Despite the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, almost every major club in Europe made a big-money signing in the just-closed transfer window and there were plenty of records broken, with the Premier League leading the way with over £1.1 billion spent.
While Real Madrid weren’t able to get a last-minute deal for PSG’s Kylian Mbappe over the line, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi moved clubs and there was an impressive mix of £100m moves and savvy free transfers to keep things ticking. In fact, it’s been one of the most exciting windows for years.
Now, let’s cover the most notable summer transfers that was stagnant in some respects and wackier than ever in others.
Antoine Griezmann: Barcelona to Atletico Madrid.
Is there a worse deal in the history of soccer? Signing Griezmann for €120m in 2019, funded by taking out loans and mortgaging against future income, Barca have loaned him back to title rivals Atletico for €10m with an obligation to sign permanently for around €40m. Yes, it raises some cash and gets salary wages off their wage bill, but it strengthens Barca’s rivals and proves just how bad their finances have been run.
Atletico not only get one of their best players back, but they get to weaken one of their title rivals at the same time. The champions already saw what Luis Suarez did in that regard and Griezmann makes it even worse. An incredible move for them.
Luuk De Jong: Sevilla to Barcelona.
With 19 goals in 94 games, the 31-year-old hasn’t set the world alight at Sevilla over the past two seasons but the club have other options up front and aren’t doing themselves any real damage by letting him go on loan.
Coach Ronald Koeman wanted a No. 9 and he got one, though Barca fans won’t be overly excited with the signing. De Jong will do a job, at considerably less wages than other possible arrivals, but it’s hard to see how his style of play will fit into his new club.
Eduardo Camavinga: Rennes to Real Madrid
The French club have lost their star player for an incredibly low fee. Last year, the club were talking about €60m, and they’ve been forced to accept half that as his contract ticks down, while also leaving themselves little time to land a replacement.
Madrid will be happy they have managed to land one of Europe’s top prospects on the cheap and ahead of their rivals. It’s not clear how the 18-year-old fits into a midfield that has Luka Modric, Casemiro and Toni Kroos, but he will add depth and gain a load of experience from these world-class players.
Daniel James: Manchester United to Leeds
Two-and-a-half years after almost joining Leeds from Swansea, Daniel James has finally rocked up at Elland Road. The Welsh winger’s deadline day move to Yorkshire in January 2019 fell through in the dying embers of the window before he ultimately joined Manchester later that year. Things didn’t really work out for the 23-year-old at United. He managed just six goals and seven assists in the Premier League for Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s side, but James will hope his £24m move to Leeds helps him kick on now.
Saul Niguez: Atletico Madrid to Chelsea
Chelsea need another central midfielder? Better call Saúl! Saúl Ñíguez has joined on loan from Atlético Madrid with an option to buy for £30m. Beyond Thomas Tuchel’s three primary central midfield options – N’Golo Kante, Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic – he was fairly limited in the middle of the park, so the 26-year-old adds some depth. Only Casemiro (190) has made more tackles in La Liga than Saúl (159) over the last two seasons. The Spaniard’s ability to play a number of roles is an additional bonus.
Hector Bellerin: Arsenal to Real Betis
Bellerin had an agreement with manager Mikel Arteta that he would be allowed to leave this summer, sources told ESPN. The 25-year-old wanted to quit the Gunners at the end of last season when PSG and Barcelona emerged as serious options, but stayed following heart-to-heart talks with Arteta. This is a step down from those clubs, but at least he can try something new. A loan doesn’t really help Arsenal though.
Betis would have liked the Bellerin who exploded onto the scene in England in 2016 but they can at least offer him a chance to start again. The right-back will enjoy LaLiga and Betis could see the best of him again
Moise Kean: Everton to Juventus
Everton cut their losses on a player who wasn’t going to have a future at the club. He did well on loan at PSG last season, but a two-year loan with an obligation to sign him for €28m, plus €3m in add-ons, is a decent amount and makes them a tiny profit from the €27.5m they spent to sign him in 2019.
Kean started his career at Juve, becoming the club’s youngest-ever debutant in 2016 (16 years, eight months and 23 days) so it’s a return home. He will be an important squad player following the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo, and Juve did well to land him on loan first.
Kurt Zouma: Chelsea to West Ham United
Once it became clear that Chelsea wanted to sign Sevilla’s Jules Kounde, Zouma’s future at the club was always in danger. The defender first joined in 2014 and has been on three different loan spells since, but hasn’t managed to cement his place in the side. £25m is decent money and it will help the Blues get an upgrade.
West Ham had a wonderful season in 2020-21 and this is a signing that should help them keep up the momentum. Zouma is a tough defender and if he can avoid injury then he will strengthen the Hammers’ defence.
