Top 8 Transfers So Far
By Zach Lowy
This summer has seen a jam-packed, nail-biting collection of Euros action, as well as an unprecedented amount of managerial merry-go-rounds and sagas, with the likes of Gennaro Gattuso, Lucien Favre and Paulo Fonseca’s moves to new clubs breaking down at the final minute. However, even with the summer transfer window set to open on Thursday for Serie A, Bundesliga, La Liga and Ligue 1, there are still plenty of under-the-radar player transfers that have the potential to revolutionize the fortunes of their respective teams.
BET Central takes a look at 8 of the best transfers that have been completed before the opening of the 2021 summer transfer window.
Mike Maignan to Milan
Six years after being promoted to Milan’s first-team squad under manager Siniša Mihajlović, it appears Gianluigi Donnarumma’s spell in red and black is finally coming to an end. The 22-year-old goalkeeper, fresh off a season that has seen him lead the Rossoneri back to the Champions League after 8 years and take Italy into a European Championship semifinal matchup against Spain tonight, the Mino Raiola client is set to cash in on his expiring contract and join Paris Saint-Germain on a five-year contract. Donnarumma is expected to earn €12 million a year after tax in the French capital, twice the amount of his current salary and €5 million more than Milan’s highest earner: Zlatan Ibrahimović.
Whilst Milan will be sore to lose one of the finest goalkeepers in Europe for free, they should be commended for not bending their wage bill to meet the absurd requests of Donnarumma, who has once again used his status and charm to hold his boyhood club hostage and demand a tall ransom fee to remain. Instead, they abandoned their pursuit of a renewal and negotiated the arrival of Mike Maignan for €15 million on a contract through 2026, with the former Lille goalkeeper earning a reported annual salary of €2.8 million.
Born in Cayenne, French Guiana to a Haitian mother and a French father, Maignan joined PSG’s academy in 2009 and rising up the academy ranks but never managing to break into Laurent Blanc’s pecking order, who preferred Salvatore Sirigu and Nicolas Douchez in his position. Rather than wait for an opportunity, Maignan chose to depart for Lille in the summer of 2015 for €1 million on a five-year deal, spurring a chain reaction of PSG academy players who have headed to Lille in search of more playing time, a pattern including Timothy Weah, Boubakary Soumaré and Jonathan Ikoné. None has played a bigger role in ending Les Parisiens’ domestic dominance and handing Lille their first Ligue 1 title since 2011 than Maignan, who kept the most clean sheets in Europe’s top five leagues with 21 and became the first Ligue 1 goalkeeper to reach that figure since Vincent Enyeama in 2013/14.
The following weeks after Les Dogues’ incredible trophy celebrations have seen the northern club lose manager Christophe Galtier to OGC Nice. With Maignan unwilling to extend his contract past its expiry date of 2022, Milan were able to swoop in and sign the 25-year-old for a cheaper fee than Arsenal paid for Bernd Leno or Everton paid for Jordan Pickford. Without jeopardizing their salary cap, Milan have secured the short-term and long-term future of their goalkeeper position with a player who will make less in four years than Donnarumma will make in one year in Paris.
Rui Silva to Real Betis
Mike Maignan’s arrival at the San Siro represents a major coup for Stefano Pioli’s side, but he’s far from the only goalkeeper signing who could prove to be a bargain buy. With the capture of Rui Silva from Granada, Real Betis have captured one of the finest young goalkeepers in La Liga for free.
Real Betis have suffered from a power vacuum between the sticks in recent years; after the departure of Antonio Adán to Atlético Madrid in 2018, the Verdiblancos turned to Pau López from Espanyol, and his impressive form under Quique Setién saw him depart to Roma the following summer, leaving a profit of €23.5 million in the club’s coffers. However, both Joel Robles, who had joined from Everton a year prior to serve as López’s backup, and Dani Martín, who had joined from Sporting Gijón the same window, struggled to impress in goal as Betis finished 15th in the league. New manager Manuel Pellegrini opted to bring in his compatriot Claudio Bravo on a free transfer from Manchester City, and while he has performed admirably to lead Betis to a berth in next season’s UEFA Europa League group stage, he is far from the long-term answer at 38 years of age.
