Once again, in spite of a global financial crisis, the men’s soccer clubs around Europe spent an incredible amount of money to sign players in January, and this summer may not be any different.
Indeed, clubs spent a record $1.57 billion (£1.27bn) on transfers in the January transfer window, according to FIFA, with the Premier League doing most of the heavy lifting themselves at 57.3% of the total. But with two giants of the game in Cristiano Ronaldo (Al Nassr) and Lionel Messi (Inter Miami) now taking their careers outside of Europe, who will step up?
Already there have been some big deals agreed to ahead of the various transfer windows opening. Here are grades for all the major summer transfers in the men’s game, with each listed in order of highest fee.
All fees are reported unless confirmed with an asterisk (*).
Inter Miami: A+
When the MLS secondary window opens on July 5, Messi will be an Inter Miami player. It seems incredible, but the 35-year-old GOAT made it clear why he didn’t want to return to Barcelona or head to Saudi Arabia after leaving PSG this summer. America is a new challenge and one he will relish. It was a complex deal to pull off, but David Beckham-owned Miami did it with a little help!
Inter Miami: A-
Not content with just signing Messi, the MLS side also bagged his former Barcelona teammate Busquets, 34. He negotiated with Saudi sides Al Nassr and Al Hilal but had always wanted to play in the United States. A rare breed of midfielder, Miami won’t see the best of him at his age, but he should still show his class.
RB Leipzig: A
Leipzig continue to own the transfer market as they signed Szoboszlai for €20m in 2020 and have made a huge profit. They will miss him, but you get the feeling that they have another youngster ready to step in.
Liverpool paid the Hungary captain’s release clause and it is a lot of money. But he’s capable of playing in a number of positions across the forward line, is 22 years old, and is a set-piece specialist. If he can steer clear of injury then he will improve the side a lot.
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Real Madrid: A+
OK, Dortmund signed him for €30m and have made a huge profit in three years as he has become one of the best midfielders around. But the fee still seems on the small side for a 19-year-old with such potential. A 30% add-on clause makes the total outlay only €134m, which puts him fifth in the all-time list. Dortmund surely could have got at least a baseline fee of around €120m, with add-ons up to €150m.
A wonderful deal for Madrid, who beat out Man City, Liverpool and every other top club in Europe. Their midfield is set up for the next decade, and they’ve landed a generational talent who will surely become a world star in LaLiga.
RB Leipzig: B+
Leipzig did what they do best: sign a player for a cheap fee and move them on for a huge profit. Nkunku reportedly had a release clause in his contract, so that’s the fee Leipzig got. But they signed him for a mere €13m from PSG in 2019 and turned him into a superstar.
Nkunku is not the No. 9 striker that Chelsea sorely need, but he is a fine operator up front who can fill a number of positions. His 23 goals in 36 games last season show he can hit the back of the net and he’s a more than capable replacement for Kai Havertz if he departs for Arsenal. Though this deal was agreed on as early as last September.
€45m (£39.5m, $48.7m)
Sporting CP: A
Sporting triggered Porro’s release clause of €8.5m after a two-year loan from Man City last summer and have now made a huge profit, as they held out for his new release clause of €45m. It’s classic good business from one of the best clubs in the transfer market.
Tottenham have spent big to sign the 23-year-old right-wing-back, having had him on loan since January, but a bit more forward planning could have seen them avoid such a big outlay. Still, he impressed as the season wore on and he should do well under Ange Postecoglou.
Salzburg are a feeder club; they sign young talent, then move them to Leipzig for a bigger fee when they impress. Sesko’s 18 goals in 41 games have shown what the teenage striker is capable of and he has the potential to go far.
Leipzig ensured they had this deal wrapped up last year, as Man United and others were sniffing around. It’s a good move and the 20-year-old should settle well given the similarities between the two clubs.
Weah joined Lille from Paris Saint-Germain for €10m in June 2019 and contributed eight goals and eight assists in 107 games. Not a stellar record, but at least they made a minor profit on the deal.
There will be high expectations in Italy for the United States winger, who is a son of AC Milan legend George Weah. But he’s unlikely to have the same impact as Angel Di Maria, the man he is replacing.
Real Madrid: A
For some reason Espanyol included a clause in Joselu’s contract that allowed him to move on loan to another club if they were relegated. Then they were relegated. Now they’ve lost their top scorer and have no transfer fee to compensate for his departure.
The 33-year-old striker played for Real Madrid Castilla from 2010 to 2012, so this is a dream move for him. Having scored 16 times in LaLiga last season, he will help fill the void left by the departures of Mariano and Karim Benzema without any financial outlay. A great deal for a man in form, and Madrid have an option to make it permanent.
Al Ittihad: A+
Wow. Nobody expected the 35-year-old Benzema to leave Real Madrid on a free transfer and head to Saudi Arabia. But money talks, and his two-year deal worth €400m was clearly a major factor. Cristiano Ronaldo moving to the league at 37 was one thing, but Benzema is the Ballon d’Or holder. This is huge!
