Tuesday September 2nd, 2014

And so another transfer window passes, with sighs of relief from club officials and, this summer in particular, from players, more of whom changed clubs than last year. A World Cup summer is often the prelude to moving on, and while last year’s managerial merry-go-round saw an increase in transfer spending, this summer’s recruitment, led by some of Europe's biggest names, has broken more records for money spent. Here is a breakdown of some of the most interesting moves this summer:

Monaco loans Radamel Falcao to Manchester United

It was the deal that laid down the marker for the final day of the summer transfer window: Monaco’s Colombian forward Falcao, days after tweeting that it was his dream to join Real Madrid, moved to Manchester United for a reported €10 million for a year’s loan with an option to buy for €55 million. Falcao, 28, has only played once since tearing his ACL back in January (he scored) and so the deal, even though a loan, comes with some risk attached. Will Falcao return to the level of his Atletico Madrid days in 2011-2013 (70 goals in 91 games)? Where does his arrival leave Robin van Persie? 

Falcao was a player offered to all of Europe’s top clubs over the summer, but the surprise was not so much that it came down to the final day to sort a move – his agent is Jorge Mendes, the master of the market – nor that other clubs, among them Manchester City and Real Madrid, balked at the deal. It was that, once again, Falcao will move to a team not in the Champions League, a competition he has only played in once (with Porto in 2009-2010, scoring three goals in six games). As for Monaco, which signed Falcao along with countryman James Rodriguez (now Real Madrid) and Portuguese midfielder Joao Moutinho last summer, the ‘turn this into a super-club’ project is as good as over, as is the Ligue 1 title race. 

Verdict: Wait and see

TRANSFER TRACKER: The major summer moves across Europe

AC Milan sells Mario Balotelli to Liverpool 

Italian columnist Mario Sconcerti summed up Balotelli best with this fantastic line in Corriere della Sera, “He has the strange talent of making everyone happy when he arrives and even happier when he leaves.” Given his (relatively) cheap fee of €24 million, Liverpool coach Brendan Rodgers has taken a calculated gamble on the Italian, which, if it pays off, will help the Reds consolidate their top-four spot in the Premier League and return to the Champions League.

Planet Futbol
Mario Balotelli's move to Liverpool is a sensible gamble, sure to entertain

It’s the downside that some fans are worried about though; Balotelli disappearing in big games; training-ground fights with teammates and/or the coach; and, crucially, disrupting the squad harmony that Rodgers rightly sees as important. One vignette during his excellent debut in the 3-0 win at Spurs: Balotelli tries to lob Hugo Lloris from 30 yards out, but shins it and the ball goes wide. Rodgers is on the touchline laughing and clapping his impudence, rather than bemoaning his failed attempt.

It’s worth pointing out: for all the soap opera entertainment that follows Balotelli, wherever he’s been he is popular in the locker room. And perhaps more than Liverpool fans, those happiest will belong to the British media: headlines involving Balotelli have included the words, ‘throwing darts,' ‘women’s prison,' ‘school toilet dash,' ‘burned house’ and ‘randy dwarf’ (luckily, not all in the same story) and it got to the point, as UK writer Iain Macintosh put it, where almost anything concerning Balotelli would be credible: “Mario Balotelli has just been spotted riding [an elephant] through the streets of Manchester, throwing [cans of beans] at [old age pensioners].”

Who knows how it will turn out, but it sure will be fun watching it unfold.

Verdict: Hit 

Liverpool sells Luis Suarez to Barcelona

After all the headlines he generated in his three-and-a-half years at Liverpool, the departure of Suarez for €90 million was surprisingly low-key. His efforts at the World Cup, specifically the bite on Giorgio Chiellini that earned him a four-month ban, made a parting of the ways inevitable and easier to digest for Liverpool fans.

Barcelona, on the other hand, gets one of the world’s best players – admittedly with his dark side thrown in – at a time when it needs it most; with no trophies won last season, a sense that the philosophy embodied by Pep Guardiola had slipped and with fears over how Lionel Messi will handle this season after his World Cup disappointment (not to mention the tension with the Barcelona board, some of whom wanted to sell him).

Into all this comes the explosive Suarez, into the city where his wife Sofia’s family moved 10 years ago, a move that inspired Suarez to knuckle down and earn his move from Nacional to Europe. Another Luis, Enrique, will be charged with harnessing Suarez alongside Messi and Neymar, a frightening prospect if it works.

