Hang on to your fax machines; the International Football Transfer Market is once again open for business.
With the European Championships less than two months away, now’s the time for teams looking to add that one missing link to go get it. Unlike real world transfers, our hypothetical international market works on the principle of player-for-player swaps. The English populace can’t just take up a collection and go buy Gareth Bale; they’ve got to give up someone for him that would make the trade make sense, some offer Wales would pull the trigger for. It’s tit for tat, and the best trades are likely to be ones that leave both teams just a little unhappy.
Players are listed under their original countries, i.e., what each nation is giving up to get the other.
Belgium: Jan Vertonghen
Holland: Klaas-Jan Huntelaar
On paper, Belgium is packed with talent, so much so that they’d be an ideal feeder nation for the big teams if our hypothetical rules allowed outright purchases: the Ajax of the international market. This exchange involves one Ajax man for a former one. Holland solves the problem of what to do with poacher extraordinaire Huntelaar when they’d rather play a forward who does more than score goals, like Van Persie. For Belgium, with its surfeit of young midfield talent, the Hunter wouldn’t have to do anything but score goals until Romelu Lukaku was ready to take over. Belgium’s all-time leading national team scorer finished his career with 30 goals. Huntelaar has scored 31 in limited duty for the Netherlands.
In exchange, the Netherlands get something to bring them back to their roots, an attack-minded center back, someone with the long passing, hard shooting to be another Koeman or De Boer, and help connect the two halves of their team. Even better, their defense, with Kompany, Vermaelen, Alderwereild and others, will be able to survive without him.
Spain: Mikel Arteta, Juan Mata
France: Karim Benzema
It’s easy to spot the potential problem for the reigning champions of everything but the Confederations Cup: It may be without its two main strikers from both Euro 2008 and the World Cup as one recovers from a broken leg and the other from an ongoing case of the yips. That may not be much of a problem for them since the county is still absolutely loaded with soccer talent, and they can call on strikers like Llorente and Soldado that other countries would kill for. But neither of them is terribly experienced on the international stage, with just ten goals between them (as opposed to Villa’s 51).
Benzema hasn’t been terribly prolific for France, scoring just 13 goals in his career for his country, but he has played for the homeland 42 times already, nearly twice as many as Llorente and Soldado combined. That plus his experience playing in Spain makes him an ideal replacement if Villa isn’t able to get his fitness up before the tournament.
With players like Loic Remy and Olivier Giroud in the wings, France is well equipped to deal with Benzema’s loss. In his place, they’ll get a pair of midfielders who Spain won’t miss, and who can spell, push, or supplant their Cabaye’s, Martin’s and Nasri’s.
Italy: Alberto Aquilani, Thiago Motta
Sweden: Ola Toivonen
Toivonen flits between striker and attacking midfielder, but he brings more than just skill on the ball to the Italian attack: He’s also got size too – something only Alberto Gilardino has in Italy’s current striker crop – and an ability to use his body not just to score headed goals but to hold off defenders before playing a pass to advancing midfielders. He’d give Pirlo someone to aim for on the counter like he had with Luca Toni, an option that doesn’t involve hitting it beyond the defense and hoping whoever’s in their current crop of strikers isn’t offsides.
For Sweden, who let’s not forget already have a tall striker who’s good on the ball (if used to playing further forward) the move would clear out room for impressive young attacker John Guidetti, and give them both a player who can get the ball to their impressive strike force (assuming Aquilani doesn’t actually draw his power from proximity to the Mediterranean) and another two-way player to relieve the 35-year-old Anders Svensson. Both players are ones Italy can afford to replace.
Portugal: Joao Moutinho
England: Daniel Sturridge
We trade a versatile midfield piece for a versatile attacking one, and in the process improve both teams. Moutinho would fit well in midfield, bringing a level of ball-circulation and offensive and defensive balance in place of whatever it is Gareth Barry does. (Off-topic note: Please tell me everyone in the locker room calls him Gary Barry. That would be wonderful). He could play as the more advanced of two in a 4-4-2, or as the center most of three in a three-man midfield, delivering balls to wide players much as he does at Porto.
Portugal would miss him in their midfield, but in his place they’d get a dynamic attacker who’s big enough to play up front alone for them, fast enough to keep up with the like of Ronaldo and Nani on each side, and clever enough to pull out wide in either direction when the two men on either side of him decide they want to cut in.