Man Utd's Chong, Real's Rodrygo among emerging talents at ICC
Harry Maguire has played in a World Cup semifinal and become one of the most highly rated defenders in the Premier League, but even his most ardent supporters would struggle to argue that he is the very best at his position.
Yet if Leicester get their way and force Manchester United to pay in excess of £80 million, the 26-year-old will become the most expensive defender in the world. That would eclipse the £75m that Liverpool paid for Virgil van Dijk -- not only the world's best defender but the favourite to win the Ballon d'Or this year.
All this for a player Leicester signed from relegated Hull City for an initial £12m just two years ago.
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Sources have told ESPN FC that, while United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is determined to sign Maguire as quickly as possible to reinforce his porous defence at Old Trafford, the two clubs are still some distance apart in terms of their valuation.
United, who initially offered £40m for Maguire last month, are now prepared to pay closer to £70m to get their man, but Leicester's starting point is £80m and some reports suggest they are even ready to hold out for £90m.
Yet for all of Maguire's ability as a commanding centre-back, a player with an aerial threat in both boxes and one who can play the long and short game, it would signal a new, eye-watering benchmark in an already over-heated transfer market.
Leicester are smart operators when it comes to selling players. They banked £60m when selling Riyad Mahrez to Manchester City 12 months ago and also forced Chelsea to hand over £35m for midfielder Danny Drinkwater in 2017. The Foxes hierarchy know that United, having seemingly missed out on Ajax captain Matthijs de Ligt, are short on alternative options for a proven, commanding defender, so they are quite rightly putting the squeeze on the club's executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward.
Woodward, an investment banker with JP Morgan prior to working for United, knows all about market forces and it is unfortunate for him and his club that they are now on the wrong end of the spike in transfer fees. But City were also forced to pay over the odds when they paid £50m to sign Kyle Walker from Tottenham two years ago, making him the world's most expensive full-back at the time, while Liverpool's wisdom was questioned when they paid £75m for Southampton's Van Dijk 18 months ago.
City and Liverpool would now both argue that they were justified in breaking transfer records to sign Walker and Van Dijk, and United must now decide whether Maguire is likely to prove as smart a long-term investment as those two, even if the costs seem alarmingly high.
United's history, certainly since Sir Alex Ferguson's time in charge, is littered with examples of expensive signings which ultimately proved to be sound investments.
Gary Pallister (£2.3m), Roy Keane (£3.75m), Ruud van Nistelrooy (£19m) and Rio Ferdinand (£30m) all became British record signings when they moved to United, while Wayne Rooney was the world's most expensive teenager when he completed a £27m move from Everton in 2004.
All of the above left Old Trafford having more than justified their huge transfer fees, with each of them proving that the initial outlay was excellent value in the long term.
However, United's sense of value has deserted them since Ferguson retired in 2013, with those in charge too often knowing the price of something rather than the value.
Which is why they are now in a difficult position with Maguire. Is it another case of having to pay vastly over the odds for a player who will never live up to the pricetag? Or is Maguire a modern-day version of Pallister or Ferdinand, two defenders whose fees were questioned at the time, but who ultimately made the cost of the transfers look cheap?
One thing for certain is that Maguire is not the best defender in the world. True, Van Dijk wasn't either when he traded Southampton for Liverpool, but the Dutchman now has few rivals for that title after a sensational 18 months at Anfield. His £75m fee now looks to be a bargain and Liverpool could double it right now if they were foolish enough to consider selling.
It would be naive for United to expect Maguire to follow the same path so quickly. But he is better than what they have and would improve United, so the price is the price and they have to accept that market forces have left them having to break the world-record transfer fee for a defender.
The world's biggest clubs will go head-to-head in the International Champions Cup (ICC), which kicks off on Tuesday across the United States, Europe and Asia. U.S. viewers can watch all matches across ESPN's platforms. Check out our ICC landing page here.
The tournament will give the clubs to showcase top young talent. Here's who you should keep your eyes on:
Tahith Chong -- Manchester United
The focus of Manchester United's attempted regeneration this summer has been towards youth. That's manifested itself in the purchases of Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Daniel James, but it could also come from within, and there are a crop of youngsters who could at the very least form part of the United first-team squad this season. Chong perhaps has the best chance of breaking through, given the uncertainty surrounding United's attacking players: a lithe and rapid winger with a wand of a left foot, if he makes a good impression in the ICC, we could be seeing much more of him this season.
