Can Premier League Champions Leicester City keep their Fantasy Stars ?
The rumour mill stops for nothing, not even Leicester City winning the Premier League.
Leicester stars such as N’Golo Kanté and Riyad Mahrez are already being linked with moves away from the new champions, even before they have got their hands on the league trophy.
Claudio Ranieri may also have to field offers for striker Jamie Vardy, who set a new Premier League record by scoring in 11 successive league games earlier in the season.
Mahrez and Vardy in particular have been brilliant fantasy football players this year, but who could Leicester lose in the summer, and where might they move?
Mahrez appears to be the player Leicester are most vulnerable to being forced to sell, with the recently-crowned Player of the Year being linked with some of Europe’s top clubs.
It is no wonder the sharks are sniffing around the Algerian international, as 17 goals and 11 assists have made him a must-pick for daily fantasy football players for most of the season.
Mahrez’s agent Kamel Bengougam says it is “50/50 at the moment whether he stays or goes”, adding: “We have interest from the UK and overseas.”
Barcelona scouts are thought to have watched Mahrez, but it is hard to see how he would displace Lionel Messi, Neymar or Luis Suárez in the fabled MSN front line at Barça.
Should Mahrez prefer to stay in the Premier League, Arsenal and Manchester United are reported to be interested, although it would no doubt take a gigantic fee to prise him away from the King Power Stadium with a Champions League campaign on the horizon.
Mahrez cost €450,000 to sign from Le Havre in 2014 and at 25 he might sense this is the right time to make the step up to a huge club, with a fee as high as £35 million mooted for the winger.
Kanté has already been making noises about leaving the club in the summer and it has been widely reported that the French international has a £19.6m release clause in his contract.
Unless Leicester can persuade the defensive midfielder to sign a new deal it looks likely he will move on in the summer, especially if he catches the eye on home soil for France at Euro 2016.
Leicester’s vice-chairman Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha insists the club will fight to hold on to its star players, but the reality is that even after winning the Premier League and qualifying for the Champions League, the Foxes will be unable to match the wages rival clubs can offer.
“We are not a team who produces players to be developed later by other teams,” Srivaddhanaprabha said.
“All players want to stay and keep on fighting together to see how far they can go. So selling players is not on our agenda.”
Chelsea, Arsenal and Paris Saint-Germain are thought to be interested in Kanté, who has been the dominant midfielder in the Premier League since his £5.6 million move from Caen last year.
Vardy is possibly the most likely of Leicester’s three biggest stars to stay at the club.
At the age of 29, few clubs are likely to offer the kind of money that would tempt Leicester to cash in on the record-breaking goalscorer, due to the fact such a deal would have little resale value.
But Vardy’s 22 goals, as well as his six assists, will have put him on the radar of Europe’s elite and should he have a successful Euro 2016 with England, Leicester may well have a fight on their hands to keep him at the club.
What’s for sure is that should Leicester sell Vardy, they would make a huge profit on a player they paid £1 million to buy from Fleetwood Town, who were at that point a non-league side. Vardy also signed a new contract to boost his pay packet to a reported £80,000 a week three months ago.
Vardy’s story is a familiar one by now, from factory shop floor to Premier League champion, but are there even more chapters to be written?
After five years at Leicester, Kasper Schmeichel may think it is time to move on having followed in the footsteps of his father Peter, who also won his first Premier League title at the age of 29.
Schmeichel has had the benefit of playing behind one of the best defences in the country, but he has also come to his side’s rescue on a number of occasions with fine saves.
Like Vardy, the fee spent on Schmeichel – £1.25 million to sign him from Leeds United – now looks a fraction of his current value, but it is hard to believe any of the top clubs in the Premier League would see the Dane as an improvement on the goalkeepers they already have in their squads.
Kanté’s midfield partner Danny Drinkwater has kept Gökhan Inler out of the Leicester City team all season, with his tough tackling and willingness to spring rapid counter-attacks with early balls over the top for Vardy to chase a massive part of the Foxes’ tactics.
Drinkwater is now a full England international and will be hoping to be selected for Euro 2016, where he would have the chance to catch the eye of top clubs from around Europe.
However, one doubt about Drinkwater might be how the 26-year-old would perform without the Duracell Bunny that is Kanté alongside him in a deep-lying midfield two, but Drinkwater’s seven assists this season are bettered at Leicester only by Mahrez.