Top 10 Transfers of 2020/2021
By Zach Lowy
It has been a transfer window like none other, with front offices scrambling to find creative ways to reinforce their squads whilst coping with the economic ramifications from the COVID-19 pandemic. Here are Bet Central’s top 10 (unranked) transfers of the 2020/21 summer window.
Leroy Sané to Bayern Munich
In the summer of 2019, two behemoths departed Bayern Munich. Franck Ribéry and Arjen Robben, who had spent the past decade dominating the flanks and forming one of the deadliest wing duos in history, departed the Bavarian club. The former joined Fiorentina on a free and the latter briefly retiring before returning to boyhood club Groningen one year later. Their respective exits were eased by the emergence of Serge Gnabry, but it was clear they still needed another winger. They turned their eyes to Manchester City’s Leroy Sané, who was agitating for a move back to his home country after falling down Pep Guardiola’s pecking order. But just when it seemed Bayern were ready to pay a club record fee for the German winger, he sustained a torn ACL in the FA Community Shield against Liverpool, ruling him out for the majority of the season.
As he entered the final 12 months of his existing deal, Sané refused a contract extension, forcing City to sell the 24-year-old for under the odds; Bayern purchased him for €45 million rising to a potential €60 million with add-ons. In his first official game for Bayern, he scored a goal and two assists against Schalke, where he first broke through as a teenager before joining City in 2016. While his recent spell of injuries are a major concern for Bayern — he is set to miss the next three weeks after sustaining a knee injury against Hoffenheim — there is little doubt that, on his best day, Sané has the power and technique to wreak havoc against any defence in football.
Ignatius Ganago to Lens
Born in Douala, Cameroon, Ignatius Ganago ascended the ranks of the École de Football Brasseries du Cameroun. It’s the same academy that produced the likes of Samuel Eto’o and Vincent Aboubakar. This was before Ganago joined Nice in 2017. However, he failed to nail down a place in Patrick Vieira’s starting eleven, scoring just six goals in 52 appearances in Ligue 1. Therafter he moved to Lens for €6 million.
In their first season in the top flight in six years, Lens are fifth in the table after seven matchdays. And it’s thanks in no small part to their Cameroonian forward. After failing to find the back of the net against his former club on matchday one, Ganago opened his tally against the defending champions. Capitalizing on an errant pass from Paris Saint-Germain goalkeeper Marcin Bułka, Ganago held off an onrushing Marco Verratti before slamming the ball into the top right corner of the net. It was the only goal of the game.
He scored in each of the next three fixtures against Lorient, Bordeaux and Nîmes, forming a marvellous attacking trident with Florian Sotoca and Gaël Kakuta. While he did not score against Saint-Étienne, he did set up the opening goal, sauntering into the penalty box before falling victim to a horror tackle from Timothée Kolodziejczak for a penalty.
At 21 years old, Ganago is well on his way to becoming Cameroon’s next top striker.
Achraf Hakimi to Inter
Following the appointment of Antonio Conte as manager last summer, Inter switched from the 4-2-3-1 under Luciano Spalletti to a 3-5-2. In general, the first season was a positive one: Inter finished second in Serie A and lost in the Europa League Final to Sevilla. However, they failed to claim silverware due to a variety of reasons, one of them being their lack of dynamism and athleticism at wing-back. Despite acquiring Valentino Lazaro and Ashley Young, as well as bringing in Victor Moses and Cristiano Biraghi on loan deals, both wing-back positions were often a liability. Especially in big games for Inter, with the players struggling to play out of the press and provide requisite attacking output up the field.
Enter: Achraf Hakimi. The Madrid-born Morocco international developed into one of the most dangerous wing-backs in Europe at Borussia Dortmund. Over the past two seasons, playing on the right flank of Lucien Favre’s 3-4-2-1 and creating a masterful partnership with Jadon Sancho. After returning from his loan in Germany, he found himself surplus to requirements at his boyhood club. Manager Zinedine Zidane preferred Dani Carvajal at right-back.
Beppe Marotta and Piero Ausilio pounced on this market opportunity, signing the 21-year-old for €40 million + €5 million in bonuses. Replacing the outgoing Antonio Candreva, Hakimi has impressed in the right wing-back position for Inter. He’s set up Romelu Lukaku’s late equalizer in a 4-3 victory against Fiorentina. He also added a goal and assist in a 5-2 thrashing of Benevento. There is little, if any doubt, that Inter have signed a player with the physical and technical abilities to dominate the flank for the next decade.
