After an action-packed few months, the summer transfer window slammed shut on Tuesday, completing a historic period that saw various clubs defy expectations and spend heavily amid COVID-19’s economic repercussions, and that saw countless stars switch over to new clubs.
In today’s weekly round-up, we’ll be taking a look at 10 clubs (unranked) that had impressive transfer windows across the continent. This is limited to Europe’s top six leagues, and as such, the likes of Basel, Fenerbahçe, and plenty more teams who had impressive windows have been excluded.
Sometimes, quality is better than quantity. That’s certainly the case for the reigning Champions League winners who, one year after a blockbuster window that saw the likes of Timo Werner, Hakim Ziyech and Kai Havertz arrive, have signed just three players: Marcus Bettinelli, Romelu Lukaku and Saúl Ñíguez.
It has been a peculiar window for Chelsea, who sold various promising young prospects such as Valentino Livramento and struggled to offload deadwood like Ross Barkley, although it is true that several of these expendable players’ contracts expire within the next two years. Chelsea replaced the departing Willy Caballero with Marcus Bettinelli to fill the void of the third-choice goalkeeper, and whilst the departures of Kurt Zouma and Fikayo Tomori, combined with the failure to complete a deal for Jules Koundé, could leave them short in central defence, 22-year-old Trevoh Chalobah has been a revelation after spending the past season on loan at Lorient.
If there is one criticism surrounding Chelsea’s impressive second half of the 2020/21 season under Thomas Tuchel, it is the lack of an elite centre forward. Romelu Lukaku provides a clear upgrade in attack over Olivier Giroud and Tammy Abraham, and he’s already showcased his unique skill set with a superb ‘second debut’ against Arsenal. The arrival of Saúl Ñíguez on loan from Atlético Madrid gives Chelsea a different profile in midfield to the likes of Jorginho and Mateo Kovačić and provides plenty of steel and energy in the centre of the pitch that should allow Tuchel to rest the increasingly injury-prone N’Golo Kanté with more regularity. The cherry on top? Despite paying a club-record fee of £97.5 million, Chelsea close out the transfer window with a negative transfer spend after making nearly £130 million in player sales.
Take a 30-minute drive from Stamford Bridge and you’ll find another club that has substantially improved their squad this window. It was just a year ago that Crystal Palace had the oldest squad in the Premier League with an average age of 29.8, but the recent captures of Eberechi Eze and Jean-Philippe Mateta have helped them rectify this issue, whilst the construction of a £20 million academy centre in Beckenham should help them shore up more young talent in South London.
This summer has been a transitional period for Palace, who parted ways with 74-year-old manager Roy Hodgson after four years at the club and replaced him with Patrick Vieira, nearly three decades younger than ‘Woy.’ After an impressive loan spell at Fulham, Joachim Andersen has left Lyon and joined Palace for a fee of €17.5 million plus €2.5 million in add-ons and a 12.5% sell-on fee, and at 25, he is a far younger option than the departing Gary Cahill (35), Scott Dann (34) and Mamadou Sakho (31). Joining him in the centre of defence will be Marc Guéhi, who arrives on a permanent deal from Chelsea.
Conor Gallagher, who has played with Guéhi in Chelsea’s academy as well as Swansea City, has joined on loan to provide a genuine box-to-box option in midfield, whilst the arrivals of Will Hughes and Michael Olise should help reinforce the centre of the pitch as well. To cap it off, they signed Odsonne Édouard on deadline day from Celtic. At 23, Édouard is a proven goalscorer who can operate in tight spaces, create chances for his teammates, and dominate physical battles, and he could be the missing piece in attack for the Eagles.
The third and final English club that makes this list is none other than Manchester United. After last summer’s agonizing cat-and-mouse game with Borussia Dortmund, United completed the signing of Jadon Sancho for a fee of £73 million. With Raphaël Varane quickly following and joining United on a four-year contract, it certainly seems that last spring’s stadium invasion and anti-Glazers protests have sparked the club’s ownership into investing more in the transfer market. And when it seemed that Manchester City were set to complete a deal for Cristiano Ronaldo in the final days of the transfer window, United managed to pull off a sensational eleventh-hour deal and signed Ronaldo on a two-year contract with the option for a third year.
