Ramos, Ounahi, Fernandez among World Cup transfer targets
The 2022 World Cup is over, but the transfer rumour mill is only just starting up as the January window opens next month for Europe’s top leagues.
Qatar 2022 has seen some incredible performances on the pitch, not least from shock semifinal side Morocco, and players young and old have risen to the challenge of performing on football’s biggest stage.
Some world-class young stars have already risen to prominence on the transfer landscape over recent months, including England midfielder Jude Bellingham (rated at €150 million), Portugal forward Rafael Leao (€100m), Croatia defender Josko Gvardiol (€90m), and Netherlands winger Cody Gakpo (€60m). But which lesser-known players have boosted their transfer value with their efforts at the World Cup?
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Amrabat’s outstanding impression in Qatar proved a perfect culmination to a year of progression for the Netherlands-born midfielder. On the back of a few relatively unremarkable campaigns in Italy, the 26-year-old reclaimed his starting spot for Fiorentina, and his influence on the Serie A side has grown virtually on a week-to-week basis since the turn of the year.
In addition to being a convincing ball-winner (with more than 10 defensive challenges per game during the tournament), he organises, leads and exudes authority. With his tenacity, application and never-say-die attitude, Amrabat perfectly encapsulated the collective spirit of the surprise package of this World Cup. Though he may lack some mobility without the ball, he is capable of switching up the tempo in possession and his through balls from deep against Spain demonstrated the constructive side of his game.
While it’s tempting to stick the dreaded “World Cup star” label on him — especially in the wake of reported interest from Liverpool — it’s no surprise to see such a clear interpreter of the No. 6 role (a somewhat dying breed) attracting high-end suitors.
Arguably the biggest “find” of the World Cup, Ounahi impressed from start to finish, displaying brilliant technical details — flicks, dribbles and constructive touches — with admirable consistency. With a blend of positive, crisp passing and purposeful running — line-breaking and in transition — Ounahi was a constant threat from midfield while still sticking to his defensive duties (for example, with eight ball recoveries against Spain).
His performances for Morocco not only presented him as a modern, dynamic No. 8 but also beg the question of how such a talented midfielder can be languishing at the bottom of Ligue 1. As a result of the show he put on in Qatar, the midfielder is being linked with moves to the Premier League, with Leicester City being mentioned as one possible destination.
As the top scorer of the Portugal’s Primeira Liga following a sensational first part of the season with Benfica, Ramos was no stranger going into the tournament. Amid the turbulent setting of the Selecao, the young centre-forward claimed a memorable hat trick against Switzerland when given the chance in the starting line-up ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo.
While there’s still improvement to find in terms of leaving a consistent mark on the game and assertiveness in attacking duels, the well-rounded nature of Ramos’ game — he’s a fine link-up player yet with the pace to run in behind — makes him an attractive proposition for those clubs who tend to see a lot of possession and dominate matches. Manchester United have asked about him, according to ESPN sources, however a €120m release clause puts Benfica in the driving seat.
Widely mentioned as a rising star before the tournament (the €12m Benfica paid to River Plate in the summer is up there with the bargains of the year), Fernandez has been nothing short of sensational for Argentina. Not only was his impact immediate as he came off the bench in the first two games, but he became one of the main driving forces of the team and won the FIFA Young Player of the Tournament award.
Despite his age, he plays with the personality and authority of a player who feels totally at home on the world stage — combining a high defensive work-rate and eagerness to enter challenges with an excellent appreciation of space and ability to set up chances through combinations in the final third. Always prepared to get on the ball — he recorded an excess of 100 touches against Australia and three key passes versus Croatia — and being so constructive with it, the Argentine is well on the way to convincing the top clubs of European football that he is ripe for even greater challenges.
The midfielder’s gradual progression at club level has been mirrored over a few weeks in Qatar at international level. From being an outsider for a starting spot for Lionel Scaloni at the start of the tournament — he’d only been capped eight times prior to the World Cup — Mac Allister has turned into a highly valuable presence whose energetic, dutiful performances suit this Argentina side to perfection. As he showed in the final.
Switching between a wide left position or a central attacking midfielder (depending on the formation) — as opposed to a pretty settled, slightly withdrawn No. 8 role at Brighton — Mac Allister has combined nifty, quickly-executed footwork with diligent defensive work and pressing, as well as intelligent off-the-ball movement. No less than expected from well-run Brighton, the Premier League side extended the contract of the technically gifted midfielder (an €8 million signing from Argentinos Juniors four years ago) shortly before the tournament — just as he’s inevitably about to enter the wishlists of even bigger clubs.
Considering how unenthusiastically his mooted move to Manchester United in August was received and his complicated past relationship with Les Bleus, the World Cup has proved a true road to redemption for Rabiot. Though he missed the semifinal against Morocco due to illness, he has provided a stable, reliable presence in the France side in the absence of N’Golo Kante and Paul Pogba and returned for the final defeat to Argentina.
Calm in possession, tactically disciplined, aerially dominant and outstanding at reading the game, with industry and work-rate to match, it’s hard to pinpoint deficits in the game of a talented player who has finally matured into a classy midfielder. With the contract of the former Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain youth product expiring at the end of the season, Rabiot has timed his resurgence to perfection. Already one of the top earners at Juventus, a prolonged stay in Turin is looking increasingly unlikely.
Signed from PSV for a relatively modest €8.5m in the summer, the diminutive but tricky and dynamic winger has undoubtedly seen a rise in transfer value after his fine World Cup appearances. While he might still struggle to justify the “Japanese Messi” tag, he does share the Argentine maestro’s willingness to gain ground through rapid footwork and a potent left foot.
His two goals in the memorable wins against the two of the traditional superpowers of European football — with his winner against Spain coming by way of his “signature move” of cutting in from the right to set up a left-footed finish — will inevitably have given his worldwide profile a deserved boost.
Though a relatively unknown quantity for many prior to the tournament, the Croatia goalkeeper has been frequently linked to elite European clubs over the past few years thanks to steady performances for his club side in the Champions League. If it wasn’t for a couple of fatal moments against Argentina in the semifinal — his mistimed run which led to a foul on Julian Alvarez that resulted in the opening goal, and he also played a role in conceding the second — Livakovic could have looked back on an almost impeccable tournament.
Yet his penalty saves in the shootout against Japan and his exhibition in the art of goalkeeping against Brazil — a varied show reel of quality saves — will stand the test of time as a memorable World Cup goalkeeping performance. Approaching 28, he might be well beyond the point of an investment-driven transfer target, but with his complete skillset — first-class reflexes, size to dominate the area and ability to play out from the back — he should soon be playing his club football outside Croatia.