It often happens that one year before a major tournament players are more risk-averse when it comes to changing clubs, but that has not been the case this summer despite Euro 2016 looming at the end of the upcoming campaign.
Some of the biggest stars in Europe have been on the move, while certain clubs, among them Manchester United, AC Milan and Fenerbahce, have been spending big to catch up with their title rivals in hopes of securing a return to the pinnacle of their respective leagues.
Here are 10 of the biggest transfers so far this summer and how the big names fit in at their new homes:
Bayern Munich to Manchester United, £10 million
Some deals just work for all parties and this is one of them. Bayern gets a decent fee for a 31-year-old with one year left on his deal, while Pep Guardiola has one less selection headache without the pressure of having to pick the player because he was club captain, even if he didn't have his full confidence.
United gets a player looking for a new lease of life, with extra motivation for the challenge of signing for his brother Tobias’s favorite team, and keen to prove that his injury-hit seasons of the last two years were anomalies. United has been here before: it took a risk in signing injury-prone Robin van Persie, whose impact in season one earned United the title but provided some counterweight to the two curtailed campaigns since.
Schweinsteiger also provides something United has lacked in recent seasons; leadership on and off the pitch and that been-there-done-that mentality that only World Cup winners possess. Schweinsteiger may not have the on-field impact that Van Persie did, but off the pitch, there will be no doubting his value.
Angel Di Maria
Manchester United to Paris Saint-Germain, £45 million
Manchester United broke its transfer record to sign Di Maria, off the back of his man-of-the-match performance in the Champions League final and starring in Argentina’s run to the World Cup final and yet cuts him loose at a loss of almost £15 million one year later.
The reasons given for Di Maria’s failure at Old Trafford–and failure is putting it kindly–range from his wife’s unhappiness in Manchester (not helped by a frightening burglary in their house) to Di Maria playing out of position, struggling to learn English and not adapting to the coach’s demands. Yet perhaps the biggest surprise is that this deal has been shrugged off as one of those things, as if a £60 million signing that flops is like losing some lose change down the back of the sofa.
If there is an internal inquiry into Di Maria’s short-lived spell at Manchester, lessons need to be learned. PSG, which would have signed Di Maria last summer were it not for FFP& regulations, will be the beneficiary, and the Argentine genuinely wants to move to the French capital. There is a South American enclave of players there, it can go deep in the Champions League and it’s unlikely that he will be left to sink or swim on his own.
Aston Villa to Liverpool, £32.5 million
The figure that Liverpool spent on Benteke puts him in the top 25 most expensive transfers of all time, and there are fears in Belgium that the price tag will inevitably increase the pressure on the personable forward. The concern at Liverpool is a different one: how can Brendan Rodgers tally his ‘beautiful football’ philosophy and start with a player whose obvious strength is winning headers from crosses?
Benteke is far more accomplished than Andy Carroll, a traditional ‘target-man’ Rodgers bombed out of Anfield as soon as he could, but it remains to be seen whether Benteke will play on his own ahead of an attacking three–maybe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino and one of Adam Lallana, Jordon Ibe and Lazar Markovic–or as part of a two-man strike-force alongside Daniel Sturridge or Danny Ings (or Divock Origi) ahead of a midfield diamond.
“He is a big guy but he has got the attributes that I like in terms of pace and movement and he gets all type of goals,” said Rodgers. “He will fit our tactical idea of the game.”
He has to hope so. Rodgers cannot afford a poor start to the season: owners FSG thought about replacing him last year and his future seems inextricably tied to Benteke’s form. No pressure, then.
Juventus to Bayern Munich, £28 million
Champions League finalist Juventus was expected to sell one of its dynamic midfielders this summer but many thought it would be Paul Pogba, not Vidal. That Bayern paid such an amount for a 28-year-old whose style of play is surely not sustainable as age catches up with him is credit once again to sporting director Beppe Marotta, who continues to prove himself one of the smartest operators in the market today.
Vidal may have won the Copa America with Chile over the summer but his personal standing took a hit when he was arrested for drunken driving mid-tournament. With Andrea Pirlo now in New York, Juve has replenished its midfield with Sami Khedira (free, although he's injured to start the season) from Real Madrid and, as seems likely, Julian Draxler for £20 million from Schalke. Now if Pogba can just stay for one more season, then Juventus’s summer business would be complete.
Liverpool to Manchester City, £49 million
Never has a transfer saga been so transparent, as both Liverpool and Sterling’s agent Aidy Ward kept the press regularly updated towards this ugly deal’s inevitable conclusion. Liverpool’s negotiating stance eked out a massive sum for a player who is far from the finished product; the onus is now on City and coach Manuel Pellegrini to improve Sterling and push him to fulfill his potential. Question marks remain over his finishing – but, crucially, not his temperament.
“He’s a strong boy mentally,” said Rodgers, when the row with Ward was at its peak.