Marcel Sabitzer: RB Leipzig to Bayern Munich
This one will hurt. After finishing second to Bayern in the Bundesliga last season, RB Leipzig have lost their manager (Julian Nagelsmann), star centre-back (Dayot Upamecano) and now their captain to their rivals. Sabitzer’s contract was running down, so their hand was forced. But they’re becoming the new Dortmund in that regard.
Superb move from Bayern. Sabitzer is experienced, versatile, and still only 27, so he has plenty of years left at the top. He will add great depth to the Bayern midfield, with the only possible issue surrounding how much playing time he might get.
Xherdran Shaqiri: Liverpool to Lyon
Having signed from Stoke for £13.5m in 2018, you have to look at this as a poor move for Shaqiri. He scored eight goals in 63 games over three seasons but hasn’t really had much of an impact beyond being a backup for Mo Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino. It was the right call to let him move on and they may get another €5m in add-ons..
At 29, Shaqiri is approaching the end of his career but he’s got a three-year contract in Lyon before he has to start worrying about that. A quality player on his day, the Switzerland international should prove to be a star in Ligue 1 now that he’ll get a chance to showcase his talent.
Martin Odegaard: Real Madrid to Arsenal
With an initial outlay of around €4m in 2015, Real Madrid have made a handsome profit and certainly had enough time to work out if the midfielder would succeed at the club after numerous loan spells. In the end, they cut their losses and took advantage of the fact Arsenal really needed to sign him.
The Gunners will be happy as Odegaard was their No. 1 target for the attacking midfield position. Only time will tell if he’s worth the €40m they handed over, but he showed in glimpses during his loan spell last season that he could be a fine addition to the side.
Tammy Abraham: Chelsea to Roma
Abraham’s future at Chelsea was always under threat once Romelu Lukaku arrived back at the club for €115m. With 30 goals in 79 games over the past two seasons, the 23-year-old needed to prove himself and playing under Jose Mourinho should be an interesting experience. Chelsea landed a big fee (paid in installments over the next few years) and have an option to re-sign him for €80m in 2023 if he really does well.
Roma needed a striker after letting Edin Dzeko leave for Inter and they have now spent over €100m on six new players this summer. He may shine, he may flop, but there’s no doubt that Abraham will get a chance to show why he is so highly rated.
Manuel Locatelli: Atlanta to Juventus
Sassuolo helped turned Locatelli into a star, though his performances for Italy at Euro 2020 helped too, and it seems odd he’s moving on a two-year loan. Yes there’s an obligation for Juve to sign him permanently for €25m (payable over three years) plus €12.5m in add-ons. Yes, Sassuolo will get the cash eventually and it does help their financial planning. But they surely could have held out for more up front.
Juve have landed one of Italy’s best young midfielders for fee they can spread out over the coming years, so they’ve done very well. He should slot into the side nicely and if he can continue his form from Euro 2020 then he will be a
Raphael Varane: Real Madrid to Manchester United
With Sergio Ramos leaving on a free transfer, Madrid better have a plan now they’ve allowed his centre-back partner Varane to move as well. €41m, with another €7m in add-ons, is a decent fee in these times, especially when his contract expired in 2022, but the Spanish club now have some big boots to fill in defence.
United needed a central defender and now they have one of the world’s best. They should view the transfer fee as a bargain given what the 28-year-old World Cup winner brings in experience. It’s a top signing.
Romelu Lukaku: Inter Milan to Chelsea
Inter’s poor financial situation has been well documented, but the Serie A champions already made €70m in letting Achraf Hakimi leave for PSG. Did they need to move on Lukaku? Or could they have held on to a player who showed no interest in departing and who scored 64 in 95 games since joining from Man United in 2019. Yeah they got a lot of money, but their squad will suffer massively.
Lukaku is a much better player than the youngster who struggled at Chelsea between 2011-14, then didn’t seem to fit at United. Chelsea already spent €63m on Timo Werner last season and their first choice for a striker was clearly Erling Haaland, who won’t leave Dortmund until next summer at the earliest. But Lukaku should still do well in the Premier League and is a class act, even if they did overpay to sign him.
Lionel Messi: Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain
Whichever way you look at it, PSG landed themselves arguably the best player to have ever played the game for free. Messi may be 34 but he’s still world class and has a lot left to give. Barcelona’s financial situation is a mess and if we could grade them for letting Messi go for nothing they’d get less than an F. But PSG have played the market well this summer and their hopes of winning that elusive Champions League trophy have increased by signing the six-time Ballon d’Or winner.
Jack Grealish: Aston Villa to Manchester City
Having come through the youth ranks at Villa, Grealish’s exit gives a lifechanging amount of cash to his hometown club. Villa have already been spending it on Emi Buendia (£33m), Leon Baily (£30m) and Danny Ings (£25m) with more new signing expected. They’ll miss Grealish, but adding three or four quality players to the squad will make a big difference.
