Concerns have been raised within the Belgium squad that players may have been distracted before Friday’s eagerly anticipated Euro 2016 quarter-final against Wales as they negotiate transfers to further their club careers.
The club future of a number of key players in Marc Wilmots’s squad is up in the air. Chelsea were permitted to send a member of their medical staff to the team’s base in Bordeaux on Wednesday, just 48 hours before the last-eight clash in Lille, to conduct basic medical tests on the striker Michy Batshuayi, before his proposed €40m (£33.2m) move to Stamford Bridge.
The forward’s club, Marseille, are under pressure to balance their books and deliver on the budget presented to the French league’s financial watchdog, prompting them to request that the deal be concluded this week. Belgium’s management, in stark contrast to the Football Association, which had been privately unimpressed to discover Jamie Vardy agreed a new contract with Leicester City during the team’s stay in France, duly agreed.
Yet the issue has been talked about by members of the squad concerned that focus may be blurred as players spend time discussing moves with their representatives. Another of Wilmots’s players, the right-back Thomas Meunier, was granted time away from the squad on Wednesday to conduct a full medical with Paris Saint-Germain. The Club Brugge defender will replace Gregory van der Wiel at the French champions and was due to return to the team hotel, Golf du Médoc, on Wednesday evening.
Another player in the squad, the Liverpool forward Christian Benteke, is drawing strong interest from Crystal Palace – whose bid for Batshuayi had been accepted by Marseille earlier in the week before Chelsea’s offer emerged – as he prepares to leave Anfield after only a year. Liverpool are aware that Palace can meet Benteke’s wage demands but will be seeking at least £30m for a player who cost marginally more, at £32.5m, when joining from Aston Villa last summer. It remains to be seen whether the London club will meet that asking price but Alan Pardew is keen to prioritise the addition of the forward having sanctioned Dwight Gayle’s departure to Newcastle United for an initial £8.5m. The north-east club are also closing in on the signing of Matt Ritchie from Bournemouth.
Although Batshuayi was excused an appearance at a press conference on Wednesday evening, Wilmots has not prevented his players discussing club matters, or moves, over the tournament to date.
The midfielder Radja Nainggolan has been asked regularly about his potential transfer to Chelsea – discussions over that move have reached deadlock with Roma – and Romelu Lukaku has twice spoken about his future at Everton. The coach also granted his squad Tuesday afternoon off, allowing Batshuayi to liaise with his agent after the late emergence of Chelsea’s offer. The 22-year-old will complete a fuller medical back at Cobham once Belgium’s involvement in the tournament has concluded and sign a five-year contract. Batshuayi scored 17 goals in Ligue 1 last season and will become the most expensive sale in Marseille’s history, eclipsing the fee they raised when selling Didier Drogba to Chelsea in 2004, though the player’s former club, Standard Liège, are due 35% of the fee through a previous clause. He departs the Stade Vélodrome having scored 33 goals in 78 appearances for the club.
He will become Antonio Conte’s first signing for Chelsea and, although his arrival eases the pressure to add further to the front-line following the departures of the loanees Radamel Falcao and Alexandre Pato, there remains the possibility the London club could maintain their pursuit of Spain’s Álvaro Morata, now back at Real Madrid, as they seek to bolster their options. Morata would cost in the region of £40m, but any interest in re-signing Lukaku appears to have petered out.
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