It hasn’t been a perfect window by any stretch for the Red Devils. While they did manage to sell Daniel James to Leeds United for an initial fee of £25 million, their failure to offload other fringe players such as Jesse Lingard and Phil Jones could prove costly. Moreover, the lack of a clear-cut defensive midfielder could prove to be the difference between winning their 21st league title and merely challenging under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. However, for the first time in a while, things are looking up at Old Trafford.
Whilst the summer of 2021 saw Italy reclaim its rightful spot in the footballing hierarchy with their European Championship triumph, the following months have seen various stars such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Gianluigi Donnarumma, and Romelu Lukaku depart their domestic league. This was certainly the case with Udinese, who sold the team’s creative heartbeat in Rodrigo De Paul to Atlético Madrid for €35 million.
Manager Luca Gotti will be counting on new signing Lazar Samardžić in the unenviable task of substituting the irreplaceable Argentine playmaker, although it seems the 19-year-old German youth international will be eased into the team and playing a backup role to the veteran Roberto Pereyra in midfield. Having struggled for playing time at the Spanish capital, Nehuén Pérez has arrived on loan from Atlético Madrid and he’ll be looking to deliver the same performances that led Famalicão to the cusp of European football in 2019/20. The Zebretti have signed two promising fullbacks in Destiny Udogie and Brandon Soppy from Hellas Verona and Rennes, respectively, whilst Isaac Success has become the latest player to swap Watford for the Pozzo family’s other club after Ignacio Pussetto and Gerard Deulofeu.
They have lost one of the best goalkeepers in Serie A with Juan Musso’s departure to Atalanta, but they’ve replaced him with Marco Silvestri for nearly a tenth of the cost. To cap off an impressive window by sporting director Pierpaolo Marino, they purchased Beto from Portimonense for a fee rising to €10 million. It has been a spectacular rise to fame for Beto, who has gone from playing in the Lisbon district leagues to excelling in the Primeira to earning a big-money move to Udinese. If he can keep up his impressive form, it won’t be long before they are earning a hefty profit as they have done with Musso and De Paul.
In April 2017, Ramón ‘Monchi’ Rodríguez Verdejo announced his decision to depart Sevilla after a legendary 17-year spell that saw the club win 11 trophies during his tenure. Following the sporting director’s departure to Roma, Sevilla would experience a turbulent two-year spell that would see them finish sixth and seventh, whilst Monchi himself struggled to convince in the Italian capital and saddled the Giallorossi with a laundry list of expensive flops such as Javier Pastore and Steven Nzonzi. Monchi returned in 2019 and has since led the Andalusian side to stability and success, hiring Julen Lopetegui as manager, winning a record sixth Europa League title, and leading them to back-to-back top four finishes.
Sevilla currently sits second in the league table after three games and look set to challenge on all fronts thanks to an impressive summer transfer window. The club’s first piece of business saw Serbian goalkeeper Marko Dmitrović join on a free transfer from Eibar and replace Tomáš Vaclík, and on July 27, they completed one of the blockbuster swap deals of the year: Bryan Gil joined Tottenham for an initial fee of £21.6 million, whilst Erik Lamela, nine years his senior, headed the other way to Sevilla. Gil played 810 minutes for Lopetegui in 2019/20 before enjoying an impressive loan spell at Eibar, and while Sevillistas will be sore to lose a young homegrown prospect, Lamela has enjoyed a sensational start to life in Andalusia, coming off the bench and scoring a brace against Rayo Vallecano and grabbing a late winner against Getafe.
With that financial boost from the Gil sale, Sevilla have been able to bolster their depth and sign Ludwig Augustinsson and Gonzalo Montiel to provide competition at the fullback positions. Thomas Delaney joins on the back of an impressive Euros campaign for Denmark and will provide much-needed steel in midfield, whilst Wolves centre forward Rafa Mir has joined after a fantastic loan spell at Huesca. And when it seemed all but certain that Jules Koundé would join Chelsea in the final days of the window, Sevilla held firm and refused to sell him for less than his release clause of £77 million. In doing so, they keep hold of one of the best young central defenders in Europe, who, with three years left on his deal, is certain to land Sevilla a massive profit in the coming years.