It’s why securing the signing of Rui Silva on a free transfer represents such terrific business for the Andalusian club. Born in Águas Santas on the outskirts of Porto, Silva solidified a starting spot in Nacional under Manuel Machado, impressing between the sticks and earning a transfer to Granada in January 2017 for a fee of €1.5 million. After playing second fiddle to Guillermo Ochoa and Javi Varas, the Portuguese eventually became a starter under new manager Diego Martínez to lead the Nazaríes back to the top-flight, winning the Ricardo Zamora Trophy for the lowest goals-to-games ratio in the Segunda with 0.68 — the same award that Claudio Bravo won 10 years prior with Real Sociedad. After two magical seasons that have seen Granada secure European football for the first time in club history, advance to the Copa del Rey semifinals, and make it all the way to the quarterfinals of the UEFA Europa League and the Copa del Rey, Silva has elected to head west for Sevilla, a three-hour drive on the A-92. While he may have to wait on the wings for another year and bide his time as a deputy for the Chilean veteran, Silva, at 27 years old, is the long-term future of Real Betis’ goalkeeper position.
Portugal encountered France in the final group stage match of the Euros, with Hugo Lloris (34) and Rui Patrício (33) maintaining their spots in goal from the 2016 Final. After suffering early eliminations in the Round of 16, it is clear that both sides are in desperate need of rejuvenation, and by the time Euro 2024 rolls around in Germany, we could see Maignan and Silva patrolling the sticks for their respective nations.
Fikayo Tomori to Milan
Whilst Gianluigi Donnarumma is set to become the latest Mino Raiola client to join Paris Saint-Germain and the second player to depart the club on a free transfer this summer after Hakan Çalhanoğlu, Milan directors Paolo Maldini and Frederic Massara are working diligently to ensure that the Rossoneri bulk up their squad ahead of their first season in Europe’s premium competition since 2013/14. Mike Maignan has arrived from Lille to secure the goalkeeper position, Zlatan Ibrahimović has renewed his contract for another season, whilst the club have also taken up their option to sign Fikayo Tomori from Chelsea for a fee of £25 million as well as £5 million in potential bonuses.
After three separate loan spells at Brighton Hove & Albion, Hull City and Derby County, Tomori’s first breakthrough at Chelsea came in the 2019/20 season under new manager Frank Lampard, with the Cobham graduate being thrown into the deep end following David Luiz’s deadline day departure to Arsenal. Despite impressing in his first months at Stamford Bridge, Tomori was soon frozen out by Lampard and came close to joining Everton on loan in the summer window, only for the deal to fall through. He remained in West London, but not for long as Milan brought him on loan in January with an option to buy included. It did not take long for Tomori to slot into defence under Pioli and relegate captain Alessio Romagnoli to the bench, impressing with his calm reading of the game, his positional awareness, and his blistering recovery speed. It was a mere formality that, once Milan secured Champions League football, Tomori’s loan would become permanent.
Whilst Chelsea certainly look well covered in defence with César Azpilicueta, Andreas Christensen, Thiago Silva and Antonio Rüdiger, Tomori’s departure after 16 years at the club could very well prove to be the latest ‘one that got away’ from the Blues after Kevin de Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku, Mohamed Salah, and many more.
Emerson to Barcelona
Despite their well-known financial problems, Barcelona have been one of the most active teams in the nascent summer transfer window. Eric García, Memphis Depay and Sergio Agüero have arrived on free transfers, and while they likely won’t be able to sign any more players until freeing up space in the wage bill, they could yet pull off their biggest coup of the summer with the renewal of Lionel Messi’s expiring contract. Perhaps the most under-the-radar move that the Catalans have made, however, has been the purchase of Emerson Royal from Real Betis.
Born in São Paulo, Emerson bounced around various Brazilian clubs before joining Atlético Mineiro on April 27, 2018. It would take just nine months in Belo Horizonte before he was on the move once again, joining Barcelona for a fee of €12.7 million. The complexities of the deal meant that Real Betis and Barcelona split the transfer fee, with each side retaining a percentage of Emerson’s economic rights. Emerson spent his first two seasons on loan at Betis, with Barcelona having an option to buy him back at the end of the 2020/21 season, which they ended up triggering for a fee of €9 million.
Barcelona could, in theory, cash in on Emerson and make a sizable return on investment, but it’s equally likely that they will utilize him in next season’s first-team squad under Ronald Koeman. The right-back position has been a problematic area for the Catalans since Dani Alves’ departure in the summer of 2016, with Aleix Vidal, Nélson Semedo, and Sergi Roberto struggling to fill the void. Sergiño Dest has shown plenty of promise since arriving from Ajax last summer for an initial fee of €21 million, but his defensive woes have meant that Koeman opted to play Óscar Mingueza out of position instead of the US Men’s international.
