Mbappe Real Madrid, Osimhen Chelsea, Zirkzee Arsenal

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There is no doubt Real Madrid are pushing to secure Kylian Mbappe this summer on a free transfer. It won’t surprise anyone if he joins. But as of Tuesday morning nothing is signed. It’s not impossible now that the window is shut for things to move quickly, but right now PSG don’t know Mbappe’s final decision and he has pledged to tell Nasser Al-Khelaifi first.

When Mbappe cleared the air with Al-Khelaifi over the summer he also made a binding commitment to forgo between €70-80m if he left on a free transfer. This means PSG are financially covered even if Mbappe departs.

The agreement isn’t just Mbappe waiving his loyalty bonus. It’s more complicated, and the amount PSG will recoup also depends on when exactly Mbappe goes. It could even be higher than the above ballpark, although sources indicate it won’t likely reach €100m or more.

Mbappe has a few things to iron out with Real Madrid if he is to formally sign. The first is his salary, since the Real offer is lower than PSG’s €70m-gross per year proposal. But it’s understood Mbappe is prepared to take a pay cut, especially since he will receive a significant signing-on fee.

The other factor is Real must give Mbappe permission to play in the Paris Olympics this summer. That’s a deal-breaker for Mbappe, who will also represent France at Euro 2024. It means he’ll be absent between June-August if training camps, games and rest are considered.

Mbappe is happy to enter into free agency, play in both tournaments, then resolve his future if need be. Should he agree to join Real, they could also request a later start date to save close to €20m in wages over a summer when Mbappe won’t be part of their pre-season.

There is no doubt Real are optimistic, and Mbappe has already said once he’s decided he won’t let things linger. But the first step is informing Al-Khelaifi and that hasn’t yet happened.

As an aside, those close to PSG also deny Mbappe’s potential move to Real Madrid is being used to try and lower the Ligue 1 rights package currently being negotiated by prospective broadcasters. They are well aware Mbappe might leave, either now or during the next cycle, so have already factored this into their offers. Those close to the league insist Mbappe, and the value he brings, has no significant bearing on the process, although it’s clear playing his presence in Ligue 1 does make it more attractive, as with any star name.

If Kylian Mbappe does join Real Madrid there may be a knock-on effect this summer. Whereas summer 2023 was all about high-profile midfielders moving, like Declan Rice and Moises Caicedo, the next window is going to see several elite attackers on the move.

PSG have a contingency plan should Mbappe depart. Napoli’s Victor Osimhen is one target, although there is an acceptance the Nigerian prefers a move to the Premier League as it stands. Chelsea and Arsenal are expected to both explore a deal. He’s arguably the top target for the former right now.

If Osimhen goes to the Premier League, PSG could turn to Milan’s Rafael Leao. Leao only signed a new deal in June until summer 2028 and has a €175m release clause. PSG have no plans to trigger this, or pay anywhere close to this number, if they do make a move. Milan are expected to entertain €100m+ offers, but there is no guarantee Leao will leave in 2024.

Marcus Rashford is also a historical PSG target. The club were keen prior to Rashford extending his stay at Old Trafford, but after taking meetings in Paris they felt they were being used as leverage.

Rashford is still committed to Manchester United, but a summer swoop from PSG can’t be entirely ruled out. However, Rashford would first have to indicate he has changed his stance on leaving otherwise PSG don’t want to waste time trying for a transfer without clear player buy in. PSG also like Sporting’s Victor Gyokeres and Leipzig’s Benjamin Sesko.

Brentford’s Ivan Toney and Lille’s Jonathan David could also be on the move this year although neither are active PSG targets, but David has been looked at by the French champions in the past.

We can’t entirely discount free agency for Toney in 2025 if he doesn’t agree a new Brentford deal (and wages are a stumbling block), but Arsenal remain one to watch if the price is right this summer.

David has been considered by Spurs. Chelsea were linked with him in January although my understanding is there was no approach or consideration for the Canadian striker last month. Perhaps the links stem from Graham Potter, who liked David’s profile when he was still at the club, but I am not aware of any serious discussion over him since.

Bologna’s Joshua Zirkzee, who reminds me of Olivier Giroud, is another striker to keep an eye on. Manchester United, Arsenal and Spurs have all scouted him. This doesn’t necessarily equate to a concrete move, but it shows plenty of Premier League clubs are watching him closely. There is also interest from within Italy.

Arsenal won’t just be looking to add a striker this summer. They still want another midfielder, too, especially if Thomas Partey leaves.

I don’t think it’s a surprise, despite many links of a move away, Partey stayed after Granit Xhaka left. But the summer may be a different story. Partey’s contract expires in summer 2025, so it’s natural Arsenal might now entertain offers.

Arsenal still really like Real Sociedad’s Martin Zubimendi, who they explored bringing to the Emirates Stadium last summer. It was clear, however, the player wanted to stay at Sociedad. There is a €60m release clause, but the feeling is Sociedad might consider sales around the €50m mark. But right now Zubimendi is loving life at Sociedad and fully focused on the second half of the season. Sociedad are sixth in La Liga and have a last sixteen tie against PSG in the Champions League.

Zubimendi is settled and that’s why nothing is advanced to date, but I wouldn’t rule out Arsenal trying again this summer. Zubimendi is 25, and that’s significant because if he does want to move to the Premier League this year is probably the right time to do so. Maybe a slightly younger player might wait another year.

I still wouldn’t rule out Arsenal trying for Douglas Luiz, but it’s difficult with Aston Villa flying. If they qualify for Champions League football this season, I would expect Luiz to stay.

Everton’s Amadou Onana is an interesting one as well. It is not true to my knowledge Arsenal advanced anything, or made an offer, in January despite suggestions. However, there is genuine admiration for the Everton midfielder.

If Everton go down a bargain deal might be possible, but it’s worth noting Everton paid Lille £33m in summer 2022. That’s why any sale will be priced at £50m+. As long as Everton are a Premier League club I expect them to hold pretty firm on that valuation given Onana is contracted until 2027.

Sir Jim Ratcliffe is really close to formally completing on his Manchester United stake. It’s worth almost 28%. That’s 25% from A and B shares (bought in equal % terms), with the latter carrying more voting power, plus additional shares for his $300m investment into the club.

Omar Berrada will join as CEO from Manchester City over the summer. He is currently on gardening leave and prevented from beginning immediately.

And INEOS will now lead the process to find a sporting director. Berrada will also be heavily involved. I expect this to happen sooner rather than later, especially knowing a chosen candidate, if incumbent at a club, could also face a period of gardening leave.

It is hard to interview candidates with a window open, so February is calmer and should allow for progress. Clubs losing a name tend to also want things resolved fast so they can plan for the summer as well.

Dan Ashworth is still under strong consideration, although Newcastle sources insist no formal approach has been made yet. Julian Ward, Dougie Freeman and Paul Mitchell (who is a free agent) have also been discussed.

As with Berrada’s own appointment the process is anticipated to move fast, and discretely, and there is perhaps some arguably urgency or competition knowing Liverpool are also on the lookout for a sporting director as well. That said, it has been known within the industry for quite some time that Jorg Schmadtke would leave after the January window.

It’s understood two new names, Bayern Munich’s Christoph Freund and Roma’s outgoing departing sporting director Tiago Pinto are also seen as contenders. The volume of names discussed is not just due diligence, it’s down to the fact two senior recruitment appointments are expected.

INEOS sources have always made it clear they won’t rush. The aim is to make foundational and senior hierarchy changes first thus giving each new executive some say over future hires (and internal shuffles) leading to staggered yet significant changes between now and summer.

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