As the saying goes, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. That was certainly the case last season when fresh off being forced out of Barcelona, Luis Suárez led Atlético Madrid to their first league title in seven years with an impressive 21-goal haul. History may very well end up repeating itself as Antoine Griezmann, two years after joining Barcelona for a total fee of €135 million, returned to Atleti on the final day of the transfer window. The World Cup winner has arrived on a one-year loan for a fee of €10 million, with the option to extend the loan for a further year, with an obligatory purchase clause of €40 million to be activated by 2023.
Barcelona had attempted to complete a swap deal for Griezmann and João Félix, but Atleti refused to budge and part with the Portuguese youngster; instead, Barcelona’s crippling financial difficulties forced them to part with Griezmann for a modest fee and get his massive salary off the wage bill. Atleti, on the other hand, have added one of the top forwards in European football to a star-studded attack featuring Suárez, Félix, Ángel Correa, Marcos Llorente, Thomas Lemar, and Matheus Cunha, who joined from Hertha Berlin on a five-year contract. They signed Marcos Paulo on a free transfer before loaning him out to Famalicão and replaced backup goalkeeper Ivo Grbic with Benjamin Lecomte from Monaco. And while they were forced to loan out Saúl to Chelsea to help finance the Griezmann deal, they have upgraded their midfield with the signing of Rodrigo de Paul following his stellar showing for Argentina in the Copa América.
Midway through the 2020/21 season, as clubs were still struggling to cope with the financial difficulties stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown, Ligue 1 suffered a lethal blow when Barcelona-based multimedia group Mediapro reneged on their broadcasting deal to pay Ligue 1 clubs €3.25 million across four seasons. Coupled with the early cancellation of the 2019/20 campaign, the aborted TV deal threatened to push every French club not named Paris Saint-Germain to the brink of collapse and force them into a fire sale the following summer.
The reality, however, has been anything but. Whilst the reigning champions Lille have sacrificed various key players to help assuage their economic crisis, other clubs such as Bordeaux, Troyes and Monaco have spent lavishly. After securing their first ever Champions League berth, Rennes took a step back last season, although the mid-season coaching switch of Bruno Génésio for Julien Stéphan helped them secure the final European spot and finish sixth. Backed by sporting director Florian Maurice and billionaire owner François Pinault, Rennes have assembled a glamorous crop of players that should see them challenge on the domestic and European front.
After a superb campaign at Lens, the 21-year-old centre back Loïc Badé has joined on a five-year deal, replacing the departing captain Damien da Silva. Baptiste Santamaria, one of the best defensive midfielders in Ligue 1 during his time at Angers, has cut his Bundesliga spell short after just one year and replaced Steven Nzonzi following the expiry of his loan deal, whilst 18-year-old Doğan Alemdar has joined from Kayserispor to provide competition between the sticks. Birger Meling, one of the brightest spots in Nîmes’ unsuccessful attempt to stay afloat in Ligue 1 last season, has replaced Faitout Maouassa at left-back, and Gaëtan Laborde, who has scored 20 goals in his last 42 league matches for Montpellier, joined for a fee of €15 million.
The arrival of Ghanian winger Kamaldeen Sulemana from FC Nordsjælland, combined with the emergence of Belgian winger (of Ghanian descent) Jérémy Doku could give Rennes one of the most threatening attacks in France, and Sulemana has already made his mark with a sensational debut golazo against Brest. And while they were forced to cash in on Eduardo Camavinga with the French international refusing to extend his deal past 2022, they have reinforced their midfield with the capture of 23-year-old Lovro Majer from Dinamo Zagreb.
One of the more eyebrow-raising moves of this past summer transfer window came in the coaching department when Christophe Galtier departed Ligue 1 champions Lille and joined Nice, who finished 9th the previous campaign. Whilst Lille would go on to lose Mike Maignan, Boubakary Soumaré, and Luiz Araújo, Nice have not suffered any major exits and have continued to bolster their young squad thanks to the investment of British multinational chemicals company INEOS.
