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Grading Europe’s biggest clubs on their transfer window signings

Transfer window rankings

The summer 2021 transfer window seems like something out of the FIFA video game series. Cristiano Ronaldo returns to Manchester United, a number of notable players move on free transfers, and Lionel Messi departs Barcelona to join Paris Saint Germain.

Regardless of your team’s actions, the constant breaking news kept fans of the game on their seats. Admittedly, this is for better or for worse.

Any time there is a transfer, people start to claim there are winners and losers. Perhaps that is a little harsh. Bringing in players and calling them a flop before they step on the field seems premature.

In total, Transkermarkt estimates gross spending reached well-over $3 billion.

Breaking that number down, the Premier League tossed the most money around. Top-flight English clubs almost surpassed $1.5 billion (1,488) in this transfer window. Next, Serie A clubs spent $607 million. Then, the Bundesliga and Ligue Un spent similarly, totaling $457 million and $435 million, respectively. Finally, Spanish top-division teams totaled $322 million.

For some context, the COVID-19 pandemic may have heightened certain clubs’ appetites to acquire top players.

Also, all it takes is one domino to fall in order to set off a chain reaction. Manchester City bought Jack Grealish from Manchester City for $139 million from Aston Villa. The Villains then used that transfer income to bring in four players of their own.

With all the money spent, some clubs ‘performed’ better in the summer transfer window. The following grades break down ratings for the clubs across Europe that made major moves.

 

English Premier League

Manchester United: 9/10

The depth of talent available now for Ole Gunnar Solskjær is remarkable. The Red Devils shored up all three phases of the game this summer. Defensively, Raphael Varane’s $47 million move to England pairs up nicely with Harry Maguire. The center-back is 28, and his expected contract of four years means a healthy combination at the back. 

Jadon Sancho’s arrival from Borussia Dortmund helps the youth at Old Trafford. Additionally, Sancho will likely rotate with Marcus Rashford (when healthy), Mason Greenwood and Anthony Martial.

Then, the 20-time top-flight champions shored up their transfer window by bringing back Cristiano Ronaldo. Ronaldo, perhaps the greatest goal-scorer in soccer history, returns to make United a title contender again.

The only reason Manchester United did not receive a perfect score is because they could have used a defensive midfielder. Scott McTominay and Fred are the current holding midfielders under Solskjær, but Manchester United’s power and prestige could have lured a better option.

Arsenal: 4/10

Arsenal’s current situation is dire. The makeup of players under Mikel Arteta is struggling, and that may be an understatement. After three games in the 2021/22 season, Arsenal sits on zero points with zero goals scored; good for bottom of the table.

In this situation, you expect the club to spend big. Well, they did that. In fact, Arsenal spent more than any other Premier League club. $182 million later, Arsenal does not look all that improved.

The players are young, so there is somewhat of a reason to be optimistic for the future. However, in a time where the Gunners need results, do not expect these players to be world beaters in year one.

Chelsea: 9/10
Romelu Lukaku Playing for Chelsea

Romelu Lukaku playing for Chelsea in 2011.

How do the defending champions of Europe make their squad better? They only go and get one of the best strikers in the world to join an already elite squad. Romelu Lukaku is the most expensive player in this transfer window at $126.5 million, a reputation he earned in his career.

Just when it looked like this would be Chelsea’s only move, they made another on deadline day.

Saúl Ñíguez arrives from Atletico on a season-long loan with the option to buy. Saúl joins a midfield currently occupied by N’golo Kante, Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic, making Chelsea’s midfield one of the best in world soccer.

Manchester City: 6/10

Manchester City spent a club-record fee on Jack Grealish. The Citizens are in a similar boat as Chelsea. With three Premier League titles in the last four years, Manchester City is elite at almost every position, with one exception.

That lone flaw is the striker position. Manchester City found themselves dead set on Harry Kane. The club was willing to pay over $100 million to bring him in. Nothing truly materialized, and the Englishman will spend another season at Tottenham. Manchester City is certainly strong enough to compete in every competition, but Harry Kane could have made them the clear favorites.

 

Serie A

Juventus: 4/10

It was a quiet summer for the side hailing from Turin. After what was a disappointing fourth-place finish in Serie A, Juventus looks like they did not improve much.

Ronaldo leaves the Allianz Stadium after a goal-laden three years (Photo credit: AFP)

That can largely be attributed to the loss of Cristiano Ronaldo. The Portuguese was obviously discontented with the Old Lady’s performance, opting to move back to England.

Moise Kean, who picked up 13 goals for PSG last season in 26 games, returns to Juventus on loan from Everton.

Also, Euro 2020 champion Manuel Locatelli joins on loan from Sassuolo. However, they have a handful of goals and chances to create with the void left by Ronaldo. Furthermore, it is no small void. Ronaldo won the Capocannoniere for leading the league in scoring in 2020/21 with 29 goals.

