Transfer Targets – Left Backs

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The January transfer window is less than three weeks away, and there are plenty of left-backs who could be on the move in the near year. Let’s take a look at four left-backs who could be set to earn a big move in 2021.

Romain Perraud – Brest – £0.79

Since the start of the 2020/21 season, no left-back in Europe’s top five leagues has recorded more goals and assists than him. The player who I’m referring to is not Andrew Robertson or Alphonso Davies, or Ferland Mendy or Angeliño. It is Romain Perraud, who has registered 3 goals and 4 assists in his first 12 appearances for Stade Brestois 29.

Born in Toulouse, Perraud bounced around provincial sides Blagnac FC, Toulouse Fontaines Club and US Colomiers before joining OGC Nice’s youth academy in 2014. Whilst he made his first team debut on December 8, 2016 in a Europa League match against Krasnodar, he would have to wait over a year to make his maiden Ligue 1 appearance, coming on as a late substitute in a 1-0 victory against Saint-Étienne.

Seven months after his top-flight debut, Perraud joined Paris FC on loan for the 2018/19 season. He delivered a phenomenal campaign in the capital city, providing 5 goals and 1 assist in 34 appearances and leading them to the promotion play-offs, where they would lose to Lens in the quarterfinals following Perraud’s costly miss in the penalty shootout.

His performances at the Stade Charléty led France Football to vote him as Ligue 2 Player of the Year, but when he returned to the French Riviera, he found himself behind Malang Sarr and Racine Coly in manager Patrick Vieira’s pecking order. He joined newly promoted side Brest for €2 million, but he registered just 1 assist in 24 appearances as Les Pirates finished 14th in the truncated season.

Unlike the vast majority of mid-table sides in Ligue 1, Olivier Dall’Oglio’s Brest side seeks to break teams down in possession rather than on the counter-attack. They are a team that seeks to attract pressure in the first phase of build-up play, before building the play with positional rotations and attacking through the flanks. Perraud has taken to Dall’Oglio’s system like a duck to water, and at 23 years of age, he is finally displaying his world-class talent on a consistent basis at the top level.

Borna Barišić – Rangers – £0.50

It has been a tumultuous decade for Rangers, with the club suffering liquidation and relegation to the Scottish Third Division in 2012, before watching their eternal rivals Celtic win nine consecutive Scottish League Championships. However, with Rangers sitting 13 points ahead of Celtic (who have two games in hand) in the league table and qualifying to the Europa League knockout round for the second straight season, there is a newfound feeling of optimism and excitement in Ibrox.

Whilst Steven Gerrard’s side have scored a whopping 45 goals in 16 league matches this season, they have conceded just three goals thus far, a feat that saw them surpass Celtic’s 114-year record of six straight clean sheets to open the season. Leon Balogun has formed a rock-solid pairing in defense with Connor Goldson following the Nigeria international’s arrival from Wigan Athletic, 38-year-old veteran Allan McGregor has been a mainstay between the sticks, and captain and starting right back James Tavernier has been a constant threat on both ends of the pitch with 16 goals and 12 assists in 25 appearances this season.

At left back, Borna Barišić is playing the best football of his career at 28 years old. Born in Osijek, Croatia to Bosnian Croat parents, Barišić joined Osijek’s academy in 2003 where he would spend the next eight years of his development, but after suffering a career-threatening knee injury, he was denied a professional contract. The then 19-year-old  Barišić joined BSK Bijelo Brdo, where he would spend a sole season before returning to Osijek; two years later, he earned a move to league champions Dinamo Zagreb, but he registered just one appearance for them before joining Dinamo’s feeder club Lokomotiva on loan.

Midway through the 2015/16 season, Osijek was purchased by Lőrinc Mészáros, the richest person in Hungary, and Ivan Meštrović, a Croatian businessman. The new owners decided to bring back Barišić for his third spell at the club, giving him the captain’s armband in the process. With Barišić at the helm, Osijek finished 4th in the league — their highest league finish in 9 years — earning qualification to the UEFA Europa League.for two consecutive seasons. They were narrowly edged by Rangers in the Second Qualifying Round, with Barišić providing an assist in the second leg on August 2, 2018. Five days later, Barišić joined Rangers for a fee of £2.2 million.