The purchase of Emerson, while unorthodox and long-awaited, promises to be a bargain for just seven figures. The 22-year-old played the most minutes in Manuel Pellegrini’s squad (3,186) and constantly provided a source of width and pinpoint crosses during his time at the Estadio Benito Villamarín, while also proving to be a fairly reliable defender. Such qualities could see him become the long-term heir for Dani Alves that both Barcelona and Brazil have been waiting on for so long.
Emiliano Buendía to Aston Villa
One year after narrowly escaping relegation, Aston Villa are doing everything they can to prove that last season’s 11th-place finish was no fluke, but rather, the first sign of an upward swing across the Premier League table under Dean Smith. Ashley Young has returned to the club 10 years after departing Villa Park to join Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United, whilst they have reportedly made a bid of £30 million for Arsenal midfielder Emile Smith Rowe. Desperate to keep hold of creative talisman Jack Grealish amid interest from Manchester City, Villa have laid all their cards on the table and completed the signing of Emiliano Buendía for a club-record fee of £33 million before add-ons.
Born in Mar del Plata, Argentina, Buendía left his home country at a young age to join Real Madrid in 2009, but he would remain just one year before heading to the outskirts of Spain’s capital city and moving to Getafe’s academy. After eight years with the Azulones, Buendía joined Norwich City on a four-year contract and quickly became an integral part of Daniel Farke’s side, leading the Canaries to the Championship title.
While he was unable to keep them up in the top-flight as they finished bottom of the table, his performances drew the attention of a variety of Premier League sides. However, as Ben Godfrey and Jamal Lewis departed for Everton and Newcastle United, respectively, Buendía remained at Carrow Road and spearheaded them to their second Championship title in three years. With 15 goals, 16 assists and an EFL Championship Player of the Season award, it was clear as day that he was in a league of his own. The 24-year-old’s sensational form prompted a bidding war between Arsenal and Aston Villa, one that the Villans ended up winning; Norwich, on the other hand, will be hoping that his replacement Milot Rashica hits the ground running upon his arrival from Werder Bremen.
With Grealish sidelined for the final three months of the season due to a shin injury, it was apparent just how uncreative and stale they looked in attack without their English playmaker. Dean Smith will be hoping that Buendía will become the Pippen to Grealish’s Jordan, but if he does decide to part ways and start a new adventure at the Etihad, Smith can rest assured that the Argentine attacking midfielder is equally capable of putting the Villa faithful on the edges of their seats and leading them to glory.
Mohamed Simakan to RB Leipzig
After a season that saw them finish second in the Bundesliga table and lose in the DFB-Pokal Final, RB Leipzig are working harder than ever to ensure they solidify their place in the Bundesliga’s upper echelon and improve upon their Round of 16 exit to Liverpool in the UEFA Champions League. The club have made their loan deals for Angeliño and Benjamin Henrichs permanent, whilst bringing in Brian Brobbey on a free transfer from Ajax. 18-year-old Caden Clark is set to join from New York Red Bulls after the completion of the MLS season, whilst the return of Dominik Szoboszlai from injury will be like a new signing in of itself. Whilst they have lost French central defensive duo Dayot Upamecano and Ibrahima Konaté to Bayern Munich and Liverpool, respectively, they have rebuilt spectacularly with the signings of Joško Gvardiol and Mohamed Simakan.
Whilst Gvardiol has certainly improved his reputation with a promising campaign for Croatia in this summer’s Euros, Simakan could be one of the biggest bargains of 2021. Born in Marseille to Guinean parents, Simakan bounced around a host of French clubs, including a three-year spell at Marseille, before making his professional debut with Strasbourg on July 25, 2019, in a UEFA Europa League win against Maccabi Haifa. It preceded a breakthrough campaign for the teenager who, after rupturing his cruciate ligament a year prior, finally managed to solidify a starting spot in defence under Thierry Laurey, playing as a right-back, a centre back as well as a right-sided centre back. Such performances drew the attention of Milan, but after suffering a knee injury that would sideline him for the second half of the season, the Rossoneri turned their attention to Fikayo Tomori. Instead, Simakan would have to bide his time on the treatment table for another two months before RB Leipzig announced the signing of him on a five-year contract, with the German side paying a reported fee of €17 million.