AC Milan: 6/10

There were a few transfers this summer that left people scratching their heads. One of the main ones was Gianluigi Donnarumma’s departure from AC Milan to PSG on a free. The goalie, who won Euro 2020 Player of the Tournament, is just 22. His market value according to Transfermarkt exceeds $70 million.

The saving grace for AC Milan is from their incoming players. Fikayo Tomori returns, this time on a permanent deal. Furthermore, Donnarumma’s replacement is Mike Maignan. Last season, Maignan kept 21 clean sheets for LOSC Lille, helping the club to win Ligue Un for the fourth time. Other notable arrivals include Olivier Giroud from Chelsea, Alessandro Florenzi on loan from Roma and Sandro Tonali from Brescia.

Inter Milan: 3/10

Romelu Lukaku and Achraf Hakimi represented integral pieces of Inter Milan winning their first Scudetto in 11 years. Lukaku’s transfer brought in over $120 million. PSG spent $66 million on Hakimi. Consequently, Inter Milan found their pockets stuffed.

They must like that feeling. Inter’s gross spending totaled less than $40 million. The most expensive player is Zinho Vanheusden, who Inter immediately loaned out to Genoa. Denzel Dumfries ($13.75 million),Edin Dzeko (free), and Hakan Calhanoglu (free) now must recuperate Lukaku’s goal output. And, remember, Lukaku led Inter Milan in goals in both of his seasons at the San Siro.

 

Bundesliga

Marcel Sabitzer joins Bayern Munich from Bundesliga competitors RB Leipzig (Photo credit: AFP)

Bayern Munich: 8/10

Bayern Munich must know their relative power in Germany. Previously, Borussia Dortmund’s Robert Lewandowski, Mario Gotze and Mats Hummels also went from the Signal Iduna Park to Munich. Now, with RB Leipzig joining Dortmund as Bayern’s biggest rivals, the Bavarians poach players from the club founded just 12 years ago.

This season, center-back Dayot Upamecano and midfielder Marcel Sabitzer join the nine-time defending champions. These players alone are great, helping RB Leipzig to three-straight top-three finishes in the Bundesliga. However, there is even more value in the fact that these players no longer play for one of Bayern Munich’s biggest rivals.

Look, Bayern Munich are the favorites to dominate in Germany, again. Fans expect them to win the Champions League. Their talent pool is already deep. The only issue was losing David Alaba to Real Madrid on a free transfer. Some team would have paid for him, but Alaba did not renew his contract, opting for the Santiago Bernabeu.

Borussia Dortmund: 6/10

Jadon Sancho playing in 2020/21 for Borussia Dortmund (Photo credit: AFP)

A quiet transfer window from Dortmund this summer. Truly, their biggest moment was selling Jadon Sancho to Manchester United. Fortunately for them, United paid a pretty penny of $94 million for the winger.

Still, Dortmund opted to hold on to this money, rather than bring in any more signings.

Perhaps one could say it was a victory to hold on to Erling Haaland. Undoubtedly, a handful of European giants want the Norwegian 21-year-old phenom.

Donyell Malen, a center-forward from PSV Eindhoven, will either play behind Haaland or act as his reserve. Dortmund paid $33 million for the Dutchman.

RB Leipzig: 7/10

RB Leipzig turned their outgoing transfer money into new players. According to Transfermarkt, Leipzig only made about $4 million in net sales.

Yet, RB Leipzig lost their two center-backs, their talisman in midfield and two more attacking threats. Did they replace these players? Yes, but, the average age of the players coming in is just 20.

Regardless, one great deal of business was bringing in Ilaix Moriba from FC Barcelona for around $18 million. Moriba, just 18, has the potential to be one of the world’s great midfielders. FC Barcelona opted to sell the midfielder rather than pay the wages Moriba asked for.

 

LaLiga

FC Barcelona: 3/10

FC Barcelona put themselves in a dire situation over the last couple of years. The misuse of money turned one of Europe’s elite clubs into one battling an unfathomable debt.

FC Barcelona President Joan Laporta (Photo credit: AFP)

The only reason Barcelona receives a three and not anything worse is because they accomplished things that needed to be done in this transfer window. Although, there are a lot of things that must be done to save this club.

For one, FC Barcelona brought in three players on free transfers. Sergio Aguero, Eric Garcia and Memphis Depay all came over at the end of their contracts, saving the club money. But, the club did buy one player, Emerson Royal, for around $15 million. Then, the club managed to flip him to Tottenham in the same window for double that fee. Finally, on transfer deadline day, striker Luuk de Jong arrived from Sevilla on loan.

Additionally, the club loaned out Antoine Griezmann and Francico Trincao, and sold two other players.