Axel Disasi to Monaco
After a historic 2016/17 season that saw them win the Ligue 1 title and advance to the semifinals of the UEFA Champions League, Monaco have suffered a decline in form. They narrowly avoided relegation in the 2018/19 season. They finished a slightly respectable, if not average ninth place in the 2019/20 season. Over the past two years, they have gone through four different managers: Leonardo Jardim (twice), Thierry Henry, Robert Moreno, and now, Niko Kovač.
One of the biggest causes of Monaco’s decline has been their leaky defence. They went from conceding 31 goals in their title-winning season, Monaco have let in 45, 57, and 44 goals over the past three seasons. The two central defenders who formed a rock-solid duo in 2016/17 have consistently dwindled in terms of performances. Kamil Glik was sold to newly-promoted Benevento on August 11, whilst Jemerson has been frozen out by Kovač. The club look to offload the Brazilian before his contract expires. To fix Monaco’s defensive woes, new sporting director Paul Mitchell has brought in Axel Disasi from Reims for €14 million plus €3 million in bonuses.
Disasi has formed a rock-solid duo with the teenage Benoît Badiashile in defence. The pair dominated the likes of Randal Kolo Muani and Serhou Guirassy. The 22-year-old is a physical behemoth who is reliable in the air and is a threat in set-pieces as well. He’s proving to be just what Monaco needed to fix their leaky backline. Reims, currently 19th, feel Disasi’s absence now more than ever, having conceded 10 goals in six matches.
James Rodríguez to Everton
2014 was a good year for James Rodríguez. After a breakthrough tournament in the FIFA World Cup, Real Madrid purchased the Colombian playmaker from Monaco for a reported £63 million. With Gareth Bale struggling with injuries during his second season in Spain, manager Carlo Ancelotti tweaked his formation to a 4-4-2, with Rodríguez dazzling on the right flank. However, after Ancelotti’s departure in the following summer, he never quite managed to recover his form in a trophy-laden spell in the Spanish capital.
He departed to Bayern Munich on a two-year loan, where he’d reunite with Ancelotti. They lasted just two months together before Ancelotti was sacked after a defeat to Paris Saint-Germain. But Rodríguez’s performances were so impressive that the Bavarians were willing to take up their €42 million purchase option in the summer of 2019.
Rather than join the eventual European champions, Rodríguez elected to return to Madrid, but he found himself even farther down Zinedine Zidane’s pecking order, making just eight league appearances. With just a year left on his contract, superagent Jorge Mendes made a shrewd manoeuvre, removing his Colombian client from Madrid’s bloated wage bill and placing him at Everton, where he’d once again reunite with Ancelotti.
It has been a perfect start to Rodríguez’s time in England. Everton have won their first seven games of the season for the first time since 1894. And ‘Hamez’ has been at the heart of it, providing three goals, two assists, and 12 chances. The Toffees are at top of the Premier League table.
Thomas Partey to Arsenal
In the final hour of the summer transfer window, Arsenal completed a deal that many fans and neutrals had long given up on. After repeatedly told by Atlético Madrid that the only way to sign the coveted Thomas Partey was to pay his release clause. Arsenal did just that, depositing a check of €50 million into La Liga’s office on Monday afternoon. Lucas Torreira headed the other way on loan. After nine years in Madrid, Partey will be earning a reported £200,000-a-week in London.
At 27, Partey has emerged into one of the best midfielders in Spain, and he will help Arsenal improve on attack and in defence. It’s unclear where he’ll play and in what formation. Mikel Arteta has toggled with a 3-4-3 and a 4-3-3 during his first year in North London. Partey himself has played as a box-to-box midfielder as well as a defensive midfielder in Diego Simeone’s 4-4-2.
The Ghanaian is a graceful passer with the ability to break the lines with his passing range, while also being able to bring the ball out of the back with his combination of physical power and smooth dribbling. Moreover, he has the positional awareness, the recovery pace, and the timing to carefully win the ball back, protect the defence from opposition counters, and recycle the ball further forward. If he can build on his performances from the past two seasons, he’ll establish himself as one of the top midfielders in the Premier League.
Pervis Estupiñán to Villarreal
It has been a remarkable summer transfer window for Villarreal. They’ve signed Francis Coquelin and Dani Parejo from local rivals Valencia for a combined fee of €8 million. Also brought in Juan Foyth and Takefusa Kubo on loan, and completed low-cost deals for Jorge Cuenca and Geronimo Rulli. The cherry on top came on September 16, when they purchased Pervis Estupiñán from Watford for £15 million.
