Wednesday, December 7, 2022

Stars who didn’t move on Deadline Day: Cristiano Ronaldo, Christian Pulisic, Jonathan David and more

Nearly £4 billion later, the transfer window is, at last, done and dusted. Now for the tedium of association football and a four-month wait until we can get back to what we really came for — unbridled expenditure. In the great spending jamboree that was the summer of 2022, it can be hard to believe that anyone went unsigned by Nottingham Forest, let alone every other club in the sport. But here they are, the players still in place at the club where they started the summer despite heavy links or a clear desire to move. Let’s examine some of the most interesting:

Frenkie de Jong, Barcelona

For all the cajoling, persuading, and on occasion hostile editorializing around the Dutchman this summer, one facet remained intractable for those trying to get Frenkie De Jong sold. He simply did not want to leave Barcelona, both the club and the city. The personal is invariably understated when discussing transfers and so it proved this summer. De Jong was willing to put up with abuse from some supporters and continual speculation in the press because he and his family were settled in one of the jewels of the Mediterranean in a team who can seriously aspire to win things. Put it that way and it is easy to see why Manchester United held little appeal.

For all the headlines written about him, Barcelona’s public stance was never that far away from De Jong’s. They would have liked him to stay, though privately they seemed to acknowledge that his sale could have funded yet more business, perhaps even a shock deal for Bernardo Silva. 

As club president Joan Laporta told CBS Sports at the start of August: “We love the player and him as a human being. I want him to stay at Barcelona. He’s a high-quality player and a good guy.” 

Now they have the chance to make good on those words.

The question now is whether De Jong can get back to the player Barcelona thought he would be in the age of Gavi and Pedri. He struggled in his only start of the season so far, giving away the ball for the only goal Real Sociedad scored in a 4-1 loss to the Blaugrana, but some rustiness is perhaps to be expected after such a tumultuous summer. Ultimately for all the talent that Barcelona have acquired this summer, the most convincing option to deputize for and eventually succeed Sergio Busquets is the Dutchman. At 25, his best years are likely still ahead of him. They might just be spent at the Camp Nou.

Jonathan David, Lille

At the start of the year, it seemed inevitable that Jonathan David would move on. Soon after his agent would say as much. The plan was for the Canadian international to take the step up from Lille with Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester United and Barcelona all monitoring his availability. Come the summer he was still on all their radars but was not at the top of any of their wishlists.

Others came calling but CBS Sports sources have confirmed that interest from Everton and Leeds late in the window was swiftly rebuffed by the player, who has his eyes set on bigger prizes. He will be acutely aware of how difficult it can be to extricate yourself from the Premier League middle classes to take the leap to the highest level. Meanwhile, with a World Cup on the horizon, there is a convincing argument to stay in familiar waters at a time when David has two goals and two assists in Lille’s opening five league games.

Next summer Manchester United, Chelsea and Real Madrid could all be looking for new strikers. If David can find his best form over the coming months he will surely be under firm consideration.

Douglas Luiz, Aston Villa; Youri Tielemans, Leicester City

Two players closely linked by circumstances, not least that both were wanted by Arsenal at varying stages of the window. Come deadline day it was Luiz who won the beauty pageant of Premier League midfielders whose contracts are up at the end of the season. After all, the Gunners were pressed into action by injuries to Thomas Partey and Mohamed Elneny.

Three separate bids were rejected by Aston Villa, the last at the £25 million upper limit that Arsenal were convinced would be where the Midlands side would budge for a player who has started just one Premier League match this season. Club sources at the Emirates Stadium were surprised to see such intransigence in negotiations — particularly when Luiz and his representatives were pushing for Villa to cave and they had brought in Leander Dendoncker — and technical director Edu ultimately concluded that any more would be an overpay for a backup player

Dialogue with representatives of Tielemans had begun in January but he had viewed as an option for Mikel Arteta’s left number eight role, one which Granit Xhaka has made his own in recent weeks. At a lower price than the £25 million Leicester had been demanding, Arsenal might still have pressed ahead but ultimately they never formalized their interest. That was a source of deep frustration to the player, who had expected to move to north London early in the window.

