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Even with the continuing COVID-19 epidemic and the financial restrictions that has brought, Europe’s best teams spent a lot of money to improve their squads before the transfer market closed on August 31.
Manchester United spent over €120 million on Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane, as well as re-signing Cristiano Ronaldo; Arsenal spent the most of any Premier League club on six new players; Liverpool paid €41.5 million for RB Leipzig defender Ibrahima Konate; and Manchester City and Chelsea each spent over €100 million on a statement signing (Jack Grealish and Romelu Lukaku.)
Real Madrid and Barcelona, as well as Inter Milan, were hit hard by financial difficulties and had to sell key players, but PSG led the way with the €70 million signing of Inter full-back Achraf Hakimi and the free transfers of world-class players Lionel Messi, Gianluigi Donnarumma, Sergio Ramos, and Georginio Wijnaldum.
But how do our contributors feel about the window?
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Who was the finest defender to sign?
Gab Marcotti (Gabby): If you add wing-backs (or attacking full-backs), I’d go with PSG and Hakimi. If you’re just looking at one-on-one defenders, it’s definitely a toss-up between David Alaba (Real Madrid) and Varane, but I’d go with Alaba since, although neither had a very good season, Alaba’s was.
Long-term, I’m a huge Dayot Upamecano (Bayern Munich) fan, so that’s where my futures will go if I purchase them.
Manchester United, Rob Dawson. Last season, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s squad allowed an excessive number of goals, 12 more than winners Manchester City. Solskjaer needed a new center-back, and the club was able to get Varane from Real Madrid for €41 million. A Champions League and World Cup champion who was signed during his prime years is a fantastic acquisition, and based on his debut performance against Wolves last weekend, the 28-year-old could do well in the Premier League.
Leicester City, according to Mark Ogden. You can’t dismiss Varane’s talent or Liverpool’s promise in Konate, but Jannik Vestergaard was one of the finest and most underappreciated defenders in the Premier League during his time at Southampton, so Leicester’s signing him for only £15 million was a brilliant move. Leicester might have been derailed by Wesley Fofana’s fractured leg before the season even started, but they reacted swiftly and wisely to sign the Denmark international.
Laurens, Julien: Mark, the sun must have gotten to your head on vacation because selecting Vestergaard ahead of some of the best defenders signed this season — Varane, Konate, Sergio Ramos, Alaba, and Upamecano, to mention a few — is absurd. PSG’s Hakimi gets my vote. Yes, he came from Inter Milan for €60 million, but he’s already shown what an effect he can have this season. He is probably Europe’s finest right-back at the moment, and his acquisition was a fantastic coup.
Olley, James: Manchester United has had to fight Real Madrid for their finest players in the past, but this time they’ve snatched a crown gem from the Spanish giants. United have been looking for the perfect centre-back partner for Harry Maguire for years, and they’ve finally found one in Varane for the comparatively low sum of £41 million. It’s difficult not to imagine him quickly adapting to the Premier League and strengthening United.
Who offered the greatest free transfer or best value for money?
Julien Laurens wonders why Barcelona seems to be planning to strengthen a direct competitor in exchange for Antoine Griezmann.
Ronaldo, Ogden. I’m sure Gab will debate with me till the end of time about the financial advantages, or lack thereof, of Ronaldo’s return to Manchester United, but the €15 million original price, with a further €8 million in add-ons, is very small and will be paid over five years. Of course, the salaries will be enormous, but United is a marketing powerhouse, and I think they will make more money off Ronaldo than he costs them. Oh, and he’ll also score a lot of goals.
Marcotti: I’m assuming we’re all selecting at the top of the market, and because everyone has gone with Messi or Ronaldo, I’m going with Messi as well.
Why? In terms of image and on the field, I believe he is more essential to PSG than Ronaldo is to United (particularly given Kylian Mbappe’s refusal to extend his contract). I believe Messi pushes the needle for PSG more than Ronaldo does for United, mostly because United is already big, the Premier League is already massive, and Ronaldo’s agent Jorge Mendes, I believe, has a far better understanding of what his client is worth than Jorge Messi. So, anytime we read about a player “bringing X million to a club’s commercial income,” we must also remember that, if the agent is astute, he will be aware of this and include it into the price.
I’d also want to highlight Bayern Munich’s €15 million acquisition of Marcel Sabitzer. Coach Julian Nagelsmann knows him from RB Leipzig, and he’s a talented player who provides depth to a midfield full with expiring contracts.
Laurens: There can only be one winner in this match: Messi. You don’t have to pay a transfer fee or even a signing-on fee to acquire one of the greatest players in the game’s history, if not the best: PSG will win this transfer window only because of Messi. Nobody expected that to happen, but it did, and they completed the transfer in only five days when it became apparent that Barcelona would not be able to register his new contract.
Yes, it’s difficult to see beyond Messi’s free move to Paris. He immediately improves PSG’s on-field performance and makes them likely Champions League favorites, as well as making the club more attractive to fans, sponsors, and broadcasters off the field. His influence will be enormous.
Olley: Moving Messi and Ronaldo in the same summer is the stuff of legends, and both players’ fortunes in the fall of their careers will be interesting to watch. I’ll go with Gianluigi Donnarumma for variety’s sake. PSG may have their No. 1 goalie for the next decade without paying AC Milan a cent, thanks to Italy’s goalkeeper, who was a crucial role in their Euro 2020 victory.
Who is willing to pay a premium to obtain what they want?