Still, the loss of Lionel Messi on a free transfer must sting the most. The captain, and most iconic player in the club’s history, forced out despite trying to take massive pay cuts to help the club. In essence, this reflects how poor Barcelona’s finances are. And, on the field, FC Barcelona lost their leading goal-scorer and assist-provider. In return, they lose his wage bill, but receive nothing else.

Real Madrid: 5/10

This transfer window looked average at best for Real Madrid. David Alaba arrives on a free transfer, so that was nice. But, other than that, there was not much coming in. Raphael Varane and Martin Odegaard both moved to England. Also, Varane’s center-back partner, Sergio Ramos, left on a free transfer to join Paris Saint Germain. Real Madrid did not bring in replacements for that duo.

Eduardo Camavinga playing for Stade Rennais (Photo credit: AFP)

Then, on deadline day, Real Madrid acquired an 18-year-old midfielder from Stade Rennais. Eduardo Camavinga has potential to be a great midfielder. He already received praise and acclaim from his World Cup winning French compatriots, and he helped Stade Rennais to qualify for the Champions League.

Camavinga will join a midfield headlined by Kroos-Casemiro-Modric, but expect the Frenchman to be the heir apparent for Los Blancos.

Yet, defense is where Real Madrid needed shoring up, and there is still somewhat of a void there.

Atletico Madrid: 8/10

There is legitimate reason to see Atletico Madrid as the favorites in LaLiga this season. We know Barcelona is rebuilding, and Real Madrid did not shore up their team defensively based on their transfer window losses.

Atletico Madrid brings back virtually their entire LaLiga-winning team from 2020/21. The lone exception is the loss of Saúl Ñíguez on a season-long loan to Chelsea. Unlike Real Madrid and FC Barcelona, Atletico brought in his replacement. Rodrigo de Paul, who won the Copa America with Argentina this summer, joins the team at the Wanda Metropolitano. de Paul and Matheus Cunha, a striker, joined for $71 million. Also, the return of Antoine Griezmann to the club on a loan makes their attacking threat lethal.

 

Ligue Un

Paris Saint Germain: 10/10

Lionel Messi with his newest attack partners, Neymar and Kylian Mbappe (Photo credit: AFP)

Regardless of your take on PSG’s funding or their relative lack of historical success, no one can deny the greatness of the transfer window the Parisians had.

Let’s start with the players they paid for. Achraf Hakimi carried at $66 million price tag. PSG happily paid that fee for the 22-year-old who already looks like one of Europe’s best wing-backs. Danilo Pereira joins the club after his season-long loan from Porto. Nuno Mendes, another Portuguese, arrives on a season-long loan from Sporting CP. A strong mix of youth and talent that did not break the bank.

Then, we see the free transfers PSG brought in. Nothing more needs to be said about Lionel Messi’s arrival to play with Neymar and Kylian Mbappe. Sergio Ramos, one of the great dressing room leaders and a wall at the back comes in from Real Madrid. Gianluigi Donnarumma, one of the world’s best goalies at just 22-years-old, from AC Milan. Georginio Wijnaldum turned down FC Barcelona for more wages, and somehow also got the honor of playing with Messi.

PSG now has no excuses. They held on to Kylian Mbappe despite Real Madrid offering over $200 million. Whatever starting XI Mauricio Pochettino throws out should be able to compete with the best clubs in Europe.

If the Parisians do not win every competition they compete in, it is a disappointing season.

And, they need to do it now. Kylian Mbappe’s contract expires at the end of this season, and it seems he is already perusing his possible destinations.

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8 Comments

8 Comments

  1. Ra

    September 5, 2021 at 8:57 am

    Interesting article from NYT’s today paper. (Where fans see athletes, teams see assets). Or in the digital edition, ‘The Problem When Teams See Athletes as Assets.’
    We might be going to far on how players are being traded, especially on loan.
    “Even by these low and strange standards, though, the use of players as nothing more than assets — to be fattened for sale like livestock or to be rented to the highest bidder — feels like a step too far.”

  2. Michael F

    September 3, 2021 at 8:16 pm

    @Hans. Agree. They definitely have to get results and soon.

  3. Hans

    September 3, 2021 at 7:51 pm

    Arsenal supporters are disappointed because you are looking at the same starting XI that finished 8th last season. White for Luiz, 3 backup players and a RB are new additions. AFC spent the most of any EPL club and there business is just not exciting. When you look at proper DOFs they all made decent business. Monchi, Sven M., even Spurs, it is Vinai, Edi and Arteta who are the root cause. I am convinced that a proper manager can get decent results with this squad. Look at what Tuchel did with Lampard’s squad, resurrected the career of Rüdiger, Alonso who Lampard deemed useless. In addition, Leicester, Villa, Spurs, Everton and Westham all have strengthened their squads, have experienced managers and will compete for European football. Arsenal has a snowball’s chance in hell to get European football with these execs and its manager, they are inexperienced rookies and these are their first jobs as CEO of a football club, DOF in Europe, manager.
    October 2nd is for me the day of reckoning if AFC is still in or near the relegation zone it is bye bye Arteta and hopefully Edu because the Emirate stadium will be a dangerous place to be because of the fans wanting someone’s head.

