This transfer window has been incredible. Given the challenges of the last 18 months amid the COVID-19 pandemic and the financial crisis that has ensued as a result, nobody really thought anything would happen at all.
According to Transfermarkt, the English Premier League led the way by spending €1.35 billion this summer (almost as much as Barcelona‘s debt), while there were 248 arrivals, and some of the mega-deals that happened this window blew us away.
Just in the Premier League we had Romelu Lukaku moving to Chelsea for €115m; Cristiano Ronaldo, Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane joining Man United for a combined €141m; Man City landing Jack Grealish for €120m; while Arsenal spent the most of all the clubs in England (€165m) on six players.
In Europe, Italian Serie A teams spent €549m, German Bundesliga €416m, French Ligue 1 €384m, while Spanish LaLiga saw €229m worth of business, which would have been increased by around €200m if PSG had accepted Real Madrid‘s late offer for Kylian Mbappe.
Elsewhere, there were also some incredibly high-profile free transfers around Europe: Lionel Messi, Sergio Ramos, Gianluigi Donnarumma and Georginio Wijnaldum heading to PSG; Sergio Aguero, Memphis Depay and Eric Garcia joining Barcelona; David Alaba to Real Madrid and Hakan Calhanoglu crossing the Milan divide to join Inter.
It’s not often you get giants like Ronaldo and Messi moving clubs in the same window, so fans have really been in for a treat since July 1. Here, we pull out the clubs and players who have won and lost the window.
The Parisian giants, who are backed by owners from Qatar‘s ruling family, have enjoyed one of the best transfer windows in modern times. The free transfer of six-time Ballon d’Or winner Messi from Barcelona is undoubtedly the icing on the cake, but landing arguably the best young goalkeeper in the world, Donnarumma, alongside possibly the best right-back around in Achraf Hakimi, has seen them make other spectacular signings. Adding Wijnaldum, Ramos and young left-back Nuno Mendes means that PSG have assembled half a squad of world beaters within the space of a few summer months for a net sum of €72m. Now the pressure is on not only to regain the Ligue 1 title, but also to finally claim the Champions League.
Oh, and they also managed to keep hold of star forward Mbappe by rejecting a €200m bid from Real Madrid just over a year before he can move on a free transfer. Time will tell if that was smart, but they will reap the rewards this season at least.
With a happy ending to the year-long Sancho saga and the arrival of a world-class centre-back in Raphael Varane from Real Madrid, it would already have been a more than decent transfer window at Old Trafford even before the arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo. However, the 36-year-old’s return to the club does increase the pressure on United. Gone are the days of playing down expectations and manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer faces a new challenge in managing his former teammate and for the first time having to possibly shoehorn players into his first XI. The exit of winger Daniel James to Leeds also proved good business for the club.
Julien Laurens debates how Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will utilise Cristiano Ronaldo at Manchester United.
The club went into the market with the aim of consolidating a Champions League winning squad brimming with potential. Lukaku fit the bill for a top-level centre-forward of proven quality and, while the pursuit of Jules Kounde — a brilliant defender who would strengthen practically any team in Europe — stalled due to Sevilla’s desire to hold out for €80m, Thomas Tuchel has already shaped the Chelsea defence into a tight, well-functioning unit. The loan signing of the Atletico Madrid midfielder Saul Niguez, a fine utility player who can fill in at several midfield roles, was a late bonus, and the club did good business to move on Tammy Abraham (€40m), Kurt Zouma (€30m) and a host of others to come out with around a €2m profit.
Although none of the summer signings have grabbed any headlines yet, Leicester have stuck to their guns by focusing on the segment they know the best: up-and-coming players with high potential from European leagues. Few other clubs can sniff out value better than Brendan Rodgers’ scouting team, and the arrival of Lille midfielder Boubakary Soumare and FC Salzburg striker Patson Daka follows the pattern of previous transfer windows. Leicester also moved swiftly to sign Denmark international Jannik Vestergaard, a decent defender who’s familiar with the Premier League after a spell at Southampton, when Wesley Fofana was injured in preseason.
