- Arsenal responded to missing the Champions League for the first time in two decades with a brutal summer, while PSG spent, spent and spent some more.
The summer transfer window is shut in most places and will close in Spain on Friday, and after the billions or euros and pounds that have exchanged hands are finally sorted, the landscape across Europe will look mighty different.
The summer of 2017 saw three transfers shatter the previous transfer fee record–set last summer–making Paul Pogba look like a relative bargain a year after he became the most expensive player ever.
Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi remained put after various rumor winds blew, but their heir apparent, Neymar, left in the most sensational transfer in some time. Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho responded to disappointing first seasons in Manchester by restoring their clubs among England's powerhouses, while Bayern Munich and Juventus have had some more bumps put in their otherwise unchallenged paths to perennial league titles.
There are always winners and losers in each transfer window. Here are the best and worst from Europe's major leagues after a head-spinning summer.
PSG is serious about its European aspirations, no matter if the Financial Fair Play police will coming knocking at Parc des Princes. Paying €222 million for Neymar and an eventual €180 million for Kylian Mbappé is absurd, but the club pulled off the biggest coup in transfer history to remake its attack and announce its intentions. Mbappé may be young and lesser proven than most think (true story, he tied Mario Balotelli for fifth in Ligue 1 goals last season with 15), but his six Champions League knockout stage goals were no fluke. Neymar appears to be quite comfortable in France and will have no issue taking on the challenge of being "the guy." Whereas this was Edinson Cavani's team last season, Ligue 1's Uruguayan Golden Boot winner is now the third prong on Europe's newest three-headed monster (swooping for Dani Alves before all of this should not be forgotten, either). Regardless of what it does in Ligue 1, this project will be judged on its Champions League success.
Its Qatari ownership also has its eye on a bigger picture, and that's putting a pair of marketable faces on its 2022 World Cup, which has been clouded by controversy, tragedy and seedy dealings. Neymar and Mbappé could take their project to new heights, and thus, to them, are worth every single euro.
Losing Dani Alves and Leonardo Bonucci is a huge blow for the Champions League runner-up, but just look at the business the club was able to do. Signing Blaise Matuidi for half the cost of Paulinho and landing Benedikt Howedes on loan with a reasonable option to buy fortifies the spine of Max Allegri's squad without breaking the bank. Other low-key signings like Douglas Costa, Mattia De Sciglio, Federico Bernardeschi and the ability to hold onto Paulo Dybala and Alex Sandro ensure the Old Lady won't be dying off anytime soon.
O.K., the club's Champions League semifinalist squad was absolutely gutted, but take into account what the club was able to do from both a business and personnel standpoint. Losing Mbappé, Bernardo Silva, Tiemoue Bakayoko and Benjamin Mendy is brutal, but the club made a killing off their sales (it'll be over €300 million when all is tallied) and stuck to its time-tested formula of buying low (in some cases, for nothing) and selling at an extreme high. It held onto Falcao, Fabinho and Thomas Lemar and added quality in the likes of Youri Tielemans, Stevan Jovetic, Rachid Ghezzal and Keita Balde at discounted rates, compared to what the rest of Europe's giants are spending.
Helping out a chief rival by serving up Mbappé on a platter to PSG is a head-scratcher, and Monaco will be hard-pressed to reach the Champions League semifinals again (though it landed a very palatable group), but few clubs could lose what Monaco lost and still have the conviction and ability to keep contending immediately. The chip on the shoulder the club will feature in its matches vs. PSG will be massive.
France's national team
That feeling when you look back and realize that so, so many featured players during the window can suit up for France next summer at the World Cup: Kylian Mbappé, Lemar, Ousmane Dembele, Bakayoko, Matuidi, Mendy, Antoine Griezmann, Alexandre Lacazette ... Has a national team manager ever had this tough of a squad selection for a World Cup before? The only thing stopping Les Bleus in Russia is an internal controversy–which, as we know, isn't out of the realm of possibility.
The Reds still have massive questions in defense and a bubbling controversy going on in goal, but there's no denying what Jurgen Klopp was able to do to his attack, all while the club kept to its word by refusing to sell Philippe Coutinho. Getting Mohamed Salah for £36.9 million is a bargain buy compared to his counterparts and landing Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain weakens Arsenal and adds another starting-caliber player for a team in need of depth as it competes on multiple fronts. The window could've been remembered for Liverpool being toyed with by Coutinho. Instead, the club appears strong in its convictions and improved.
Jose Mourinho sat deadline day out, but he didn't really need to do much. Romelu Lukaku and Nemanja Matic already look like difference makers, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic will be returning once he's back from injury. We haven't seen anything from Victor Lindelof just yet, but the Red Devils look spectacular early on in Year 2 of the Mourinho era.
Pep Guardiola didn't manage to land Alexis Sanchez when it appeared a deal was ready to be done, but that takes little away from what City achieved. It remade its defense by buying up all the fullbacks (at an outrageous rate for Danilo, Mendy and Kyle Walker, but when money is no object to the owners...), added a midfield dynamo in Bernardo Silva and trimmed the aging, ineffective pieces of its remaining squad. If it can pry Alexis in January, when he should cost much less considering his contract situation, it'll be a complete victory.