Barišić has become a fan favorite at Ibrox, having registered 2 goals and 10 assists this season and provided a disciplined, astute figure on the left side of defense. He has even attracted interest from the likes of Roma, Napoli and Leeds United, and if he delivers a strong performance for Croatia at next summer’s Euros, he may just land a move to one of Europe’s top five leagues.

Mario Hermoso – Atlético Madrid – £0.38

“Since the expulsion against Getafe, [Renan] Lodi has gone from zero to hero, blossoming into one of the finest left-backs in Europe. He isn’t just showcasing his attacking finesse, but his defensive acumen as well. In the first leg of the round of 16 fixture against Liverpool, he didn’t give Trent Alexander-Arnold or Mohammed Salah an inch of breathing room and held on for a 1-0 win.”

I wrote those words for Football Index in April about Renan Lodi, who at the time looked to be staking a claim as one of the best left backs in Europe. However, eight months later, Lodi finds himself on the bench at Atlético Madrid, with manager Diego Simeone preferring Mario Hermoso on the left side of defense.

Born and raised in the Spanish capital, Hermoso joined Real Madrid’s academy at the age of 10 following a three-year spell at local side EF Concepción. He worked his way up the youth ranks before joining Real Valladolid on a season-long loan, where he would make 31 appearances in Spain’s second tier, the vast majority coming at left back. Upon returning from his loan, he shared a dressing room with the likes of Federico Valverde, Achraf Hakimi and Martin Ødegaard as Real Madrid Castilla finished 11th in the Segunda División B. Hermoso was a bright spot for Castilla in the heart of Santiago Solari’s defense, and after 12 years in Madrid’s academy, he joined Espanyol on a three-year contract.

Hermoso nailed down a starting spot on the left side of defense alongside David López, earning a maiden call-up to the Spanish national team on November 8, 2018 and impressing in the back four as Los Periquitos qualified for Europe for the first time in 13 years. His performances in Catalunya earned the attention of Atlético Madrid, who were searching for a replacement for the outgoing Lucas Hernandez following the canterano’s departure to Bayern Munich. Two years after arriving from Castilla for €400,000, Hermoso joined Atleti for €25 million plus €4 million in add-ons.

He failed to convince in his debut season for the Colchoneros, making just 19 starts under Simeone and committing high-profile errors against Bayer Leverkusen and Eibar. Rumors of a loan departure to Real Sociedad began to surface, but the 25-year-old remained put at the Wanda Metropolitano, and it proved to be just what he needed to get his career back on track. 

After a difficult first season, Hermoso has become a starter under Simeone, playing on the left side of the back three, providing a reliable passing option in the first phase of build-up, enabling Yannick Ferreira-Carrasco to push forward into attack, and demonstrating the same leadership qualities that saw him become a fan favorite at Espanyol. Arguably his finest performance to date in a Rojiblanco shirt came on Wednesday in the Red Bull Arena against Red Bull Salzburg. Hermoso grabbed the opening goal and put in a confident, assured display on and off the ball to seal Atlético’s progression to the UEFA Champions League knockout round.

Following in the footsteps of Juanfran and Marcos Llorente, Mario Hermoso is the latest player to ascend Real Madrid’s youth ranks and become a key player for Atlético Madrid, and his versatile performances could see him land a roster spot for next summer’s Euros.

Robin Gosens – Atalanta – £0.87

The 1974 World Cup Final saw West Germany narrowly edge Netherlands in Munich, with a Die Mannschaft side led by Franz Beckenbauer and Gerd Müller mustering a 2-1 victory at the Olympiastadion and depriving Johan Cruyff’s Oranje of eternal glory. 14 years later, Netherlands extracted revenge in Hamburg, defeating West Germany in the Euros semi-final via goals from Marco van Basten and Ronald Koeman, before beating the Soviet Union in the Final. Following the victory in Hamburg, Amsterdammers threw their bicycles into the air in celebration and conglomerated for the largest public gathering since May 5, 1945, when the Netherlands was liberated from Nazi Germany. “Hamburg was also a reversal of the invasion: an orange-clad Dutch army drove its cars into Germany and defeated the inhabitants,” wrote Simon Kuper in his 1994 book Football Against The Enemy.