Added newly minted Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson, after Sterling was booed during England's summer friendly against Ireland: “He’s strong-minded and doesn’t let things bother him.”
Being the most expensive English footballer of all time adds an extra pressure, but so far Sterling looks like he can handle it. City could do with his pace, fearlessness and youth. He could even play as a false nine for City if Sergio Aguero is unavailable. For that price, he should be able to play anywhere.
Monaco to Inter Milan, £20 million
The Milan derby should be interesting this season. Last month, Milan CEO Adriano Galliani was so convinced that his club was about to sign Jackson Martinez and Kondogbia that he announced the deals as all but done. Martinez ended up at Atletico Madrid and Kondogbia at Inter.
“Milan offered me more money, but [Inter coach] Roberto Mancini called me and that was decisive,” said Kondogbia, rubbishing Galliani’s claims that he had signed the more lucrative deal.
Mancini had originally wanted Yaya Toure to run his midfield but Kondogbia is a younger, and cheaper, option.
“He’s our Yaya,” said Inter owner Erick Thohir unhelpfully.
Inter has had a busy, and successful, summer, bringing in defenders Miranda (from Atletico Madrid), Jeison Murillo (Granada), Davide Santon (Newcastle) and Martin Montoya (loan from Barcelona); also striker Stevan Jovetic from Manchester City and keeping Mauro Icardi on the books. It may not be enough to overtake Juve at the top, but Mancini now can at least challenge for the title.
Marseille to Porto, £16 million
Imbula thought he would be the Inter midfielder that Mancini turned to after rejection from Yaya Toure, but it did not quite turn out like that. Reports in Spain have suggested that Doyen Sports managed the deal–despite FIFA’s outlawing of third-party ownership from last May–and that he will be parked in Porto for a year before joining AC Milan next summer.
Imbula is Porto’s most expensive signing: more than Hulk (€19 million, who moved to Zenit for €60 million) and Danilo (€13 million, who joined Real Madrid for €31 million).
Porto’s summer spending was labeled ‘madness’ by Jose Mourinho, as it has also signed Iker Casillas on a free transfer (but on big wages), Maxi Pereira from Benfica, Danilo Pereira from Maritimo and Alberto Bueno from Rayo Vallecano. Despite the outlay–offset by the sale of Martinez to Atletico–it’s another excellent window for Porto president Pinto da Costa and his sporting director Angelo Henrique. And keep an eye out on where Imbula might end up next summer.
Atletico Madrid to Barcelona, £24 million
The Turkish winger will have to wait until Barcelona’s transfer embargo is finished in January before he can make his debut, but at least he is still at the club; because he was officially signed during presidential election period, his contract had a two-week window in which the new president could sell him back to Atletico at a 10% loss.
As it happened, (surprise, surprise after winning the treble), the new president was the old president Josep Bartomeu, so the move went through.
Nevertheless it will be a frustrating six months for Turan, and then he will need time to fit in among his new teammates; the same happened to Luis Suarez last season (his debut was in October) and that at least kept him fresh toward the home stretch.
Where Turan fits in is also worth watching: possibly as cover for any of the front three rather than the midfield. While the Neymar-Suarez-Messi trident was sensational last season, perhaps just as impressive was the fact that none were injured. Barcelona will hope for a repeat, but has a contingency plan just in case.
Arsenal to Marseille, free
Has there been an unluckier footballer than Diaby? Injury upon injury, and those who know him say he works as hard as ever and remains positive, even if the evidence–three full games in the last two seasons–is stacked against him. What works in his favor is his talent: when fit, which is rarely, he is as good as any midfielder around.
Marseille is taking a low-cost chance on the Frenchman, after the player had a long chat with club doctor Christophe Baudot. His contract is on a play-as-you-play basis, unsurprisingly, although there are some concerns that coach Marcelo Bielsa’s intense pressing game, not to mention his training methods, could burn Diaby out before he gets going. Club sources have suggested that if Diaby gets 20 games next season, it will have been a success.
Given that's more than his combined total in the last four years (16 appearances), the Marseille medical team would deserve medals.
Chelsea to Arsenal, £11 million
There were some poignant moments after Arsenal beat Chelsea to win the Community Shield on Sunday. That was billed more as Arsene Wenger beating Mourinho, his first time in 14 attempts, and Cech walked a tricky line between respect for his former club and celebrating his current success very well.
He spoke to Thibaut Courtois after the final whistle, made a point of shaking hands with every member of the Blues backroom staff, including a special grin for his former goalkeeping coach Christophe Lollichon, and then he embraced Mourinho.
That Wenger finally ended this hex was not all down to Cech–Eden Hazard had the best chance for Chelsea and he skied it, while a save from Oscar’s free-kick was routine–but Per Mertesacker afterwards spoke of his arrival as “a huge boost.”
It finally looks as if Arsenal has a goalkeeper that has the personality and winning mentality of Jens Lehmann, who has never been properly replaced. It may not be enough for Arsenal to win the title, but it makes the team a whole lot stronger.