The problem, for Enrique at least, is what goes on behind Suarez, and specifically in defense, where Barcelona looks at its weakest. We will have to wait a while before Suarez makes his competitive debut – it could come in the Clasico against Real Madrid on Oct. 26 – but thereafter, it could be compelling viewing.

Verdict: Maybe

Monaco sells James Rodriguez to Real Madrid 

James Rodriguez owes Soner Ertek a debt of gratitude. He probably doesn't even know who he is – not many do. He’s a defender for Monts Or Azergues, a fourth-tier side in France, and he tackled Falcao in a round of 32 French Cup tie last January. As Falcao fell under the challenge, he damaged his knee ligaments and missed the World Cup.

Planet Futbol
James Rodriguez's Real Madrid move adds to options for talent-rich club

Would James have played as well in Brazil had Falcao been fit? James almost certainly would not have won the Golden Boot, which in itself surely added a few millions to the €80m that Real Madrid paid Monaco for him. Would the deal have even happened without Falcao’s injury? Both parties claim yes, although of course they would. Another question: would Monaco have sold its second-best asset (it still technically owns Falcao) had owner Dimitri Rybolovlev not had to pay his wife €3.29 billion in a recent divorce settlement?

And yet, Real Madrid president Florentino Perez knows a blockbuster signing when he sees one. James has huge marketing potential in South America and has the versatility – and humility – to play as a third midfielder in Carlo Ancelotti’s 4-3-3 or an attacking player in a 4-2-3-1. His goal against Uruguay was described as a Picasso strike by Colombian commentator Tato Samin; there may be fewer moments of brilliance this season, but his arrival makes the reigning European champion a whole lot stronger. 

Verdict: Hit 

Real Madrid sells Angel di Maria to Manchester United

Most players named Man of the Match in the Champions League final want to win it again the following season. That won’t be possible for Di Maria, who cost a British transfer record £59.7 million in joining a team that isn’t even in European competition this season. No matter: Di Maria, 26, said five years ago that it was his dream to play for Manchester United (the club had recently won the Champions League back then) and his move to Old Trafford shows that dreams can come true.

A 0-0 draw on his debut against newly promoted Burnley was proof that he is joining a team low on confidence and in the midst of huge upheaval; but he was one of United’s best players and, given the right conditions, could excel. Coach Louis van Gaal has asked for patience, but unlike his predecessor David Moyes, he will have no one else to blame if things don’t work out. United has spent bigger than any other club in this window – in fact, only Real Madrid in 2009, when it bought Kaka and Cristiano Ronaldo, has spent more in a single transfer window - with the purchases of Marcos Rojo (£16 million), Ander Herrera (£28 million), Luke Shaw (£30 million) and, on loan, Falcao. Scoring goals should not be a problem for this side – but keeping them out might be. Either way, it will be fascinating to watch.

Verdict: Hit

Bayern Munich sells Toni Kroos to Real Madrid

You can see why Kroos became fed up with life at Bayern, where he had a constant battle to prove himself ever since the Munich club turned away interest from Real Madrid and Chelsea to sign him when he was 14. Despite setting up two goals for Miroslav Klose on his debut as a 17-year-old (he was Bayern’s youngest player, a record since eclipsed by David Alaba and Pierre Hojberg), successive coaches Ottmar Hitzfeld, Jurgen Klinsmann and even Louis van Gaal never believed in him. That's why he was sent on loan to Bayer Leverkusen for 18 months where, under Jupp Heynckes, he excelled. 

“In my view, it was a big mistake to send him on loan to Leverkusen,” youth academy boss Werner Kern was quotes as saying in So Foot magazine. “He was the most talented player Bayern have had since Karl-Heinz Rummenigge.”

And while Pep Guardiola played him more than any other outfield player last season, the tensions remained. Kroos wanted financial parity with Philipp Lahm’s €10 million per year, or at least to get closer to Thiago Alcantara’s €8 million. With Guardiola ready to call upon Thiago when fit, and World Cup hero Mario Gotze as well, Bayern held firm in the contract standoff and Real Madrid swooped in to sign Kroos for a relatively cheap €25 million. Bayern had some measure of revenge with the late signing of Xabi Alonso, but Kroos, still only 24, could be running the Madrid midfield for years to come. 