Oliver Skipp -- Tottenham Hotspur
There is a spot potentially open in midfield for Tottenham this season. New record signing Tanguy Ndombele will be the first name down, but there are question marks over most others who could play alongside him. Harry Winks has injury issues, Eric Dier has regressed, as has Victor Wanyama while you wonder whether Moussa Sissoko can sustain last season's form. And then there's Skipp: granted scant chances last season, he nonetheless looked impressive, and if he performs in the coming weeks then he'll force himself to the forefront of Mauricio Pochettino's thinking.
Moise Kean -- Juventus
In some respects Kean doesn't belong on this list: he established himself as one of the most promising talents in Europe last season and everyone should know already how good he is, but given the number of quality attackers ahead of him in the pecking order at Juventus, he still has a point to prove. There have even been reports that Juve might get rid of Kean this summer, either to raise funds for their spending spree or in exchange for Mauro Icardi. However, if he performs as he can do in pre-season, they may realise he's too valuable to let go.
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Gabriel Martinelli -- Arsenal
Arsenal fans haven't had much to be optimistic or excited about this summer, so you can understand why there's been more notice than usual paid to Martinelli, at the time of writing their sole signing. An 18-year-old striker signed from Ituano, it's probably to Martinelli's benefit that he plays in one of the few positions Arsenal are fairly well stocked. This will allow him time to progress and get used to his surroundings, without the pressure of having to perform straight away. But if he does perform straight away, imagine the excitement...
Alphonso Davies -- Bayern Munich
Having just played a prominent role in Canada's Gold Cup campaign, Davies was expected to give Bayern's early pre-season games a miss in order to recover. However, he knows opportunity knocks in Munich this summer, the departures of Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben meaning there are spots available on the wings for Niko Kovac's side, so he returned early. And even though he's still only 18, his skill and versatility could easily help force his way into Kovac's plans.
Ethan Ampadu -- Chelsea
Signed from Exeter City a couple of years ago, Ampadu has been on the fringes of the Chelsea first-team ever since, without ever really breaking through. Last season that was broadly because Jorginho was a fixture in his favoured deep midfield role, but now Maurizio Sarri has been replaced by Frank Lampard, a man not quite so wedded to the Italian playmaker, a spot could open up. And that spot could be filled by Ampadu: if Lampard wants fresh blood he won't be able to buy it because of Chelsea's transfer embargo, so it will have to come from within. And why not Ampadu?
Florentino Luis -- Benfica
After the departure of Joao Felix to Atletico Madrid for a whopping €120 million, all eyes will be on which talented youngster will come through the Benfica ranks next. David Tavares is a name that has been mentioned, but he might miss chunks of pre-season with a knee injury. So the most likely candidate is probably central midfielder Florentino Luis, who has already reportedly attracted attention from Manchester City and PSG, after only a handful of appearances in the first-team. A defensive midfielder with a fine positional sense and quickness of mind and body, Benfica recently tied him down to a new contract, so once again any suitors will have to dig deep.
Renan Lodi -- Atletico Madrid
Atletico Madrid are one of a few teams undergoing a regeneration this summer, with the departures of key players like Diego Godin, Rodri and Antoine Griezmann. Those who have come in are not such established names, and that includes Brazilian left-back Lodi, just 18-years-old and signed from Athletico Paranense. He's not short of confidence, either. "I would say I define myself as an athlete," he said, upon arriving in Madrid earlier in July."I defend well and I attack very well." If he plays as well as he talks, Atleti could have a star on their hands.
Rodrygo -- Real Madrid
We already know a fair amount about some of the players Real Madrid have spent millions on this summer, most notably Eden Hazard and Luka Jovic. Eder Militao has a season in Portugal under his belt while Ferland Mendy has been a mainstay at Lyon for a couple of years. However, those of us who concentrate on the European game will be most interested to see forward Rodrygo, how he might break into the Real first-team and how he could fit while he's there. With a clutch of other wide players to compete with, it will be fascinating to get a look at Real's latest great Brazilian hope.
Valentino Lazaro -- Inter
Antonio Conte has suggested that he will start life as Inter head coach with a 3-4-3 system, the one that brought him so much success at Chelsea. But in that formation the two wide players are arguably the most important, both in defence and attack, to it will be intriguing to see how Lazaro fits in. A winger by trade, Lazaro has filled in at right-back for Hertha Berlin before, so that combined with his energy and industry suggests he's the ideal candidate to fill the crucial role on the right. Indeed, that might mean the pressure is on for this 21-year-old, under the watchful, sergeant major gaze of Conte.