Ligue 1 transfer targets: Strasbourg’s Mohamed Simakan, Lille’s Renato Sanches, Lyon’s Memphis Depay and more

The January transfer window is quickly arriving, and France promises once again to be a busy shopping site for a variety of reasons.

With the collapse of the Mediapro television rights deal and the impact of Brexit on Premier League clubs’ ability to buy French talent in abundance adding to the obvious issue of reduced matchday income because of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, Ligue 1 clubs will be looking to cash in — if possible.

As a host of notable names approach the ends of their contracts, those French clubs could look to bring in a fee now to avoid losing star names for nothing in the summer.

Here are a few players to keep an eye on in France this window.

Memphis Depay, Lyon

Out of contract this summer and unlikely to extend his current deal at Groupama Stadium, Olympique Lyonnais are in a more difficult position when it comes to Depay than the in-demand Houssem Aouar, who is under contract until 2023.

On the one hand, they are challenging for the Ligue 1 title for the first time in years with a very realistic possibility of pushing a sluggish Paris Saint-Germain all the way. On the other, Barcelona already wanted to bring in the Netherlands international last summer when Ronald Koeman took over. Sources have indicated to CBS Sports that the interest in acquiring Depay — from Camp Nou and beyond — remains.

OL will be unable to demand a significant transfer fee for the 26-year-old because of his expiring deal, French football’s economic landscape and the relatively limited resources of interested parties like Barca. However, it is now or never to cash in on Depay, potentially save some money on the remainder of his contract to either fund other extensions or an addition to the squad.

Karl Toko Ekambi and Tino Kadewere’s prolific form thus far this season suggests that Les Gones could survive Depay’s departure in terms of goals (eight already this season) but is the former Manchester United man willing to turn his back on a potential Ligue 1 title win?

Julian Draxler, PSG

With PSG mulling over contract extensions for Angel Di Maria and the injured Juan Bernat, Julian Draxler could find himself exiting Parc des Princes this January as the deal is also approaching its end.

Sporting director Leonardo has already cut ties with the costly Jese Rodriguez and the Brazilian has been trying to move the Germany international since his return to Paris back in the summer of 2019.

Sources tell CBS Sports that PSG remain keen on moving Draxler out after a failed move to Hertha Berlin last winter and again this past summer, but the 27-year-old’s market is limited with little in the way of performances to justify his sizeable salary — not to mention a transfer fee.

Should Les Parisiens be unable to move Draxler on, Leonardo could try to utilise the former Schalke 04 and VfL Wolfsburg man as part of an offer for another player which was what he tried — and was initially accepted — with Layvin Kurzawa for Juventus’ Mattia De Sciglio last January.

PSG have been credited with an interest in Inter Milan’s Christian Eriksen and Tottenham Hotspur’s Dele Alli by CBS Sports’ insider Fabrizio Romano, so Draxler could be used as a potential swap option as the Italians have shown interest in him previously.

Kurzawa, Leandro Paredes and Idrissa Gueye are other candidates for similar use, but Draxler is firmly at the top of the pile given the Frenchman’s importance with Bernat still injured and an already light midfield.

Renato Sanches, Lille

The impact of the Mediapro collapse and COVID-19 on French football is already being felt and Lille OSC were sold to Callisto Sporting S.à.r.l., owned by Merlyn Partners last week in the first of what is expected to be a number of examples of clubs bringing in new investors or owners selling up entirely.

Former Rennes president Olivier Letang is now in place as LOSC’s new president and he arrives just in time for the January transfer window with a number of players expected to attract offers after a good first half of the season at Stade Pierre Mauroy.

Before Merlyn’s arrival, Sanches had been the main candidate for a January move after resurrecting his career under Christophe Galtier’s expert tutelage. The Portugal international refused to commit his long-term future to Les Dogues when questioned about it in November.

“I do not know if I will be here next season,” he said during a press conference. “I am happy here and I feel good at the club. I am also under contract for three more years. We will see come the end of the season.”

The feeling that Sanches, now 23, was preparing the ground for a potential move grew when Lille’s financial difficulties came to light ahead of Merlyn’s purchase of the club and Letang’s claims that “economic balance” is needed as well as the “best possible team” danced around the topic of sales.

Sources have told CBS Sports that there is nothing advanced — nor even close — between Liverpool and Sanches, but that there is a need to find the former Bayern Munich and Benfica man a new club because he does not want to stay with Lille.  

Turkish pair Yusuf Yazici and Zeki Celik as well as French attacker Jonathan Bamba are also possible sacrificial lambs as LOSC search for some financial stability without losing their competitive edge domestically or on the continent.

Mohamed Simakan, Strasbourg

One of the best young players in Europe potentially available this January is Strasbourg’s Mohamed Simakan with the central defender attracting the interest of a number of clubs, notably Serie A leaders AC Milan.

Having seen him perform very well despite Racing’s 4-0 defeat away at PSG in the final round of Ligue 1 matches in 2020, it is easy to see why the likes of the Italian giants want him: he is young, strong, composed and a real presence at the back for Thierry Laurey’s men.

Considering the current conditions French football clubs are faced with and Strasbourg’s battle to survive in France’s topflight this season, now could be the moment for a club like Milan to move for Simakan and secure an important part of their future at a very reasonable price.

His sale could fund additions to the French outfit’s squad that play an important role in survival and his signing could make the difference as Milan push for success in Serie A, the UEFA Europa League and the Coppa Italia.

Honorable mentions

Lyon, PSG and Lille are not the only clubs who could look to do business this winter window as OGC Nice, Olympique de Marseille AS Saint-Etienne, Stade Brestois 29 and Dijon FCO could also move talent on at the right price.

Nice’s disappointing start to the campaign has already claimed Patrick Vieira’s job and being out of the Europa League could push the British-owned club to cash in on one of its most talented players with Amine Gouiri currently excelling and Youcef Atal a regular on European transfer shortlists.

Marseille are in title contention but have financial concerns that predate Mediapro and COVID-19 while coach Andre Villas-Boas is also crying out for attacking reinforcements. Offers for peripheral figures such as the well-paid Kevin Strootman and Morgan Sanson will be welcomed.

Dijon are rooted to the foot of the Ligue 1 table and the gamble to keep Mounir Chouiar at the club in the face of significant interest has backfired as the 21-year-old has not scored all term and has only managed a pair of assists — he might have to be sacrificed to fund survival reinforcements.

Brest are comfortably midtable at present and have a number of talented young players who could make for smart winter pickups by a host of European clubs with goalkeeper Gautier Larsonneur, left-back Romain Perraud and forward Irvin Cardona all key performers.

Saint-Etienne are having a tough time of it with Claude Puel struggling to breathe new life into one of French football’s most historic clubs and key to that process is finding landing points for underperforming big earners Wahbi Khazri and unwanted goalkeeper Stephane Ruffier — not easy.