Verdict: Hit

Chelsea sells David Luiz to Paris Saint-Germain 

It seemed bizarre at the time, but when the Sunday Times newspaper reported one year ago that new Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho wanted to get rid of David Luiz and Juan Mata, fans were up in arms. Mata had been Chelsea’s Player of the Year for the previous two seasons, and Luiz was one of the most popular players in the squad.

One year on, Mourinho has his wish, and Chelsea has banked over €85 million for two players it was looking to move anyway. Fantastic business, however you look at it. From the purchasing side, maybe it was not so clever: Manchester United is still looking at how best to utilize Mata’s undoubted talent, while PSG, which spent €50 million on Luiz, were left with a Financial Fair Play-induced headache that left the club unable to spend more money on its primary target, di Maria, and forced it to sign Serge Aurier on loan with a €10 million deal to Toulouse going through next summer. Will Luiz do well for PSG? Certainly, he is a talented player and has already been cited as a leader in the locker room by Zlatan Ibrahimovic. But is he worth what PSG paid for him? Mourinho would dead-pan yes. Not many would agree. 

Verdict: Miss 

Marseille sells Mathieu Valbuena to Dynamo Moscow 

One of France’s best players at the World Cup, it was no surprise that Valbuena left Marseille, but it certainly was one that he moved to Russia for €9 million, as opposed to Sevilla or Fiorentina, who both wanted him. Valbuena was a Ligue 1 title-winner in 2010, and one unnamed agent suggested that he had been poorly advised and he should have left Marseille years ago.

“His career has not been handled well,” the agent told France Football. “He should have joined a big club in summer 2010, when his value was highest.”

Instead he signed a big-money deal with Marseille, which meant any subsequent would be hard to match financially – unless it was to Russia. Valbuena will earn €7 million net during his three-year contract and he did admit to RMC: “I won’t lie, financially Dinamo Moscow have put me in fantastic shape.”

Valbuena started well on the pitch too, with five assists from his first three games. Whether that form continues or not, Valbuena will not be in the Champions League this year and, whatever your opinion on the money/trophies/prestige debate, that is the biggest shame of all. 

Verdict: Miss 

Nicklas Bendtner joins Wolfsburg on free transfer

Has a player’s self-view ever been so at odds with the reality? There is something to be said for the player who has confidence in himself, but when Jacques Crevoisier, who used to conduct personality tests – made up of 117 questions designed to test players' self-belief, concentration levels and determination – on Arsenal’s youth players, looked at Bendtner’s results, he had never seen anything like it before.

“One of the categories is called 'self perceived competence,' i.e. how good the player himself thinks he is,'' Crevoisier told Swedish magazine Offside. “On a scale up to 9, Bendtner got 10! We have never seen that before. Pat Rice [Arsenal's assistant manager] was sitting next to me and couldn't stop laughing.”

Bendtner ran down his Arsenal contract, vowed that his bad-boy reputation was a media myth and eventually found a taker for him in Champions League-chasing Bundesliga club Wolfsburg. Its coach Dieter Hecking had wanted Romelu Lukaku, which might be why he said at Bendtner’s press conference: “The top shelf was empty, so we had to look further down.”

Still, if the Danish forward does half as well as he thinks he can, then maybe the Wolves will finish in the Bundesliga top four after all. 

Verdict: Maybe

Liverpool sells Daniel Agger to Brondby

As the 29-year-old pointed out in his emotional goodbye letter to the Liverpool fans, he turned down many offers from Premier League and other European clubs – including Barcelona one year ago – in order to stay at Anfield. But in that time, he played only 51 percent of matches as the physical demands of top-flight football took their toll. According to Danish paper BT, that’s one of the reasons why he opted to return to his first club Brondby: playing in a less physical league is likely to extend his playing days a bit more.

If the £3 million fee sounds cheap – and surely had Barcelona signed him, it might have been five times that – it’s because it is. There were reports that Liverpool and Brondby might enter into a partnership deal allowing the Reds first-option on young talent from the Danes’ academy, but a Brondby spokesman told SI.com this was not the case. And so, Agger returns to his first love, and Danish football welcomes a superstar.

Verdict: Hit

GALLERY: Big Names on the Move

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