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Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi the drivers of change in a summer like no other | Football News

Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Romelu Lukaku were among the big movers

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In the final few days of last season, UEFA released a report which estimated the Covid-19 pandemic had cost European clubs £7.5billion.

The 112-page document examined how the pandemic had disrupted the transfer market and detailed the ways in which top-level football would have to adapt to a new financial climate.

In the three months since, however, Europe’s elite have ripped up the script.

Lionel Messi to Paris Saint-Germain. Cristiano Ronaldo to Manchester United. Romelu Lukaku to Chelsea.

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Despite the unprecedented financial losses of the pandemic, the transfer window has been one of big clubs and big players making big moves. It has been a summer like no other.

New era for Messi, Ronaldo

Lionel Messi, right, and PSG president Nasser Al-Al-Khelaifi hold Messi's jersey Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2021 at the Parc des Princes stadium in Paris.
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Lionel Messi poses with PSG president Nasser Al-Al-Khelaifi

At the end of last season, it was difficult to imagine that either of football’s biggest superstars would end up changing clubs before the start of the new one – let alone both of them.

Messi’s future appeared to lie at Barcelona. The Argentine had reached the end of his contract at Camp Nou but there was a verbal agreement in place for a five-year extension on reduced wages.

Ronaldo, meanwhile, still had 12 months left to run on the four-year deal he signed with Juventus in 2018.

The season had been a disappointing one for him, with Juventus exiting the Champions League at the last-16 stage and finishing fourth in Serie A, but an exit seemed improbable.

Until it wasn’t.

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Jamie Carragher believes Cristiano Ronlado will have a significant impact on the players in the Manchester United dressing room

Messi’s situation was first to change, the news of his departure – confirmed on August 5 by Barcelona president Joan Laporta, who cited “financial and structural obstacles” surrounding his new contract – sending shockwaves through the footballing world.

Within a few days, he had bid an emotional farewell to the club he joined at the age of 13 and signed a two-year contract with Paris Saint-Germain. “My dream is to win the Champions League once more,” he said at his unveiling in the French capital.

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Messi was the headline arrival at the Parc des Princes but he was not the only one. PSG also signed Sergio Ramos, Gianluigi Donnarumma, Georginio Wijnaldum and Achraf Hakimi.

The club’s Qatari owners then provided a further demonstration of their financial might by rejecting Real Madrid’s £189m offer for Kylian Mbappe, a player they stand to lose for nothing in under a year.

PSG
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Paris Saint-Germain’s summer signings pose together at the Parc des Princes

Messi’s new adventure began alongside Mbappe as he came off the bench to make his debut in a 2-0 win over Reims on Sunday.

At the same time, his old rival was embarking on one of his own.

Ronaldo’s return to Old Trafford was something of a whirlwind, sealed in the space of barely 24 hours, and it may not have happened at all had their rivals Manchester City been successful in their efforts to sign Harry Kane from Tottenham.

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Tottenham striker Harry Kane has said he does not think his reputation has been tarnished following his transfer saga this summer

Instead, Kane’s confirmation that he was staying Spurs last week set in motion an extraordinary chain of events which saw Ronaldo sensationally agree to join City, only for United to hijack the deal and tempt him back to Old Trafford.

In the space of a few weeks, two blockbuster stories, involving the two biggest stars in the game, to define an extraordinary window.

Can PL’s big four be caught?

Chelsea's Romelu Lukaku reacts after the final whistle during the Premier League match at the Emirates Stadium, London.
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Chelsea paid £97.5m to re-sign Romelu Lukaku from Inter Milan

Ronaldo’s return to Manchester United continued a summer of heavy spending by the Premier League’s biggest clubs.

The Portuguese, winner of four Champions Leagues and four Ballon d’Ors since the end of his first spell at Old Trafford, is returning to a side already bolstered by the signings of Raphael Varane, his former Real Madrid team-mate, and Jadon Sancho.

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United finished 12 points behind champions Manchester City last summer and while central midfield remains an area of some concern, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer – who has now spent £441m since his appointment in late 2018 – can have few complaints about the backing he has received in this summer’s window.

Indeed, with Ronaldo spearheading his attack and Varane installed alongside Harry Maguire at the other end, the United boss is now equipped with a squad capable of bridging the gap to the top.

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Jamie Redknapp welcomes Cristiano Ronaldo’s return to the Premier League but wonders how Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will keep all his forwards happy

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He is not the only one, either.

Thomas Tuchel has already had a transformative impact at Chelsea, steering the Blues to Champions League glory just four months after his appointment, but now he can call on the £97.5m Lukaku too.

The Belgian, who scored on his debut against Arsenal, has provided an instant upgrade in Chelsea’s only problem position and is soon to be joined at the club by Atletico Madrid’s Saul Niguez, who will add depth and quality to an already formidable midfield.

Chelsea showed their title credentials at Anfield on Sunday, holding on for a 1-1 draw despite playing the entirety of the second half with 10 men, but Jurgen Klopp’s rejuvenated Liverpool side look a force to be reckoned with again too.

AP: Virgil van Dijk
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Virgil van Dijk has returned from injury for Liverpool

They have not spent like their rivals this summer, of course, with Ibrahima Konate the only major addition at £36m, but crucially they have welcomed the £75m Virgil van Dijk back into their defence, while Joel Matip and Joe Gomez have returned from injury too.

They will aim to wrestle the title back from Manchester City but Pep Guardiola’s champions have strengthened themselves.

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There will be no Kane to lead the line for Pep Guardiola; no Ronaldo either. But the £100m Jack Grealish gives them a new dimension in the final third and Saturday’s 5-0 thrashing of Arsenal was a reminder of just how good they already are.

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Manchester City broke their transfer record to sign Jack Grealish

It is Arsenal, of course, who have the biggest transfer spend among Premier League clubs this summer, with Bologna right-back Takehiro Tomiyasu becoming their sixth major addition of the window on Deadline Day and taking their total spent past £150m.

But events at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday were a reminder of the ground they have to make up. Arsenal are at the beginning of a rebuild but for now, bottom of the table after three games, a return to the Champions League places looks a distant fantasy.

Is it a realistic aim for any side given the strength of City, United, Chelsea and Liverpool? Tottenham and Leicester will try. West Ham too. But after a summer in which the best have got better, the challenge has become even greater for the rest.



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