Despite being contracted to Watford since 2016, the Ecuadorian has spent the past four years on loan at a variety of Spanish clubs, ranging from Granada to Almería to Mallorca. He established himself as arguably the finest left-back in La Liga last season. He dazzled under Jagoba Arrasate for newly promoted Osasuna. Upon returning to Watford in the summer, he neglected to spend the season in the second tier, and with 12 months remaining on his contract, demanded a transfer.
With Alberto Moreno set to miss at least six months after rupturing his ACL in preseason, Villarreal took it upon themselves to bring Estupiñán back to the Spanish top flight. Currently, fourth in the table, Estupiñán has benched Alfonso Pedraza and is playing a key role behind Unai Emery’s side’s strong start to the season. The Ecuadorian is athletic, technically sound left-back who marauds up the flank with pace and panache and can deliver a deadly cross like few others in Spain.
Amine Gouiri to Nice
In the final days of the 2019 summer window, Jim Ratcliffe, owner of petrochemical company INEOS and Britain’s richest man, completed the takeover of OGC Nice for €100 million. The signings soon followed: Nice purchased Kasper Dolberg, Stanley Nsoki and Alexis Claude-Maurice for a combined fee of €46 million. Whilst also bringing in Adam Ounas on loan. Nice finished 5th in the league, sealing Europa League football for the upcoming season.
Under the eye of president Jean-Pierre Rivère and sporting director Julien Fournier, Nice have reinforced their squad with a common theme in the transfer market: U-24 players with plenty of potential and resale value. Apart from Hassane Kamara (26) and Morgan Schneiderlin (30), each of their signings have been 24 or under — ranging from Dan Ndoye (19), Jordan Lotomba (21) and Robson Bambu (22). So far, the crown jewel has been Amine Gouiri (20).
Following in the footsteps of Karim Benzema, Nabil Fekir and Houssem Aouar. Gouiri was raised in France to Algerian parents and rose Lyon’s academy ranks. But despite impressing at youth level for club and country, Gouiri was never given a chance in Lyon’s first team. This caused him to depart for Nice, with Les Aiglons paying €7 million for him. With three goals and two assists already, he is proving to be the lifeblood of Nice’s attacks, and he’ll continue to grow under Patrick Vieira.
Mohammed Salisu to Southampton
In the summer of 2015, Southampton purchased Virgil van Dijk from Celtic for £13 million; two and a half years later, they sold him to Liverpool for £75 million. From Jannik Vestergaard to Wesley Hoedt to Jan Bednarek, many players have come and gone in Southampton’s attempts to replace the world-class Dutch defender. However, with the signing of Mohammed Salisu from Real Valladolid, Saints finally have a centre back with the potential to reach that level.
Despite having never played a competitive 11-a-side game before joining Valladolid’s academy in October 2017. Salisu made his professional debut on January 9, 2019, starting in a 1-0 loss against Getafe in the Copa del Rey. Following the departure of Fernando Calero to Espanyol, Salisu became a starter for the first team, playing alongside Kike Olivas for the Blanquivioletas. Such were his performances that Southampton decided to trigger his £10.9 million release clause on August 12, with the Saints beating out interest from Rennes to sign him.
Standing 6’3,” Salisu is a quick, physically imposing centre back who can read the game well and win 1v1 duels, and while he still hasn’t made his Premier League debut yet due to a lack of match fitness, he has the potential to become the next superstar to emerge from Southampton.
Alexander Sørloth to RB Leipzig
At 24 years of age, Alexander Sørloth has had a career of ups and downs so far. Having begun his professional career at Rosenborg, the teenage Sørloth impressed on loan at Bodø/Glimt with 13 goals and 5 assists in 26 matches. However, he never managed to become a regular at his local club. He joined Groningen in 2015 but failed to convince before heading to Midtjylland 19 months later. He bounced back in Denmark, registering 15 goals and 9 assists before earning a £9 million move to Crystal Palace in January 2018.
Sørloth failed to find the back of the net in his 12 months in the Premier League. He headed on loan to Gent, where he once again struggled for form. He went to Trabzonspor on loan in the summer of 2019, scoring 29 goals as Trabzonspor narrowly missed out on the league title. He provided a goal and assist in the Turkish Cup Final in a 2-0 victory vs. Alanyaspor.
After a phenomenal loan spell in Turkey, the Norwegian signed for RB Leipzig for €20 million + €2 million in bonuses. Leipzig have lost their two starting strikers from last season — Timo Werner joining Chelsea for £47.5 million and Patrik Schick returning from his loan spell — but they’ll be expecting Sørloth to replicate his sensational form and provide the goals in Saxony. After a topsy-turvy start to his career, he’ll finally enjoy stability at a Champions League club and develop under Julian Nagelsmann — one of the best talent developers in Europe.