The 'Little Guys'
Swansea City may have lost Gylfi Sigurdsson, but it landed Renato Sanches, brought back Wilfried Bony and has all sorts of new toys for manager Paul Clement to mold in order to keep the club afloat. What once looked like a relegation-bound club now suddenly has new life. West Brom, meanwhile, added Grzegorz Krychowiak on loan from PSG, taking advantage of the French club's roster surplus. If the likes of Sanches and Krychowiak wound up at Chelsea, they'd be touted as shrewd signings. It's all the more impressive that the likes of Swansea and West Brom were able to land them, even if the Premier League's largesse is what helps make it possible.
The club got its transfer business done early, but what a window it was. It held onto Gianluigi Donnarumma when it appeared Italy's next great goalkeeper was headed for the exit and signed the likes of Bonucci, Hakan Calhanoglu, Andre Silva, Franck Kessie, Ricardo Rodriguez and Lucas Biglia. They'll need time to mesh and adjust, but it'll be great to see the Rossoneri challenging again after a horrid period in the storied club's history.
The club probably didn't want to sell Dembele, but it never looked weak in the process and held Barcelona's feet over the coals to extract an obscene fee. It also wasn't forced to sell Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and managed to sign its next superkid waiting in the wings by prying Jadon Sancho from Manchester City. Add in a couple of young defenders (Dan-Axel Zagadou, Jeremy Toljan) and a Dembele replacement in Andriy Yarmolenko, and it's another job well done for sporting director Michael Zorc.
Oh boy. Where to begin?
How about the good: Lacazette should prove to be a valuable addition to Arsenal's attack. He looked great vs. Leicester, was bafflingly benched vs. Liverpool and is the striker signing the club has needed for ages. Now, the rest.
The Alexis saga makes nobody look good. Arsenal is going to lose him either on the cheap in January or for absolutely nothing come the summer, and that's just bad business. The apparent £92 million bid for Lemar, made before talking with the player, is nothing but a PR ploy. "Look, we made the massive bid to sign him, we just didn't have time to get it done!" Come on. Arsenal had all summer, and a last-ditch effort to overpay isn't fooling anyone. And if the reports are true that Lemar rejected the club because it's not in the Champions League, then that's another black eye. How many times did a Laurent Koscielny injury or red card expose Arsenal's weaknesses? What did the club do to fortify its central defense? Nothing.
While Manchester City, Manchester United, Tottenham, Liverpool and Chelsea were busy loading up, Arsenal interjected itself in rumors, swung and missed on star power, lost Oxlade-Chamberlain to a rival (mere weeks after Arsene Wenger claimed he was a building block) and absolutely bungled the Alexis situation.
Congratulations for apparently turning a profit this summer, but your supporters (and former players) want a winner, not a financial dividend.
The club landed Ousmane Dembélé as its Neymar replacement, and that on its face is not terrible. Dembélé is not Neymar. Could he eventually grow to become Neymar? Sure, but not while Lionel Messi and Luis Suárez are at their heights. He'll be a competent addition and one that helps the club compete for more trophies, but he'll need time to acclimate and adjust to his new star-studded teammates. None of this is the point.
Barcelona has looked desperate, foolish and had its reputation taken through the mud all window. Being unable to hang onto Neymar is a massive hit to its pride, the Paulinho signing (while it could yet prove to be valuable!) was the butt of so many jokes, throwing would-be record fees at Coutinho, Dembélé (and reportedly Dybala) reeked of desperation and it's just not something we're accustomed to seeing from such a prideful club. In addition to that, Neymar's presence and the M-S-N trio covered up some the roster's more pressing issues, which still exist. All the while, Barcelona was thrashed by Real Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup, which may not be the end-all, but it's certainly not an ideal way to enter a season. Barcelona will likely stem the tide and be fine, but from a perception standpoint, it was a rough summer.
Antonio Conte cannot possibly be a happy man. The demanding manager watched as Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ross Barkley, Lukaku and Fernando Llorente all opted against signing with the Blues, leaving Chelsea disappointed and looking foolish.
Make no mistake, Chelsea made some valuable buys, and Alvaro Morata, Danny Drinkwater, Antonio Rudiger and Bakayoko should all help the club avoid another 1st-to-10th drop. But this is not the complete summer Conte had in mind.
Players Who Thought They Had Power
Coutinho, Alexis and Virgil Van Dijk all wanted out. None of them left. All of them have to swallow their pride and return to their clubs, and at least feign a happy face until January, when they can renew their demands. Add in that all of this is happening in a World Cup year, when players need to be focused, in form and generally not mopey for weeks and months on end, and it's a big swing and a miss for guys who had other plans this summer. In the case of Coutinho, maybe don't willingly sign a contract extension months before wanting out? There'll be some awkward locker room scenes as these players attempt to rejoin their clubs.
Barkley could have just signed an extension at Everton, been focused on leading the Toffees and securing his place on England's World Cup team. He didn't agree to a deal, got hurt during the final days of the window, saw his value plummet and then apparently pulled out of a deal that would've sent him to Chelsea, according to Everton's owner. Now, he's on the shelf for weeks, could still move in the winter but has a pretty bad stain to his name and an uphill battle to climb with England after what could have been an avoidable situation.
The Underdog "Era"
Cherish Leicester City's title-winning story. The financial giants have hit back with a force that should ensure nothing like it ever happens again.