking thrust that made Achraf Hakimi such a resounding success in Dortmund, Meunier has a lot to answer for in the second half of the campaign. With the Belgian international already 29 years old, a long term solution is required at right back, a role Bellerín could make his own with his 25 years of age making him a suitable long term option that could also raise the level immediately.
With 173 Premier League appearances, Bellerín brings unrivaled experience for his age, something that has been missing at Dortmund who have consistently suffered from inexperience and youthful foolishness in the past two seasons.
Going the other way we have Julian Brandt, a highly rated midfielder who has fallen out of favor under Favre and now interim manager Edin Terzíc at BVB. A midfield creator who is at his best when given a free role to drift between opponents lines or pick up possession deep, Julian Brandt is precisely the profile which has eluded Arteta for much of this season.
With Mesut Özil confined to being a social media cheerleader and youngster Emile-Smith Rowe impressive, yet still in the infancy of his career, bringing in an established creative midfielder will be crucial for Arsenal’s chances of Champions League football. Brandt’s ability to progress the ball upfield, link play going forwards, and find the incisive pass through the lines make him an interesting prospect if available in the January window.
Particularly Brandt’s versatility will be a facet of his game that will please Arteta, with Brandt able to play all across the midfield or on the wings. With Arteta’s tactical preference either a 3-4-3 or 4-2-3-1, Brandt will seamlessly fit in, either as the tip of a three-man midfield or alongside a fully fit Thomas Partey to form a two-man midfield that profiles similarly to the successful partnership Brandt had with Axel Witsel last season.
Arsenal have already been linked to Brandt, with technical director Edu Gaspar stating the need for an attacking midfielder in January, and the club moving on from Lyon midfielder Houssem Aouar after unsuccessful negotiations in the summer.
Though Brandt will need to raise his levels if he joins the Gunners, with only 1 assist and 0 goals in 13 Bundesliga appearances this season, a brilliant player is there on his day, who can operate across all of the midfield and wings to great creative success. With both players just a year apart and equally capable of plugging a major gap in the two sides in question, there is a lot of good that could come out of this deal happening.
Jesse Lingard (Manchester United) ⇄ Amadou Diawara (AS Roma)
Jesse Lingard has become somewhat of a forgotten figure at United, failing to feature in either the Premier League or Champions League this season. With Lingard’s departure from United more of a question of when rather than if, a move in January could most definitely be on the cards.
A possible destination is perhaps AS Roma, a club that has overseen an uptick in form for United departures over the last two seasons. In Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Chris Smalling, Roma have two players who have resurrected their careers in the Italian capital, with Mkhitaryan already directly contributing to 13 goals in 15 appearances this campaign.
Though a move overseas isn’t common for Englishman, Lingard may be encouraged, as he has become a figure of routine media scrutiny and social media victimization as his form has declined over the past few years. In Chris Smalling, who suffered a similar fate at United, Lingard has a prime example of a player thriving under less negatively charged attention, surely an upwards trend he would like to see come into his own career now that he is 28 and approaching his first move away from the Red Devils.
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Though Serie A doesn’t garner the same attention it once did on the European football landscape, AS Roma are far from a peripheral club. In third place in Serie A, ahead of both Champions League knockout stage participants Juventus and Atalanta, Roma are quietly featuring in this season’s title race. Joining a squad with an average age of 27.8 and a league that doesn’t shy away from giving older players an extended run of games, Serie A football with AS Roma could be precisely the change of scenery Lingard needs to recover from his last few seasons on the periphery at United.
In a slightly different predicament is Amadou Diawara, 5 years younger than Jesse Lingard, but similarly unable to break through at his current club. Having signed for €21 million from SSC Napoli last summer, many thought Roma had secured the services of one of the most promising defensive midfielders in the country. Yet it hasn’t panned out for Diawara, plagued by injury and a COVID-19 infection, the Guinean has never been able to break into Paulo Fonseca’s side, playing just 37 minutes of Serie A action after starting in a 3:0 defeat to Hellas Verona on opening day.
Diawara’s agent Daniele Piraino has hinted at a move away in January, stating a disagreement between the player and club’s perception of the youngster’s role and importance to the side. Though the likes of Leicester City, Tottenham, and West Ham have led the Premier League interest in the Guinean international, Manchester United could have the most pulling power if they were to enter the race, particularly as they continue to battle on four fronts and sit joint top of the Premier League.
