Why losing Yves Bissouma to 1996 Coca Cola Cup winners Aston Villa is not as unlikely as it may sound
Shall we talk about Yves Bissouma? Everyone else seems to be with the Brighton midfielder being linked with a move away from the Amex in the January transfer window.
Those of you who have not heard where the rumour mill is sending him may be surprised by the destination. Over the past year remember, Bissouma has been linked with Arsenal, Manchester United, Liverpool, Manchester City, Real Madrid and Paris Saint Germain.
So, who are the gossip pages saying is going to be his next club? Aston Villa. Yeah, that Aston Villa. The Aston Villa below Brighton in the Premier League table.
Who have finished lower than the Albion in the footballing pyramid for all but one of the past six seasons. And whose fans believe they are one of the greatest clubs in the country still despite their last piece of silverware being the 1996 Coca Cola Cup.
It is easy to scoff at the idea of Bissouma moving to Villa. I have just proven that in the previous paragraph. Many Albion supporters have done a passable impression of the Laughing Policeman, guffawing at those pushing their Bissouma to Villa narrative. Why would be go there?!
But the worrying, uncomfortable truth is that there is every chance Bissouma could move to Villa, if not in January then in the summer. The Malian is out of contract in June 2023.
If no new deal is agreed, then Brighton have only two-and-a-half transfer windows in which to sell before they risk seeing a player who could fetch them tens of millions of pounds walk away for nothing.
Brighton fans have put forward many reasons as to why Bissouma to Villa is a non-starter, all of which can be dismissed quite easily. First, the comparisons to the Ben White situation in the summer of 2020. The theory goes that Tony Bloom would not sell White to Leeds United as they were a direct rival. Why then would he sell Bissouma to Villa who are similar?
White was under a long-term contract with three years still to run when Leeds came bidding. Brighton had no need to sell no matter what Leeds offered. If Villa come in with an offer of £40 million in January – something they could easily afford thanks to their Jack Grealish windfall and rich Chinese owners - Tony Bloom has a very different decision to make.
Bloom faces a difficult choice. If Bissouma has shown no indication of signing a new contract for Brighton, does Bloom extract the maximum he can for Brighton's star player as soon as possible? Or keep him, watch his contract run down and with it the amount a buying club will be willing to pay?
Foreign clubs can open talks about a free transfer when a player enters their final six months, so if Real or PSG retain an interest then they could begin negotiations direct with Bissouma this time next year.
For a player the Albion might have received £60 million for if a bid had been forthcoming last summer, Bloom will surely not take the latter of those options. Better to get £40 million in the bank now and reinvest that in reinforcements than nothing at all.
Say Brighton do accept a bid from Villa. The next argument about him leaving stems from it looking a sideways move. As already noted, the Albion are above Steven Gerrard’s mob in the table. Brighton are also the club who gave Bissouma his chance in English football, turned him from a rough diamond into one of the best defensive midfielders in the Premier League.
They have stuck by him through publicised off-the-pitch issues, which may yet be suitably off-putting to potential suitors that none decide to follow up their interest with a firm bid. That adds another layer of complication to the situation.
Given all of that, you would hope Bissouma retains some loyalty to Brighton. No doubt Southampton fans felt exactly the same about Danny Ings. The striker had revitalised his career at St Mary's, becoming a regular in the England squad after an injury hit time at Liverpool.
Ings thanked them by leaving for Villa Park in a cut-price sale the Saints were pressured to make as he entered the final year of his contract. A familiar story could play out 96 miles along the south coast in Sussex.
There is the Gerrard factor too. Graham Potter is clearly liked by his players and an up-and-coming young coach. Might though the opportunity to work with one of the finest midfielders of the past 50 years be a draw for Bissouma?
If Gerrard has the coaching ability to impart his knowledge and playing talent onto Bissouma, then it could be the catalyst he needs to take the next step and become one of the best box-to-box midfielders in the world.
Ultimately, Bissouma’s decision is most likely to come down to cold, hard cash. Villa have much more of it than Brighton and that makes them an attractive proposition. Football fans tend to have a more romantic view beyond a bank balance, forgetting that most players have no attachment to the club they play for. They are here to take a wage. It is an employer-employee relationship.
With Bissouma away at AFCON for the next few weeks, it seems unlikely that his situation – be it a new contract or the Albion reluctantly agreeing to sell – will be sorted until towards the end of the January window, if it all.
Bissouma joining Villa is obviously the worst case scenario for how this situation pans out. The best is that he signs a new Brighton deal, respecting what Brighton have done for his career and that they have supported him in every way possible.
The most likely? Villa make an offer for Brighton and it sparks a bidding war. The likes of United, City, Liverpool and Arsenal decide they cannot pass up the opportunity to get a player of Bissouma's quality at a cheaper price compared to the fees being bandied about last summer.
If Bissouma is to leave, nobody would begrudge him a move to one of the biggest clubs in the world. He has earned it and he deserves it. To lose him to Villa though would be disappointing, but a sign of the times – where cold hard cash (and the 1996 Coca Cola Cup) remains the biggest draw of all.
This is a good read: Brighton transfer widow current state of play