Dani Ceballos has just spent most of the summer tearing teams apart with Spain at the European Under-21 Championship in Italy.
The Real Madrid midfielder made more key passes (14), registered the joint-highest number of assists (2) and completed the highest number of dribbles (19) of any player at the tournament, sitting nine clear of his nearest competitor in that final metric.
Running up those sorts of numbers and winning the competition as a whole means everything is just peachy for Ceballos, right? Not quite. For some mind-boggling reason, Zinedine Zidane doesn’t quite fancy this fleet-footed, perfect-passing playmaker and with Los Blancos spending eye-watering figures on the likes of Eden Hazard and Luka Jovic, he could potentially move on to help balance the books.
Of course, when a 22-year-old with Ceballos’ level of talent becomes available, clubs start queuing up to make a bid and the back pages go wild linking him with X, Y and Z.
So, without further ado, here are some of the dream, realistic and wildcard options available to the Spanish sensation this summer.
Liverpool notched up an incredible 97 points in the Premier League last season, finishing second only to Manchester City, while Jurgen Klopp’s men also beat Tottenham Hotspur 2-0 to win the Champions League final, capping off a remarkable season.
However, for all their attacking prowess and defensive cohesion, the Reds sorely lacked a dynamic playmaker in midfield who could consistently performance defence-splitting passes or create that moment of magic when their front three failed. Man City had that in abundance and in the end, that’s what cost Liverpool a first English league title since 1990.
This is a gap that’s needed filling since the sale of Philippe Coutinho to Barcelona in January 2018 and Ceballos could be the perfect player to step in.
The Spaniard is wonderful when playing in all aspects of a midfield three – the system which Klopp deploys at Anfield – and when Roberto Firmino drops deep to drag centre-backs out of position, Ceballos would be perfectly equipped to play expert passes to the onrushing Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane.
Dream: Remain at Real Madrid
Let’s face it, this is what he really wants. Ceballos must have thought he’d hit the jackpot when he moved to the Bernabeu from Real Betis in 2017 but thus far, it just hasn’t worked out for him.
However, he ranked second, third and fourth at Real Madrid in terms of passes ending in the final third per 90 minutes (26), chances created from open play per 90 minutes (1.73) and tackles per 90 minutes (2.31) respectively last season.
“The most important thing is that I want a very important path in Real Madrid.”
He’s showing all the hallmarks of being the ultimate all-rounder and quite why Zidane hasn’t trusted him to this point is a real mystery.
Squawka Suggests: Liverpool
Liverpool scored a whopping 89 Premier League goals last season, with only Man City (95) scoring more. However, 14 of those goals came from set pieces – no team ranked higher than the Reds here – while another six came on the end of fast breaks.
Not a single one of Klopp’s midfielders appeared in the top 44 in the Premier League for chances created from open play in that position last season, while City had the division’s top two in this metric: Bernardo Silva (68) and David Silva (65).
Ceballos created an average of 1.73 chances from open play per 90 minutes in La Liga during 2018/19, at least 0.38 higher than any Liverpool midfielder to start a Premier League game last season.
Klopp needs to remedy his creative midfield problem if Liverpool are to go toe-to-toe with City once again next season. With his vision, passing range and robust edge, Ceballos could be the perfect fit, and Liverpool will offer him far more game time than Real Madrid.
Realistic: Tottenham Hotspur
Although their league form slipped, resulting in them barely hanging on to fourth-place, Spurs can look back on a wonderful 2018/19 campaign with immense pride, having reached their first-ever Champions League final.
That said, the Lilywhites face an uncertain future with star playmaker Christian Eriksen being heavily linked with a move to Real Madrid this summer.
Even if the Denmark international remains at the new White Hart Lane, Mauricio Pochettino will want to strengthen his squad and add depth in all areas of the pitch, with his players being stretched to their limits last season thanks to a series of injuries and suspensions.
Patchy form from Dele Alli, doubts over Eric Dier’s true ability to anchor a midfield, Harry Winks’ injury problems and a complete lack of mobility from Victor Wanyama mean Spurs need to bring in an all-rounder. Moussa Sissoko performed this task brilliantly last term but even he isn’t the most accomplished footballer.
