It’s almost accepted in football that ‘smaller’ clubs who have seen a bit of success will get raided during the summer months, forcing them to rebuild all over again. In a way, it’s a bit of shame. Who knows, for example, how far the Monaco team that won Ligue 1 in 2016/17 could have gone if they hadn’t been stripped down and sold for parts after that triumph? You can make an argument for reinvestment and renewal, like Ajax might do this summer, but often, they never catch the same lightning in a bottle again.
In light of that, here are four clubs that look to be building something, and who should resist selling to the big clubs this summer.
It might have got lost in the din of other big football stories around Europe, but Lille’s runner-up spot in Ligue 1 and subsequent qualification for the Champions League was one of the great stories this season. The majority of the squad is 23 and under, so there is plenty of room for development and – whisper it – putting down a real challenge to PSG one day. Nicolas Pepe, in particular, looks in keen demand with the likes of Liverpool and Real Madrid mentioned, but holding on to other stars, including both “Jonathans”, Ikonéand Bamba.
In the buzz surrounding James Maddison’s possible transfer to Manchester United, a possible stumbling block over a lack of Champions League football has been mentioned. But why not try to get there with the Foxes? Sure, the latest betting for the Top 4 next season has United odds on at 4/5 to get back to the big time, and Leicester out at 25/1 (odds from 888sport), but many are intrigued to see what Brendan Rodgers can do at the King Power Stadium. Keep Maddison and Harry Maguire, add a few smart signings and Rodgers can have a bash at the Top 6, or maybe go a step further.
Dortmund surprised everyone this season by pushing Bayern all the way. In fact, they really should have won the Bundesliga, and will regret a couple of performances – letting slip a three-goal lead against Hoffenheim was unforgivable. Dortmund are accustomed to getting pillaged by Europe’s top clubs, especially by Munich. You can see the attraction of cashing in on the likes of Jadon Sancho for mega money, but Munich are also rebuilding – why not have another crack? They have been one of the busier clubs in the transfer market since the season ended, but it would be nice to see them supplement the current team rather than replace it.
For those who weren’t paying attention, Atalanta were one of the most exciting teams in Europe last season, outscoring the mighty Juventus in Serie, yet conceding a fair few too. A good comparison is Kevin Keegan’s Newcastle United site of the mid-90s. Duvan Zapata, who was the league’s second top scorer, is not likely to move given his loan status with Sampdoria but expect some sniffing around the wily Alejandro “Papu” Gomez. Atalanta might be a whopping 150/1 to win the Champions League next season, but Europe’s great entertainers of last season deserve to be at full strength in the competition next year.