Al Ittihad: A-
With wages around the €100m-a-year range, it’s easy to see why Kante chose to move to Saudi Arabia. The 32-year-old’s career has been blighted by injury in recent years and he hasn’t been the force he once was in midfield, so the club aren’t getting a player in his prime. Chelsea offered him a new deal, but Al Ittihad’s money made the difference. You just have to wonder what one of the most down to earth people on the planet is going to spend it on.
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Man City are foolish to let Gundogan, their captain and leader, leave for nothing. Just look at the impact he had from midfield, scoring crucial goals in the final weeks of the season to help them win the treble. Barcelona need goals and experience from the centre of the pitch, and right now there are few better players in that position in world football. Yes, he’s 32, but the Germany international will have a big impact in LaLiga over the next few years and will strengthen the Barca dressing room too.
Inter Milan: B+
Poor from Gladbach to let one of their top stars depart for nothing, but Inter snapped him up, and they should be pleased. The 25-year-old has scored 44 goals and registered 29 assists in 134 appearances, so he knows how to make an impact in the final third, and his versatility will come in handy for sure.
Aston Villa: B+
Given the number of top clubs linked with the Belgium international as soon as Leicester went down, Villa have done very well to snap him up. At 26, Tielemans still has some development potential and was one of Leicester’s best players before he struggled this season. Villa are a good club for him to continue his career.
With 12 goals from 26 games in his breakthrough season in LaLiga, Jackson has quickly risen to prominence. Villarreal can be pleased with the fee for the 22-year-old Senegal international and can use it to rebuild.
Chelsea have been looking for a No. 9 striker, and now they have one who can hold up the ball and run in behind defenders. He is still learning the game, so don’t expect fireworks immediately, but the Blues are used to gambling on potential.
Chelsea have all but made their money back on the fee they paid Leverkusen to sign Havertz in 2020. That’s pretty good business considering they have already signed his replacement in Christopher Nkunku for €60m.
This one is tough. On the face of it, Arsenal’s need for a player like Havertz isn’t clear. He’s not really a striker, and the Gunners have plenty of quality attacking midfielders already. But coach Mikel Arteta clearly has a plan, and the Germany international’s versatility will help. Still, it’s an awful lot of money (plus another £5m in add-ons) to spend on a guy with just 32 goals in 139 games.
His 10 goals and nine assists from 30 games last season, despite Leicester’s relegation, marked him out as one of the best attacking midfielders in the Premier League. But Leicester could have picked up an extra £10m if they’d let him join Newcastle a year ago.
It’s a fair transfer fee for the 26-year-old England international, who can offer a lot going forward. His style of play should be a good fit under manager Ange Postecoglou, and he can hit the ground running.
Man City: A
Chelsea were forced to accept a lower fee in order to get the deal done by June 30 and therefore make it count towards the first full tax year and help comply with UEFA’s Financial Fair Play rules. Otherwise they’d have held out for £35m or more. The Blues have lost a quality player on the cheap.
City have done well to snap him up for £25m, with another £5m possible in add-ons. The Croatia international is experienced, at 29, and has the quality to bolster Pep Guardiola’s squad depth. A solid replacement for Gundogan.
Al Hilal: B+
Chelsea spent £32m to sign the Senegal international from Napoli last summer, and it didn’t work out. The 32-year-old was brought in as a replacement for Antonio Rudiger but struggled as the Blues suffered their worst season since 1994. They had to take a massive loss to move him on and were lucky to find a Saudi suitor.
Koulibaly will be a class addition to the backline and should have no trouble dealing with the quality of opposition he’ll face on a weekly basis, but you can’t help feel that Al Hilal could have spent their money elsewhere. He’s not going to sell many tickets but should help them keep clean sheets.
Al Hilal: A
Given that it was clear Neves was going to depart, Wolves did incredible business by persuading the Saudi club to shell out £47m. There’s no chance any club in Europe (especially not Barcelona, who were most linked) would have paid even half that.
At 26, Neves represents a different age of player to be tempted by the Saudi millions. It’s not quite a coup of the level of Bernardo Silva (if a club manages to pull that off) but the Portugal international is a quality player and is young enough to run the show for years.
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If you believed a lot of the reports after the World Cup, Brighton weren’t going to let the Argentina midfielder depart for less than £80m. However, it appears he had a release clause in his contract. Though Brighton may net another £20m in add-ons, it’s a very cheap way to lose one of their best players.
Liverpool have netted themselves a bargain and can rebuild their midfield with Mac Allister. The 24-year-old was one of the best midfielders in the Premier League last season and should bring a lot to Jurgen Klopp’s side with his passing, creativity and pressing.
The Brazilian forward scored 11 goals in 35 Championship games last season, but it wasn’t enough to help Watford to promotion. Could the club have held out for more money from a side like Newcastle? Possibly. But Watford needed to let him go.
Brighton are transfer market gurus, so when they make a move it usually works out. This time, though, they have splashed out a club-record fee. The 21-year-old is certainly an exciting prospect and his transfer could be worth twice that amount in a couple of years if he succeeds on the south coast.