In both cases these deals speak to the financial muscle of the Premier League middle class in a summer where the English top flight’s spending all but matched the rest of Europe. Both Villa and Leicester might end up rueing their decision next summer if Luiz and Tielemans walk out on a free. It is notable that the former, in particular, felt able to leave so much money on the table to make a point.

Anthony Gordon, Everton

Luiz and Tielemans were hardly the only players from the Premier League’s mid-tier who did not get the move they wanted. Gordon’s presence at Everton on Sept. 2 ultimately feels like a surprise because Chelsea were willing to go so remarkably high to get a player who did not profile to be worth £60 million now or in the near future.

Still, Frank Lampard was always steadfast in his belief that Gordon should be kept and that he would be a cornerstone for a rebuilt Everton. Perhaps that has been vindicated in the last two games where remarkably similar goals from the 21-year-old talent have earned his club 1-1 draws against Brentford and Leeds. Gordon’s impressive pace has previously been used as more of a progressive and pressing weapon. He could get the ball up the pitch and get it off defenders but his direct contribution to goalscoring did seem to be wanting. And yet a few more of those incisive runs in behind the backline might change that view.

“Anthony is too important of a player,” said Lampard. “He showed his worth in the last two games, so what good would it do us to do anything with Anthony?

“Clearly with the interest there’s been in Anthony, he’s a top player and that’s why we’re so keen to keep him.”

Christian Pulisic, Chelsea

Where now does the biggest name on the United States men’s national team roster rank on Thomas Tuchel’s? With Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang arriving from Barcelona, there are at least four players who profile to get starts ahead of Christian Pulisic, whose greatest worry might be that both Thursday’s sparkly new addition and Raheem Sterling are at their most effective in the inside left channel that is his best position.

Speaking at an event to unveil the U.S. World Cup jerseys, Gregg Berhalter offered a bullish assessment of Pulisic’s chances but one that perhaps did not ring true with recent events. 

“I’m a guy that bets on Christian just because I’ve seen it before,” he said. “He is not counted on in a way that he’d like to [be], and he gets on the field and he proves everyone wrong and he ends up playing. I mean that’s what he’s been doing. So I tend to believe that’s going to happen.”

But Pulisic struggled to get a run of games even when Thomas Tuchel’s frontline included several options he was not convinced by. Injuries and a lack of consistent form mean he has not started five games in a row since December 2020. That is unlikely to change now that the Chelsea boss has the forwards he wants. It is an ill omen ahead of the World Cup.

Ben Brereton-Diaz, Blackburn Rovers

There may be few gambles with stakes as high as that which Blackburn took over Brereton-Diaz on deadline day. The interest was there in the Chile international, from Leeds and Fulham among others. A fee that might ultimately have reached £20m is hardly to be sniffed at in the financially straitened climes of the Championship. Then of course there is the looming expiry of his contract at the end of the season; reports in local media say he is not minded to sign an extension.

And yet the missed fee might pale into insignificance if Blackburn are to secure promotion. Early in the new season they are in the mix and Brereton-Diaz’s presence in the squad would certainly aid that, though for now they need to start creating the chances for him to score (according to Wyscout they have registered the fewest expected goals in the competition after seven games). Midtable seemed the most likely outcome at the start of the season but if Rovers were to escape the second tier through the play offs or top two then the money on offer for their star forward would look like chump change. It is quite a sizeable if though.

Cristiano Ronaldo, Manchester United

Usually he might top one of these lists but how long ago was it apparent that Ronaldo would not get his way out of Old Trafford? A fortnight? A month? The moment they missed out of Champions League qualification? The 37-year-old is one of the greatest goalscorers the game has ever seen but he is also 37, on massive wages and not the archetypal modern striker. Add to that the harsh glare of the spotlight that is trained on Ronaldo and it is easy to see why so many Champions League teams swerved the chance to sign him.

The biggest question might be whether anyone will be tempted to take a punt in the January window. Few of the downsides of life with Ronaldo would disappear by the midpoint of this season but would the temptation grow to get a player who always seems to find a way in the biggest games?

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