Spanish football expert Guillem Balague has insisted that Golden Boot-chasing Harry Kane is not on Real Madrid’s radar this summer despite speculation to the contrary.
“Quite clearly Harry Kane is one of the top strikers in the world but Real Madrid have other priorities and they know how difficult it is to negotiate with Levy. So their eyes are on other players, not Kane.”
The highly respected journalist and author remains tight-lipped as to who those names might be but he is more than happy to debunk a rumour that has grown wings in recent weeks concerning Luis Suarez’s future in Spain; a rumour that has led some to put two and two together to make five.
Consider that a whisper well and truly shouted down. But if Suarez unquestionably isn’t heading for the Premier League it does beg the question who might be from the global shop window that is the World Cup. Balague ponders two possibilities that have whirred the transfer rumour mill into life across the tabloid back pages and social media.
“Cheryshev is already in a good place and at a level that he belongs to. He is a very direct player with a lot of quality and he’s very fast. He’s got a lot of intelligence as well so he has enough to make an impact on the Premier League for sure.”
Then there’s Serbia’s muscular midfielder Sergei Milinkovic-Savic, a talent who reportedly tops Jose Mourinho’s wish-list as he looks to over-haul his Manchester United options.
“He’s a very good player who is in the mind of some teams. Who knows if that will lead him to the Premier League. I think Milinkovic-Savic can take his qualities to the next level. He has shown flashes of that and we’ll see more of that if Serbia stay in the competition. He’s the kind of player who is mentally strong enough to deal with tension and when all is at stake.”
Unsurprisingly the Sky pundit has been in his element these past two weeks, relishing every game and immersing himself in the festival of football on display. It is intriguing then to find out which individuals have stood out for the 50 year old so far.
“Who has impressed? Cristiano has saved Portugal twice. They didn’t play very well but his goals count. Harry Kane obviously is in the flow and things are happening for him. Coutinho has been a star for sure. Neymar I don’t think will be physically fit for ninety minutes to make the impact that he should and Coutinho is taking over the side in a position that he’s making his own from the midfield.”
Considering that the former Liverpool schemer wasn’t in coach Tite’s plans as a starter until the build-up to Russia 2018 this is quite some claim. Yet it is also undeniable for anyone who has witnessed Brazil’s stuttering performances to this point and particularly the toiling efforts of their striking superstar. Has Neymar become too selfish in his play since leaving Barcelona with his country now suffering the consequences?
“It comes down a bit to picking up bad habits but if he didn’t have that in him then he wouldn’t start doing it now just because he plays in Paris. I’ve always felt like Neymar needs to control his emotions and give him a clear idea of what he needs to do because if he feels like he’s in charge of everything his focus evaporates and his emotions take over.”
“He is not helping himself in this World Cup even in training with supposed injuries that the doctors are not backing up. Even the likes of Thiago Silva and Marcelo are telling him to behave and focus and it’s disappointing that he’s not using his talent to the maximum. He gets so confused sometimes.”
The bleach-thatched hot-shot is not the only household name underwhelming of course with arguably the finest player of all time flopping spectacularly in his opening two games with Argentina. Having written a best-selling book on Lionel Messi the journalist’s thoughts are certainly worth listening to on why this might be.
“I think the likes of Busquets, Iniesta, Lionel Messi suffer when they don’t have quality players around them because they do the most difficult thing in football which is to take a team that is very good to another level. That’s what Messi does but to do that every superstar needs a quality team around them including Maradona in ’86. The quality of that 1986 side has been underplayed.”
“But when you have Di Maria, Meza, even Mascherano, then Messi will struggle because what he needs – like Pep Guardiola once said - is to be kept happy. What he meant was Messi must be surrounded by players who understands what he’s trying to do. There are players there who can do that of course and I feel now the Argentina players are having more of a say in what the line-up should be and how Messi can be protected. The better the players, the better Messi.”
On to Balague’s native Spain and the 2010 World Cup winners are also flattering to deceive in spells and hardly seem the all-conquering twinkle-toed giants of yesteryear. For Balague this is due to a gradual change in their identity, a modification that warrants praise for their combative figurehead.
Away from the greatest show on earth there is the not-so-small matter of a new Premier League season on the horizon and with Balague’s biography of Mauricio Pochettino still flying off the book shelves conversation naturally turns to the Spurs coach. Will a failure at the fourth time of asking to bring silverware to North London in 2018/19 ultimately make the Argentine’s tenure at the club unsuccessful?
“The thing with Pochettino and his process and his way of thinking is that it’s not about the targets but the journey. It’s about making the best out of it and making the players the best they can be. From there you see what happens. Competing is what he wants to do. It’s not about ‘let’s win trophies’: it’s about ‘let’s be the best that we can be’. Right now they are over-achieving big-time and that’s why people think the next step is to win a title but actually staying in the same place would still be over-achieving.”
Guillem Balague’s quickfire questions
- Who will win the World Cup? I don’t know anymore! I’ll stick with Brazil
- Who will win the Golden Boot? Harry Kane
- Who will be the player of the tournament? If Brazil win that will be Coutinho