Though the acquisition of Jadon Sancho remains at the top of United’s priorities, a defensive midfielder has long been a problem area. With Scott McTominay failing to consistently impress, and Nemanja Matić looking an aging figure as he approaches his 33rd birthday, Diawara could offer a more complete defensive presence capable of immediately impacting the side. With the Roma midfielder capable of covering more ground than the aforementioned options, as well as offering an energetic duo alongside the resurgent Fred, United could truly be set to mount a title challenge in 2021.
On the surface it would seem to be United coming out with the better deal, getting rid of a 28-year old fringe player for what is still a highly talented 23-year-old in an area of the pitch where they need long-term investment. However, AS Roma have proven successful when following the route of Premier League castaways, and could see something in Lingard which many in England have long ago abandoned.
Whereas many in England saw the likes of Edin Džeko and Henrikh Mkhitaryan as incapable of competing at the top-level, Roma saw an undervalued asset, turning them into dominant figures in a side consistently qualifying for European football’s knockout stages.
Riqui Puig (F.C. Barcelona) ⇄ Eric García (Manchester City)
Riqui Puig sitting dejected on a La Liga bench is a dispiriting image for fans of the dominant years of possession-based football Barcelona graced Europe with. A player who exudes talent with every touch of the ball, the 21-year old Puig has not been afforded an opportunity since joining the first team, registering just 7 starts across 3 years in the Blaugrana first team.
Under Dutch manager Ronald Koeman, Puig was given the green light to seek a move in the summer, however wanted to remain at the club and fight for his spot. Though he has done more than enough to impress the fans in the few minutes he receives on the pitch, Koeman has other ideas, stating a lack of physicality and the quality of alternatives as to the reasons why Puig hasn’t been afforded any real game time.
Photo: Pedro Salado/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images
Regardless of what it is, it seems like the chapter of Barcelona may be coming to an end, 7 years after Puig first lined up for the youth squad as a 14-year-old. Whereas just a decade ago Puig would have been regarded as one of the brightest talents amongst Barcelona’s ranks, now he is being cleared out for his small stature and lack of physicality.
One manager who would have been foaming at the mouth at the opportunity of developing Puig is former Barcelona head coach Pep Guardiola. Now at Manchester City where he has signed a deal until 2023 to allow for a full-scale rebuilding of the 2018 centurion squad, Puig could be one of the signings to become the next generation of Citizens.
With Kevin De Bruyne, İlkay Gündoğan, and Fernandinho 29, 30, and 35 years of age, respectively there is a lot of rebuilding to do in the center of the park over the next few seasons. Though Puig’s small frame and 1.69m height make an adjustment to the Premier League a slight worry, the quality he exudes and the partnership he could form with fellow youngsters Phil Foden and Ferran Torres is almost too exciting to not turn into a reality if at all possible.
Though one would think a former La Masia graduate is the perfect player to make a name under Pep Guardiola, that hasn’t been the case in the wantaway center back Eric García. Across the second half of last season, 19-year-old García grew in stature in the Manchester City defence, featuring in 13 matches in the league as well as 90 minutes in the club’s Champions League Quarterfinal loss to Lyon.
However, even this impressive rise from academy prospect to first-team starter wasn’t enough to persuade García to sign a new contract, with his current deal set to expire this summer meaning he is able to agree on personal terms already this January. With a return to Barcelona looking the likeliest outcome, Manchester City have not just lost out on one of the brightest center back prospects in European football, but also someone who could have brought in upwards of €15 million in funds had they accepted an offer last summer.
Ultimately the cards lie in García’s hands, with a pre-contract agreement all but done now that he has agreed on personal terms in Barcelona according to Fabrizio Romano. Though City will be ruing the mistake of letting him go so easily, Barcelona could find themselves in the same situation as Puig’s contract is set to expire in June of this year as well. Not the traditional swap deal we have explored in the examples above, a deal where both agree to pre-contract agreements to swap clubs could nevertheless see two of Spain’s brightest U-21 prospects afforded big platforms to excel in the coming season.
By: Adam Khan
Featured Image: Juan Castro / Aurelien Meunier – PSG / Andrew Kearns – CameraSport