After triggering their purchase option on Barcelona defender Jean-Clair Todibo, Nice reinforced their midfield with the signings of Pablo Rosario and Mario Lemina from PSV and Southampton, respectively. Justin Kluivert and Marcin Bulka have joined on loan, whilst Melvin Bard has become the latest Lyon player to swap Les Gones for Les Aiglons after Amine Gouiri and Jeff Reine-Adélaïde (loan). After forming one of the best one-two striker punches in Europe alongside Gaëtan Laborde, Andy Delort is set to provide firepower for an attack featuring the likes of Gouiri, Alexis Claude-Maurice and Kasper Dolberg, whilst Calvin Stengs could prove to be one of the summer’s bargain buys after joining from AZ Alkmaar. Despite drawing their league opener to Reims, they have sent a strong statement with successive 4-0 wins against Lille and Bordeaux, and they’ll be looking to book their place in the Champions League and push PSG for the title.
While the collapsed TV deal with Mediapro threatened to put French clubs in a financial abyss, few clubs experienced quite the same crisis that Marseille did last February. André Villas-Boas resigned as manager after the loan arrival of Oliver Ntcham, a player he did not want, and soon after, fans rioted and ransacked the club’s training ground. The result? Jorge Sampaoli eventually took over as manager, whilst Pablo Longoria replaced Jacques-Henri Eyraud as club president.
The first summer of the Longoria-Sampaoli partnership has seen various veterans such as Florian Thauvin and Valère Germain depart the club, although they were unable to secure a hefty transfer fee from Duje Ćaleta-Car or Boubacar Kamara, the latter of which has refused to extend his contract past its expiry date of 2022. Nevertheless, that hasn’t stopped Marseille from signing a whopping 14 players. Mattéo Guendouzi (obligation to buy) and William Saliba have joined on loan from Arsenal, whilst Pau López and Cengiz Ünder have arrived on loan from Roma. Last season’s loan deals for Arkadiusz Milik, Leonardo Balerdi and Pol Lirola have been made permanent, Gerson has joined from Flamengo for a fee of €25 million, while his compatriot Luan Peres has joined from Santos.
After struggling for opportunities at Barcelona, Konrad de la Fuente is already showcasing his skill and unique talent on the left flank of OM’s attack, and for €3 million, he could be one of the bargains of the year. The cherry on top comes with the loan arrival of Amine Harit from Schalke, who was only allowed to join by French football’s financial watchdog DNCG after Álvaro González, Leonardo Balerdi and Pol Lirola agreed to take pay cuts.
Sometimes, you’ve got to save the best for last. Despite only selling one player (Mitchel Bakker), Paris Saint-Germain have completed one of the most extraordinary transfer windows in football history. Taking advantage of Inter’s financial difficulties, they moved quickly to beat out interest from Chelsea and sign Achraf Hakimi for an initial fee of €60 million, securing one of the finest right-backs in football and a clear upgrade over Colin Dagba and Thilo Kehrer. Georginio Wijnaldum, Sergio Ramos and Gianluigi Donnarumma soon followed on free transfers, the latter of whom led Italy to the European Championship with his penalty heroics against England and Spain. Then, like a hungry lion who just spotted a wounded gazelle, they pounced on Barcelona’s economic dismay and completed the signing of Lionel Messi on a free transfer.
The cherry on top came on deadline day when they signed Nuno Mendes on loan from Sporting with an option to buy of €40 million; Pablo Sarabia headed the other way on loan. In doing so, they have secured one of the most promising left-backs in Europe, a clear upgrade over Juan Bernat and Layvin Kurzawa, and the finest talent in Portugal. Only time will tell if their decision to reject Real Madrid’s advances for Kylian Mbappé and keep hold of the French superstar for another year will come to fruition, although if there’s any club that can afford to reject €200 million for a player who looks dead set on running down the final months of his contract, it’s PSG. Mbappé has showcased his world-class ability with a brace in PSG’s 2-0 win against Reims — which also saw Messi make his debut for Les Parisiens — and while his future is uncertain, the prospect of an attack of Mbappé, Messi, Neymar and Ángel di María is mouth-watering. Anything other than an inaugural Champions League trophy should be considered a failure for Mauricio Pochettino and his side.