Brighton owe Gareth Southgate a bottle of something costly, according to Olley. Brighton were able to raise their value of a potential young centre-back when Ben White was called up to the England team for Euro 2020. Arsenal eventually decided they had to get him at any costs. He’s a nice guy, but some in the game believe the Gunners overpaid him. Of sure, he can improve, but he’ll have to. And when was the last time an Arsenal centre-back really improved during his tenure?
Laurens: English teams must always pay a premium for English players, as we witnessed with Grealish this summer. He is not worth £100 million, and Aston Villa agreed to include a release provision in his contract because they never imagined someone would pay that much for their top player. Manchester City did, but for someone who has never played a single game in Europe, it is too much.
Dawson: Grealish isn’t yet a £100 million player, but City were so confident in his abilities that they opted to pay Aston Villa’s release clause. City believe that towards the conclusion of his contract, the price will seem to be good value for money, and Grealish has a high potential. City doesn’t make many mistakes in the transfer market, and they think they’ve done it again with Grealish.
Ogden: Arsenal’s £50 million signing of Brighton’s Ben White smelled of desperation to seem to be doing the right thing by bringing in young English talent. White is still a long way from being a completed product at the age of 23, and his price was artificially inflated by his late call-up to England’s Euro 2020 team. Arsenal needed a dominating, experienced centre-back to help them address their defensive issues, but they paid much too much for a potential youngster.
Marcotti: Harry Kane would have been the best choice here, but you know how that turned out. And, of course, if Mbappe had moved, it would have been him. Given his lack of international experience at club level, I believe Grealish’s price is excessive. Yes, he’s a one-of-a-kind talent, but he’s also 25 years old, so you’re not paying for 15 years of service.
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Who had the most obnoxious window?
Dawson: The city of Barcelona. The financial crisis that President Joan Laporta inherited at Camp Nou has limited his options, but there is no question that Barcelona is weaker today than they were at the conclusion of last season. Laporta maintains that he is attempting to protect the club’s long-term future, even if it means some short-term suffering. Now that Messi and Antoine Griezmann have left, they don’t seem to have the same fear factor.
Laurens: I’m voting for Barca again. Losing Messi alone is enough to ruin your transfer window. When you consider that you let another major player join your title rivals for the second summer in a row (Griezmann after Luis Suarez last year) and that you couldn’t even register your new acquisitions until the day before the season started, it’s been a particularly difficult journey.
Marcotti: Everyone is picking on Barcelona, and I suppose it’s understandable. We just don’t know how terrible the financial situation was. It’s possible that both Messi and Griezmann have to be given away. It seems implausible, but then again, Leicester winning the Premier League seemed improbable as well.
I think Liverpool’s approach of turning to youngsters (Curtis Jones, Harvey Elliott) and contract extensions (six first-teamers signed new contracts, including Virgil van Dijk and Trent Alexander-Arnold) while just making one signing after losing Wijnaldum is a little short-sighted among Europe’s best. However, we don’t have a complete picture of their financial situation.
Ogden: There were a lot of clubs with poor windows for various reasons. Barcelona and Real Madrid will not remember the summer of 2021 kindly, while Newcastle supporters have nothing to cheer for once again. Manchester City, on the other hand, missed out on Kane and Ronaldo despite having a clear goal of signing a centre-forward to replace Sergio Aguero. Yes, they paid £100 million for Grealish, but that money would have been better spent on Kane.
Olley: Barcelona’s mismanagement finally came up to them this summer, resulting in Messi’s departure and Griezmann’s tumultuous return to Atletico Madrid. Griezmann was loaned to them for two years with the option to make the move permanent for €40 million, two years after paying Atletico €120 million for him. So, in return for Griezmann, Barcelona handed Atletico Madrid €80 million, Suarez on a free transfer, a LaLiga championship, and Griezmann. It’s no surprise they’re in such a mess.
What do you think the greatest move in January will be?
Paul Pogba, Laurens. In the next six months, or even beyond that, I don’t see him extending his contract at Manchester United. So, rather than letting him go on a free transfer in the summer, I can well see United selling him to Real Madrid in January to cut their losses and receive something in return for a player who cost £89.3 million in 2016.
Marcotti: I’m not sure. I’d just be guessing. Given Barcelona’s penchant for accumulating fresh debts and obligations under the couch, I wouldn’t be shocked if the situation worsens and Laporta is forced to give up another key asset.
Mbappe, Dawson. January isn’t known for large transactions, but you wouldn’t expect a team to pay over €200 million for a player with less than a year remaining on his contract, like Real Madrid did. Or to have it rejected. It wouldn’t be surprising if Real Madrid made another offer for Mbappe in January, but there’s no guarantee that PSG would accept it.
Kane dispelled uncertainty about his future last month by announcing that he would be remaining at Tottenham “this summer.” Ogden: Kane was extremely deliberate when he said that he would be staying at Tottenham “this summer.” The reasons for the England captain’s desire to leave haven’t altered, so don’t be shocked if City makes another bid in January. Much will depend on Spurs’ current success and if they can maintain their strong start to the Premier League season. But make no mistake: the Kane story is far from finished.
Olley: January is typically referred to be a “clean-up” month by agents, and major transactions seldom happen in the middle of the year. City may try again for Kane, but Daniel Levy is unlikely to relent in less than five months. Because Mbappe’s position is unique in that he is a matter of when, not if, he joins Real, I’ll go with Houssem Aouar for variety’s sake. Lyon were prepared to pay about €25 million for him this summer, so he may not demand the biggest price, but they need the money, and he has fans in England. It’s not difficult to see one club taking a chance on him.