Crystal Palace are reportedly lining up a possible £12 million bid for Marseille’s Japanese defender Hiroki Sakai ahead the 28-year-old’s appearance in the World Cup.
With Timothy Fosu-Mensah having returned to Manchester United following the conclusion of his loan deal and long-time Palace regular Joel Ward seemingly set to leave the club when his contract expires at the end of June, Roy Hodgson is in need of reinforcements on the right side of his back four.
Admittedly, academy product Aaron Wan-Bissaka looks to be a real star but having only made a total of seven first-team appearances for the Eagles last term, it would be ridiculous to expect him to carry the burden of playing 40 or more games for us over the course of a full campaign.
Whilst I readily admitted to not knowing a great deal about Sakai’s career to date when the story first broke on Twitter yesterday, the information I have uncovered since then has left me feeling as though he’ll be a solid if slightly unspectacular addition to Roy Hodgson’s defensive ranks.
At 28 years old, the 6’0 full-back appears to be the very definition of a grafter for Marseille. Having initially broken into the professional game with Kashiwa Reysol in his native Japan, Sakai went on to spend four years with Hannover 96 between 2012-16 before moving to Marseille that summer, where he has been a regular ever since.
Despite now being looked upon as “one of the best right-backs in Ligue 1” (The Guardian’s words not mine) there is a belief from those behind the scenes that Marseille would sanction a sale, were Palace to meet the £12 million valuation. Drawing on the love Palace fans have for hard-working players, I can certainly see Sakai becoming something of a cult hero in SE25 but with plenty of other clubs said to be interested in him alongside us, it’s probably best not to get too attached just yet.
Given the seemingly imminent departure of Lee Chung-Yong, it’s also worth pointing out that Hiroki would offer us a fresh presence within the Asian market, potentially boosting interest in the club from across Japan, should he sign on the dotted line. Of course, things like this won’t factor greatly into the decision of Roy Hodgson but for those looking after the club coffers, any possible jump in merchandising revenue will be more than welcome.
We’ll post any further updates as and when they come.