Netherlands and Germany have been vying for supremacy on the football pitch for the past 50 years, but their latest fight came off the pitch rather than on it. Born in Emmerich am Rhein, Germany to a Dutch father and a German mother, Robin Gosens found himself in the middle of a dual nationality tug-of-war between the DFB and KNVB, but he put an end to that battle on September 3 after starting in a UEFA Nations League match for Germany against Spain.

Growing up near the Dutch border in the small village of Elten, Gosens bounced around various small clubs in North Rhine-Westphalia, often showing up hungover after spending the previous night partying with friends. He thought that he had squandered his chance to make it as a professional footballer after being rejected by Borussia Dortmund, but his fortunes turned around after being spotted by a Vitesse Arnhem scout, who invited him for a trial. Gosens joined Vitesse’s academy on July 4, 2012, and a year later, he signed his first professional contract.

“It’s hard to explain why it has clicked for me now but one factor is essential: I’ve worked incredibly hard on myself since I got the chance to become a pro,” said Gosens in an interview with The Athletic. “It’s because I felt I had to make up for all the things I didn’t learn in an academy. The dream was so big that I promised myself to never stop working and trying to improve myself.”

Desperate for his first experience in professional football, Gosens joined FC Dordrecht on loan on January 14, 2014 and quickly became an undisputed starter, leading the Sheep heads to the top flight for the first time in 19 years. Whilst he was mainly utilized in central midfield during his first few months in South Holland, Gosens was shifted to the left back position midway through the 2015/16 campaign. He failed to prevent Dordecht from making a swift return to the Eerste Divisie, but his performances drew the attention of Heracles Almelo, who signed him on a free transfer.

At 21 years of age, Gosens chipped in 3 goals and 3 assists as Heracles finished sixth in the league, qualifying for European competition for the first time in the club’s 113-year history. He was shoehorned in a wide range of positions under manager John Stegemen, deputizing at right back, central midfield, and left wing, although he solidified his position at left back in the 2016/17 season. After a five-year spell in Holland, Gosens joined Atalanta on June 2, 2017 for a fee of €900,000.

Gosens often found himself on the bench in his first season in Bergamo, but he broke into the starting eleven in March after Leonardo Spinazzola was sidelined with a long-term knee injury. He cemented a starting spot the following season, delivering stellar performances at the left wing-back position in Gian Piero Gasperini’s 3-4-2-1 as Atalanta qualified for the UEFA Champions League for the first time in their history.

Atalanta began the 2019/20 season in Ferrara, Emilia-Romagna, facing off against SPAL at the Stadio Paolo Mazza. SPAL took an early lead via goals from Federico Di Francesco and Andrea Petagna, but La Dea halved the deficit in the 34th minute, with Gosens charging past Marco D’Alessandro at the far post, latching onto Hans Hateboer’s cross, and firing a bullet header past former teammate Etrit Berisha in goal. Atalanta would go on to complete the comeback via a brace from second-half substitute Luis Muriel, holding on for a 3-2 victory.

That performance against SPAL set the tone for the rest of the campaign, as Gosens provided 10 goals and 8 assists in 43 appearances, leading Atalanta to the Champions League quarter-finals and a third-place finish in Serie A. He has continued his upward slope in Bergamo this season with 2 goals and 2 assists in 11 appearances for Atalanta, who advanced to the knockout round after defeating Ajax in Amsterdam on Wednesday.

Gosens grew up a Schalke fan, but in light of the German club’s financial difficulties, he has written off a move to Gelsenkirchen. Currently valued at €27 million by Transfermarkt, he is set to land Atalanta a hefty profit in the coming months, but only time will tell if he secures his dream move to the Bundesliga or joins a different league. Nevertheless, with his contract set to expire in 2022, it seems a near-certainty that Gosens will earn a big move to one of Europe’s biggest clubs in next summer’s transfer window.


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