  4. Michael F

    September 3, 2021 at 2:10 pm

    @Hans and @Mercator. I think it’s really premature to grade a transfer window of players acquired that are not yet in their prime for a club like Arsenal purposely building for the future. Yes, no one expects a traditional top tier club like Arsenal to sit where there are, but this is a long term project and no one has patience but I think the plan makes sense. The question is… is the manager the right guy?. Lack of Discipline and lack of leadership is a real issue.

  5. Mercator

    September 3, 2021 at 1:39 pm

    @Hans – I agree it’s not ideal, but Arsenal is not in a position to fill every gap with £30m and £40m transfers. For the fee, I don’t think Odegaard is any worse than Buendia. And in fairness to Edu, waiting brought Odegaard’s fee down significantly from the beginning of the window. Same thing at RB – we got a 190 cm Japan international (this matters commercially in Asia) that can slide in as 3rd CB if necessary and did fine in Seria A. The alternative was what, Royal for an extra £10 million? Again, not sure we have done bad business here.

    White and Ramsdale need to perform beyond past experience to justify their price, but with respect to White, it’s not a crazy deal considering he is English and its not like cheaper options abound (Varane is never coming to Arsenal, for example). Yes, the need to buy a CB could have been avoided if they brought Saliba back from loan, but that’s Arteta nonsense. Ramsdale is really the only one I have to shake my head at, and even that come could come good if he plays well when Leno leaves, which will be soon.

    Not shifting Xhaka and Nkeitah when we had the opportunity is inexcusable, and they should have sold AMN too if they were going out to get another RB. But otherwise, we have mediocre overpaid players, there is no way to shift them in a window like this, everyone but the EPL is broke or too good to need Arsenal’s deadwood. Realistically, we aren’t going to win anything for a while, and Bundeia or a better RB wouldn’t change that. The new signings at least filled the gaps in the squad, there is the potential for real upside given their age. and we didn’t make any more stupid purchases of expensive old Chelsea players. We even managed to ship one out when we had no real right to do so.

    With a proper manager, this is a decent squad – not a Top 4 squad obviously, but we were never going to be close to that in this window (or the next frankly). I’d still sack Arteta and Edu based on past performance, and we will see if any of these younger ones come good, but I felt a 6 was about right as it was better than I expected but not really great.

  6. Hans

    September 3, 2021 at 12:41 pm

    @Mercator
    For once I disagree with you and the 4/10 is about correct. Arsenal approached the TW knowing what they needed and went about it all the wrong way. 1st Central Attacking midfielder (CAM) they didn’t get one and bid £25m for Buendia when Villa already had bid £30m. 2nd a RB only got one on the last day and the jury is out on his quality. 30m for a GK2 perhaps becoming GK1 in the future insane. White a CB that can’t handle aerial attacks and was good in a back 3 with towering CBs on the left and right in BHA but not the right signing and massively overpaid with 50m. I agree should have kept Saliba. Striker/Attacker Laca & Eddie free agents next season, Edu and Arteta dismal in finding a solution and proving beyond a shadow of a doubt they are rookies and novices.
    Bottom line the club knew their needs, priority of signings didn’t happen they signed a CB first when they had one in Saliba and not a CAM. October 2nd hopefully the three stooges running the club will be gone.

  7. Mercator

    September 3, 2021 at 10:57 am

    A bit harsh on Arsenal. We filled the necessary gaps and while the signings are not world beaters, they are young and talented and came in at a price that allows Arsenal to fill multiple gaps in one window. Odegaard came in at a very good fee, Lokonga looks a solid signing, and we got a RB. White and Ramsdale are the only questionable transfer for me – I get they is english but if we had just let Silba play at Arsenal from Day one he would be a homegrown and we wouldn’t be paying a ridiculous tax for a CB. £25 million for a keep that wasn’t very good last year doesn’t seem like great business, especially when we still have Leno and Onana is available for a lesser fee. I would give Arsenal 6/10, just for not singing another Chelsea reject on ridiculous wages.

  8. Sal Gerbino

    September 2, 2021 at 2:06 pm

    English language publications ought to stop talking about Serie A b/c it’s pretty obvious they don’t follow it. Tonali was at Milan last year. Inter got Correa who will cost more than Vanheusden, albeit you wouldn’t know that if you only get your info from Transfermarkt b/c it’s a loan and obligation to buy. Roma spent the most money but you didn’t even include them.

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