In the latest edition of the Transfer Talk podcast, the team discuss why Romelu Lukaku’s arrival at Chelsea can unleash Timo Werner, Kylian Mbappe, Paul Pogba and the wider implications of Lionel Messi’s move to PSG, plus the strategy behind Erling Haaland’s next move.
After yet another frantic week of transfer comings and goings, during which Chelsea re-signed Lukaku on a club-record deal, and Lionel Messi completed his sensational switch to Paris Saint-Germain, the Transfer Talk podcast panel – Dharmesh Sheth, Pete Graves and special guest Raphael Honigstein – get stuck right into the hottest topics surrounding the transfer world.
Lukaku is Werner’s ‘dream ticket’
Much has been made of Lukaku’s club-record arrival at Chelsea and what it means for much-maligned team-mate Werner after his struggles in front of goal last season.
Is Lukaku now the main man? Will Werner have to play second fiddle? And, crucially, would Werner be willing to play a bit-part role behind Lukaku as Chelsea’s preferred No 9?
For Honigstein, however, the arrival of Lukaku from Inter Milan could unlock the potential of Werner’s stellar final season at RB Leipzig, which ultimately earned him his move to Stamford Bridge.
“Timo Werner’s best campaign for RB Leipzig came the year before he left for Chelsea, where he smashed all sorts of records and scored close to 30 goals, and it was because he played off a No 9,” Honigstein said. “He was the second striker, in off the inside left, playing off somebody who held the line and pushed players back while he attacked the space.
“Thomas Tuchel tried that in his first few games, with Olivier Giroud and Tammy Abraham leading the line, and had some success, but, ultimately, he didn’t like Giroud or Abraham enough to make that a permanent fixture. But to have Lukaku linking up with Werner potentially, given everything we’ve seen with Werner in the past, this is actually his dream ticket.
“It’s not a case of him being demoralised at no longer being the main striker, I think Werner will be very happy that a real No 9 has come in because it makes his game much easier. He doesn’t want to lead the line, he’s not great with his back to goal, it’s not his game.
“The question is whether Tuchel can fit in all these other great attacking players in and around Lukaku because Chelsea have, if anything, too many of them. Keeping all those players happy is going to be one of Tuchel’s main tasks, but in terms of the football and the option that Lukaku provides, it’s exactly what Werner and everyone else in this team needed.
“This is not the same Romelu Lukaku who left Manchester United. He really went up to another level at Inter Milan, improved his game no end – his technique, his movement, his work-rate – and has become the fully-formed Lukaku people expected him to become years ago.
“He is now that player so Chelsea are getting a player right at his very peak. It’s going to really change the equation for Chelsea in the Premier League.”
Mbappe, Pogba, and the knock-on effect from Messi joining PSG
Messi’s teary, yet swift, departure from Barcelona to join Paris Saint-Germain’s project sent reverberations around the footballing world, reverberations which have yet to subside.
The prospect of Messi lining up alongside Neymar and Kylian Mbappe is a frightening proposition for clubs in France and on the continent, but Honigstein believes Messi’s arrival in the French capital could have wider implications for the futures of both Mbappe, and Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba.
“There are still whispers in the industry that Mbappe is not certain to stay at PSG,” he said. “Real Madrid have been trying to sign him, or at least have targeted him as the next Galactico, for many years. Real have been saving money; they have spent very little on transfer fees this year and the year before. There was a big anticipation they have some kind of big move planned and, of course, Mbappe has not signed a new deal and is in the final year of his existing one.
“PSG have been making very confident noises, saying he will stay, but I don’t know what they have based that on. Real Madrid unofficially have been pretty confident they can make it happen. We don’t know what is going to happen, but I think there is a strong chance – and this is how I would play it, and how Real have played it in the past – of Madrid saying to Mbappe that they will pick him up for free next summer, these are the numbers, sign here, and if there’s a chance of doing the deal this year, these are the numbers, sign here.
“Then Real will go to PSG and say Mbappe is our player next year, do you want to keep him now or do you want to make this happen now and at what price? Do PSG really need Mbappe now up front? PSG will be reluctant to sell but if they realise they could be in a position where Real Madrid are going to pick up Mbappe on a free, they might change their minds. Watch this space, this Mbappe saga is not quite over yet this summer.”
On Pogba, Honigstein added: “It would fit into PSG’s strategy to pick Paul Pogba up on a free, we’ve seen what they’ve done this summer. For a player of Pogba’s age it makes a lot of sense to get him on a free because all the money you would spend on him for that last year can go to him and that makes a more viable financial proposition.
“On the other side, clubs are also reluctant to give four- or five-year deals to players in their late 20s knowing that in a couple of years’ time, if they don’t perform and aren’t at the same level as they were, they are stuck with them for two more years on huge wages with absolutely no chance to offload them.
“Clubs are increasingly very careful when it comes to players signing their last big deal and are weighing up what the situation will be like later down the line. I don’t think Pogba has quite done enough at Manchester United to be seen as absolutely indispensable, he’s an important player for them, he’s a very glamorous player and brings a lot of stardom to the club, but is he a player they would absolutely hate to lose because their starting XI couldn’t function without him? I’m not sure.
“The fact he might be available next year not only reflects his position but also United’s. I’m sure they want to renew his deal but maybe not for four years and not at the same wages he’s currently on, and that is why we will see more of these situations where big players leave for relatively little or no money when their contract runs down.”
Strategy behind Haaland’s next move?
When the transfer window opened on June 9, 2021, the names of Lukaku and Messi were not on everybody’s lips, but that of Borussia Dortmund striker Haaland was.
As yet, no club has made their move for the Norway international, meaning Europe’s biggest clubs remain on a collision course next summer when his €75m release clause comes into action.
Where Haaland goes next is anyone’s guess, but it is a move Honigstein believes will be meticulously planned out by agent Mino Raiola to preserve the opportunity to secure further big-money moves down the line.
“It’s very hard to predict where Haaland will end up because he will have more offers than anyone can imagine at this level,” he said. “Every single club who can afford the €75m transfer fee and the wages that he will demand will be in for him.
“That’s another reason why the deal is going to happen next year, where everyone’s hope is that football will have rebounded financially to a certain extent from the coronavirus pandemic. Finances should look better after a season with fans back and it would be much easier to meet the demands of Haaland and his agent, Mino Raiola, who, shall we say, likes to maximise his opportunities to make sure that everyone gets paid.
“There’s an interesting line of thought when it comes to Haaland’s next move. Some people are saying that Raiola is so strategic that bringing him into the Premier League now would actually cut off options later on.
“Haaland is only 22, if he were to make the big Premier League move next year, it would be very difficult to see Manchester City or Manchester United selling that player onto a Spanish club or PSG in a few years, whereas moving to perhaps a more ‘neutral’ club will ensure the next big move will be easier.
“What you try to do as a player or an agent, of course, doesn’t always come off, you have to see what offers are available. There are strong rumours that Madrid feel confident, but they continue to feel confident over Mbappe and nothing has materialised. I don’t think Haaland even knows where he is going to end up.”