Unlike Harry Kane, Grealish did eventually get his way by signing for Manchester City. Arguably more of a luxury signing — the prerogative of the ultra-rich clubs — than an essential addition for a team that already boasts plenty of quality forward options. Rather than stirring up too much of a fuss, Aston Villa immediately went out to spend the €120m windfall on a proven Premier League striker (Danny Ings), creativity from the wide areas (Emiliano Buendia) and pacey Bayern Leverkusen forward Leon Bailey. So it was win-win for both player and his former club.
Julien Laurens questions why Barcelona look set to improve a direct rival with nothing in return for Antoine Griezmann.
Huge debts of €1.35bn, internal instability and the rigid implementation of financial controls by the Spanish league contributed to the unthinkable happening: Messi, arguably the greatest player ever, left Barcelona after 21 years to join Paris Saint-Germain. And on a free transfer, too. In a further blow for one of the world’s most prestigious clubs, the embarrassment over the late registration of their incoming signings — Aguero, Memphis and Eric Garcia — is yet more evidence of the current chaos surrounding the club. As a result, they let Emerson Royal leave for €25m after only signing him this summer, and sent Antoine Griezmann back to title rivals Atletico Madrid on loan just to get him off the wage bill because they failed to move on the likes of Samuel Umtiti and Miralem Pjanic.
One saving grace was that senior players Gerard Pique, Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba agreed to take pay cuts to help the club’s finances, but Barcelona had one of the worst windows in history, and signs are that things aren’t really going to improve in the near future.
The England captain was forced to stay at Spurs after having his efforts to move to Manchester City scotched by chairman Daniel Levy — or perhaps by the champions’ unwillingness to pay the £150m required to sign him. The silver lining for Kane is that he is back in a Spurs side with a 100% record, sitting top of the Premier League table after three games. And as with other stars who have flirted with rival clubs, scoring a few goals — particularly in the North London derby in a few weeks’ time — is a sure way of mending relationships. Spurs themselves can look back on a decent transfer period. In addition to keeping Kane, their defence has been significantly improved with the arrivals of Emerson Royal and Cristian Romero, while Son Heung-Min signed a new contract, too.
Not quite as badly hit as Barcelona, Inter have been faced with well-publicised financial difficulties, and it was no surprise that this summer was going to present challenges for the Serie A champions. The biggest loss was undoubtedly head coach Antonio Conte resigning at the end of their successful campaign — although the club have started the new season in a convincing fashion with six points from their two opening fixtures. Influential right wing-back Hakimi swiftly followed the head coach out the door to Paris Saint-German for €70m, while last season’s top scorer, Lukaku, joined Chelsea for €115m. Inter did manage to keep Lautaro Martinez and signed Denzel Dumfries, Joaquin Correa, Edin Dzeko and Hakan Calhanoglu, but their squad is weaker for sure.
Gab Marcotti and Julien Laurens are impressed by Willian’s decision to terminate his Arsenal contract.
Manager Mikel Arteta may have landed plenty of potential — Brighton’s Ben White and Bologna‘s Takehiro Tomiyasu are sharp, mobile defenders who are good on the ball — but spending €28m on backup goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale was excessive. The same can be said for the €40m spent on Real Madrid midfielder Martin Odegaard, which is more than Madrid paid for the far superior Eduardo Camavinga (€30m). Arsenal’s strategy of rejuvenating and reshaping their squad is certainly not a bad idea, but they only got a fee for one player, Joe Willock, and were lucky that the 33-year-old Willian rescinded his £100,000-a-week three-year contract to join Corinthians. However fine the talent they may bring in, questions remain over how they’ll develop in an unsettled environment. Three defeats from three Premier League games, with no goals scored, is a harsh way to start.
Despite being well aware of the financial constraints before accepting the manager’s job at Everton, Benitez must be left with a bitter taste at this transfer period. While his predecessors have enjoyed fat transfer budgets, Benitez must face the challenge of revitalising a squad that he has had little impact in building. He couldn’t even enjoy the potentially exciting return of Moise Kean, as a two-year loan of the Italian striker, back to Juventus, was formalised on Deadline Day. The arrival of wingers Demarai Gray and Andros Townsend and 31-year-old striker Salomon Rondon point to a club in trouble.