Likened to a younger Raphaël Varane, Simakan blends pace, power, versatility and calm both on and off the ball, able to step in and make a decisive tackle whilst also equally capable of wrestling the ball away from opposition forwards. As Leipzig aim to close the gap on Bayern Munich, who will be headed by former manager Julian Nagelsmann, Simakan will surely play a massive role in shoring up the defence alongside the likes of Gvardiol and Willi Orbán and leading them to unprecedented heights.
Nicolás González to Fiorentina
39 days have passed since their final match against Crotone, and yet, it seems like a lifetime since Fiorentina closed out another underwhelming Serie A campaign at the Stadio Ezio Scida. A 13th-place finish saw Giuseppe Iachini leave his post with Gennaro Gattuso being hired as his replacement, but he lasted just 23 days in charge before the two parties agreed to mutually rescind their agreement. Reports claim that Gattuso and his agent Jorge Mendes pressured the club brass to splurge heavily on Mendes clients such as Jesús ‘Tecatito’ Corona (28), Sérgio Oliveira (29) and Gonçalo Guedes (24), causing owner Rocco Commisso to get cold feet on the arrangements and nix the deal. Fiorentina are still on the lookout for a new manager, with Vincenzo Italiano and Paulo Fonseca being linked, but they may have very well sealed one of the signings of the summer already with the purchase of Nicolás González from Stuttgart.
After ascending the youth ranks at Argentinos Juniors, González joined Stuttgart in the summer of 2018, following the lead of fellow Argentine Santiago Ascacíbar who had arrived from Estudiantes a year prior. While he failed to justify his hefty price tag of €8.5 million in his debut campaign as Die Schwaben suffered relegation, González quickly shushed the doubters with an impressive 15 goals and 4 assists in 29 appearances to lead them back to the top-flight. At 23 years of age, González is finally emerging as a reliable attacking threat both as a winger as well as a second striker in Pellegrino Matazzo’s 3-5-2 formation at Stuttgart, earning attention from the likes of Brighton Hove & Albion and Tottenham Hotspur. However, it is La Viola who won the race for him, paying a fee of €23 million, plus €4 million in bonuses. After a promising Copa América display for La Albiceleste, González will be looking to follow in the footsteps of compatriots Gabriel Bastistuta and Gonzalo Rodríguez and make a name for himself at the Stadio Artemio Franchi.
David Alaba to Real Madrid
Austria ended a 39-year wait and advanced to the knockout round of a major tournament after defeating Ukraine and clinching a place in the Round of 16 of Euro 2020. While their glory was relatively short-lived, with extra-time goals from Matteo Pessina and Federico Chiesa allowing Italy to progress in a heated affair at Wembley Stadium, it cannot be denied that their first knockout round berth since the ‘Disgrace of Gijón’ is a major step forward for the landlocked country of nearly 9 million people. Whilst the likes of Martin Hinteregger, Xaver Schlager, and Marcel Sabitzer all played vital roles in their feat, perhaps none shone brighter than captain David Alaba.
It has been more than 11 years since Alaba became the youngest ever player to participate in a competitive fixture for Bayern Munich, and 8 years since he lifted the treble with Bayern, and yet, Alaba is still just 29 years old. He is not only the most decorated Austrian footballer of all time but one of the most versatile and valuable players of his generation. It’s why, after more than a decade at the Bavarian club, Alaba has decided to cash in on his expiring contract and secure a move to Real Madrid that will see him take home a salary of €12 million through June 2026.
While that is a mouthwatering figure for a club that are still dealing with a bloated wage bill and the financial costs of renovating the Santiago Bernabéu, having been forced to pay part of Gareth Bale’s wages in order to finance his loan move to Tottenham last season, it represents as close to a sure thing as you can find in football. Alaba has excelled in a variety of positions including left-back, midfield, and centre back, while he hasn’t suffered a major injury since 2015 — missing just 14 games due to injury in the past four years. His ‘bread and butter’ seems to be on the left side of the defence, but with Sergio Ramos on his way out and Raphaël Varane mulling a summer departure, it’s fair to say that the majority of his performances in his debut La Liga campaign will come in the centre of defence, where he impressed last season to lead Bayern to their second treble. A reunion with Carlo Ancelotti and a new adventure in the Spanish capital awaits, as Madrid look to bounce back from their trophyless season and reap the rewards of the Austrian jack-of-all-trades.