According to Marca, the north Londoners are the current favourites to sign Ceballos should he leave the Santiago Bernabeu, and a move here would make total sense. The 22-year-old ticks all of the above boxes and given that Spurs have just shelled out on Tanguy Ndombele, they may not want to spend big again this summer. In fact, reports suggest Daniel Levy has called off their hunt for Real Betis playmaker, Giovani Lo Celso.
The loan move Real Madrid are reportedly seeking for Ceballos would suit Daniel Levy down to the ground.
Staying in north London, Arsenal are also another English club to be linked with Ceballos.
With Aaron Ramsey off to Juventus, Mesut Ozil having a pretty underwhelming 2018/19 by his standards and Denis Suarez winning the award for ‘Worst Loan of All Time’, Unai Emery is crying out for some dynamism in midfield.
Unlike Spurs, the Gunners are said to be seeking a permanent deal – possibly as they’re still feeling stung from the Suarez deal – and while Ceballos himself has expressed a desire to leave his return to Real Madrid open, he may not have a choice.
Emery’s style suits Ceballos perfectly, and shielded by the likes of Granit Xhaka and Lucas Torreira, he could truly throw off the shackles and show Zidane just what creative brilliance he let go.
The all-but guaranteed place in Arsenal’s starting XI will be mightily tempting to Ceballos.
Squawka suggests: Arsenal
Sure, it will require dropping out of the Champions League for at least one season, but Ceballos and Arsenal feel like a match-made-in-heaven.
Ceballos ticks all the boxes required by Emery, with his 1.73 chances created from open play per 90 minutes only bettered by Ozil (1.86) and the nominal winger, Alex Iwobi (1.83) in Arsenal’s midfield. Furthermore, Ozil was the only Arsenal midfielder to complete more passes ending in the final third per 90 minutes (30.19) than Ceballos (26) last season.
And from the other perspective, Arsenal also tick all the boxes required by Ceballos. Stylistically, the two fit like a glove, while the Spaniard would get the first team football he craves so much at the Emirates.
If you’re going to spend time away from Real Madrid but want to remain in their rearview mirror, potentially impressing Zidane into taking you back, it’s probably best to remain in Spain.
Ceballos has reportedly returned to Seville for his holidays, sparking rumours of a potential reunion with Julen Lopetegui.
And although the player himself has denied any knowledge of interest from the Andalusian club, he was very complimentary of Lopetegui and reaffirmed his stance regarding first team football.
“I like Lopetegui, he is a great Coach,” Ceballos told reporters.
“Interest from Sevilla and Monchi? I do not know, I do not know…I have nothing to say. I have not talked with him. I have said that I want to play 40 games on any team, because it is very important.”
Wildcard: AC Milan
Despite withdrawing from the 2019/20 Europa League due to breaching Financial Fair Play rules, AC Milan will be wanting to seriously strengthen their squad to try and sneak back into Serie A’s top four. But because of the aforementioned financial irregularities, they’re going to have to do that on a budget.
Reports in Italy suggest Milan are interested in bringing Ceballos to the San Siro and that the Rossoneri are actually his prefered destination.
To move to the Serie A giants, it would likely have to be a loan deal similar to that which would take him to Spurs, with Milan tightening the purse strings, but that suits both parties just fine, offering Ceballos his desired route back to the Bernabeu.
Squawka suggests: Sevilla
Even in their years of struggle, AC Milan are a wonderful club for any player to add to their CV but if Ceballos really wants to show Real Madrid what he can do, Sevilla is the place to go.
There, he will link up with his old Los Blancos manager Lopetegui, play Europa League football and join a team which has just lost its top chance creator for last season, Pablo Sarabia, to Paris Saint-Germain.
Ceballos outperformed Sarabia in successful dribbles per 90 minutes (1.01 – 0.92) and passes ending in the final third per 90 minutes (26 – 21.68) in La Liga last season and could quickly and cost-effectively solve the Andalusian’s creative gap heading into the new campaign.