Transfers

All dressed up with nowhere to go: seven stars who can't buy transfers

 • by Tom Bodell
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Ask any manager or football club executive who holds all the power when it comes to transfers and they’ll tell you it’s the players and their agents. But that isn’t always true.

This summer – perhaps more than any other in recent memory – there are a plethora of world-class stars stuck fast. Unwanted and unloved, they know their futures lie elsewhere. But due to their price tags, salaries or a lack of available landing spots, they’re all kicking their heels.

It’s a modern phenomenon with money no object to the likes of Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain and Real Madrid. And while others have to live more within their means, expensive mistakes still happen all too regularly.

With that in mind and the summer transfer window hotting up, we’ve looked at seven big names who are stuck at clubs but can’t secure transfers away…

Mesut ÖzilArsenal

Arsenal attacker Mesut Özil's 2018/19 Premier League stats

It’s remarkable the German finds himself in this position given the saga surrounding his new contract. When Özil put pen-to-paper on an extension which would take him through until June 2021 in January 2018, it was seen as a coup for the Gunners.

It’s proven anything but. Özil is now a millstone weighing the Gunners down. Unai Emery has made clear he sees no role for the supremely talented playmaker in his side and, instead of knuckling down and trying to prove his coach wrong, the 30-year-old sulked through much of last season and produced the lowest return (five goals and two assists) of his Premier League career.

Selling Özil would free up some much-needed cash for Emery to reinvest in his depleted squad. But finding a taker for a 30-year-old earning a reported £350,000 per week is nigh-on impossible.

The former Real Madrid man is a luxury player and not one any of the clubs who could afford his crippling salary need. His best bet would be a move to a cash-rich league like China. But it’s unlikely the World Cup winner would find that option attractive.

What next? Without a viable buyer, he stays at Arsenal in the hope of out-lasting Emery. 

Alexis SánchezManchester United

The signing of the Chilean forward has to go down as one of the worst transfers in Premier League history. Earning a princely £500,000 a week and signed as much to irk Manchester City as supplement José Mourinho’s squad, Sánchez has been an unmitigated disaster, scoring just five times and assisting a further five in 45 outings.

Plenty felt United did not even need the versatile forward and his arrival would only serve to stunt the development of Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford. In the end, they needn’t have worried.

Having spent much of last season on the sidelines or in the treatment room, the former Barcelona forward rubbed salt into the wounds of United fans by impressing at the Copa América with Chile, netting two in five and claiming an assist.

With two years left on his Old Trafford contract, Ole Gunnar Solskjær will have to find a use for this fading force.

What next? Unless Sánchez can find form long enough to hoodwink a European giant, he’s stuck at United for the foreseeable. 

IscoReal Madrid

Isco, Real Madrid, stats, heatmap

If you’ve little sympathy for Sánchez or Özil then you might find some for the Real Madrid playmaker. Part of the side which historically won three consecutive Champions Leagues, Isco has been a victim of the Spanish giants’ Galácitco policy and finds himself shoved out on the sidelines.

The diminutive attacker is a favourite of new-old coach Zinedine Zidane. But with €300million dropped on Eden Hazard, Rodrygo and co. this summer, Real have to make cuts to balance the books and Isco’s name just isn’t sexy enough.

Manchester City are reportedly keen with Pep Guardiola viewing the 27-year-old as a long-term heir to David Silva, while Liverpool have been tentatively linked in the past.

While the Spanish international’s class is irrefutable, his reported £80million asking price and salary mean he is beyond the reach of anyone but the elite while, politically, he cannot join another club in LaLiga.

What next? It’s Manchester City or bust for the time being and that is predicated on Leroy Sané. If he doesn’t end up at Bayern, could the Bavarians be tempted? 

Philippe CoutinhoBarcelona

Barcelona attacker Philippe Coutinho

The Blaugrana waited patiently to get their man, the pursuit of the former Liverpool attacker lasted almost a year before Coutinho finally arrived at the Camp Nou in January 2018. However, on this occasion, good things do not come to those who wait.

Coutinho has struggled to settle at Barça with his role in the side unclear from the outset. He has not worked out as a wide forward flanking former Reds team-mate Luis Suárez and the Catalans have a plethora of more suitable midfielders, preventing him playing the eight-and-a-half role in which he thrived in England.

With Antoine Griezmann bound for the Camp Nou this summer, Coutinho will be pushed further down the pecking order. Ousmane Dembélé, while troubled in Spain, has shown he can be an important player in clutch moments while countryman Malcom is also on the books and younger. Coutinho is the odd man out.

What next? An emotional return to Liverpool, the only club to truly get the attacker, has been mooted. At the right price, he could add some attacking depth. 

James RodríguezReal Madrid

The star of the 2014 World Cup, the Colombian schemer had the world at his feet when he got his dream move to the Santiago Bernabéu. But it quickly became apparent Rodríguez was not long for the world’s biggest club. After making 29 LaLiga starts in 2014/15, he managed just 30 over the next two campaigns.

The sacking of coach Carlo Ancelotti did not help his cause and, in 2017, he followed the Italian tactician to Bayern Munich, signing on loan for two years with the option of a permanent deal. However, his mentor was removed from his post in September 2017, leaving Rodríguez to fight for his future in Bavaria.

The silky midfielder made a relative success of his time with Die Roten before informing the club he did not wish to join permanently at the end of this season.

Like Isco, he is surplus to requirements in Madrid as they move onto the next shiny thing, meaning he will have to leave.

What next? Napoli and Atlético Madrid have been linked and while the Italians aren’t typically big spenders, they will go in for the right player. Rodríguez could be the heir to the departed Marek Hamsík.

Gonzalo Higuaín – Juventus

Stats for Gonzalo Higuaín at Milan

It would be hard to classify the Argentine’s spell with Juve as anything other than a success. In 64 Serie A starts he bagged 40 goals for the Bianconeri winning two titles and two Coppas Italia. However, Juventus failed to bring the Champions League back to Turin for the first since 1996 so they signed Cristiano Ronaldo to replace him and parked Higuaín on loan at Milan.

With six in his first six, things appeared to be going to plan for the former Real Madrid and Napoli hitman. Then he had what can only be described as a meltdown against his parent club, missing a penalty before being sent off, and struggled to regain his form for the Rossoneri. 

Sent to Chelsea on loan for the second half of the season things got no better for Higuaín and the Blues declined to make that switch permanent after five from 13 Premier League starts.

Roma are reportedly among those keen this summer, particularly if Edin Džeko goes, and Juventus need the sale to fund a reported move for Paul Pogba.

Gareth BaleReal Madrid

Perhaps the ultimate case of a player who is stuck somewhere he is unwelcome, it’s hard to imagine Bale is too bothered given the bullish claims of agent Jonathan Barnett who says the Welshman is happy to see out his contract with Real.

That hasn’t stopped the tabloid press going into overdrive with Manchester United the most frequently linked side. The Red Devils, as we’ve detailed already, are suckers for over-paid, over-the-hill big-name signings. But with Solskjær at the wheel even that option might be closed off to the 29-year-old this summer.

A romantic return to Tottenham has also been mooted but looks incredibly unlikely given Daniel Levy’s famously tight control of the purse-strings.

With Bale pocketing a reported £500,000 a week and Los Blancos in desperate need of as much as they can demand for the forward to fund a move for one of Neymar, Pogba or Kylian Mbappé, something has to give.

What next? Zidane and Bale do not see eye-to-eye and no-one is eating a bigger chunk of cash per week than the forward. A loan to buy might be a halfway house to at least free up the salary space. 

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