Historically, though they have spent a lot of money overall, City don’t spend big on one player. Grealish will change that, but with the wealth of attacking talent they have, do the club need him? Probably not, which is why they are marked down. A striker is a much bigger priority and they have yet to land one. Grealish is still a good signing, but it’s a lot of money for a player who plays in a position they already have Phil Foden, Kevin De Bruyne, Bernardo Silva, Raheem Sterling and Riyad Mahrez.
Ben White: Brighton to Arsenal
This is a really interesting deal, as it’s clear White has been one of the best young English defenders in the Premier League over recent seasons. Brighton will be sad to lose him, but delighted that they’ve managed to get £50m, which will go a long way to their rebuilding.
The Gunners beat off competition from Premier League rivals (who all went elsewhere and paid less for their targets) but White should bring some quality to their defence if he can live up to the pricetag. It’s a lot of money for a 23-year-old with relatively little experience, so the pressure will be on, but Arsenal’s big signings have a habit of struggling.
Jadon Sancho: Borrusia Dortmund to Manchester United
Having signed him as a 17-year-old from Man City for just €8.7m, and moving him on for around 10 times that a few years later, Dortmund’s scouting team have done it again. Sancho has become one of the best young wingers in the game and Dortmund eventually relented amid the financial pressures of COVID-19, even if they were forced to accept a lower deal than the €120m they originally wanted.
United already have a plethora of fine young attacking talent, but Sancho is a gamechanger. It’s a massive transfer statement to their rivals and, make no mistake, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team will be fighting for the Premier League title next season after this signing.
Olivier Giroud: Chelsea to AC Milan
Giroud started only eight Premier League games for Chelsea last season so keeping the 34-year-old around seemed unfair. He signed a new contract last season but the club have received a small fee now for letting him go, plus another €1m in add-ons. The arrival of Timo Werner from RB Leipzig scuppered his Chelsea career, but arguably he might have scored more goals if given the chance.
Milan have a knack of landing a veteran on the cheap and turning their career around. Expect Giroud to impress in Serie A but how he dovetails with the 39-year-old Zlatan Ibrahimovic up front will be must-watch TV.
Gianluigi Donnaruma: AC Milan to Paris Saint-Germain
Quite possibly the signing of the window. Donnarumma is the best young goalkeeper in the world and PSG held off competition from virtually every other club in Europe to land the 22-year-old on a free transfer once his contract at AC Milan expired. The Italy international will be a fixture in the No. 1 spot for the next decade.
You might feel for PSG goalkeeper Keylor Navas, who barely put a foot wrong this season and could find himself second choice again — exactly what happened to him when Real Madrid signed Thibaut Courtois from Chelsea in 2018 — but sources have told ESPNthat the Costa Rica international may keep his place this season. Donnarumma may go back to the Serie A club on loan but the deal is still excellent with one eye on the future.
Sergio Ramos: Real madrid to Paris Saint-Germain
Signing a defender of Ramos’ quality is always going to be a good deal, even if he’s 35. PSG have handed him the two-year contract that Real Madrid were not willing to offer him. Though Ramos clearly didn’t want to leave Bernabeu, and he could have stayed if he had been quicker to accept the one-year deal that was on the table, he should improve PSG’s defence
Achraf Hakimi: Inter Milan to Paris Saint-Germain
Sign a player for €40m, move him on for €70m a year later after he helps you to win the Scudetto. A good piece of transfer business for Inter but they’ll regret the financial situation that means they have to let one of their stars go.
PSG have shown a willingness to spend big in certain positions and now they have a top quality right-back. The Morocco international is only 22 and has plenty of room to develop, but he’s already world-class.
Cristiano Ronaldo: Juventus to Manchester United
Manchester United announced that Cristiano Ronaldo was returning to the club on Friday before confirming the deal on deadline day. Despite ending last season as the top scorer in Serie A, with 29 goals enough for the 36-year-old to win the Capocannoniere, Ronaldo has not been considered a huge success in Italy by everyone. United fans are excited for his return, though, as they seek to close the gap between themselves and champions Manchester City.
Dayot Upamenco: RB Leipzig to Bayern Munich
With a release clause inserted into his contract, there wasn’t much that Leipzig could do to stop their star defender from departing. Upamecano is only 22 but has become one of the best young players in Europe after joining from FC Salzburgin 2017 for around €10m. The club have made their peace with letting him go and will move on.
Bayern edged themselves ahead of the rest of Europe’s top clubs to land the Frenchman and should be very pleased. He is still developing but should be a fine addition to their multitalented squad as he was one of the most coveted players of this transfer window.
Ibrahima Konate: RB Leipzig to Liverpool
Another Leipzig star with an achievable release clause inserted into his contract. Much like Upamecano, Konate wasn’t going to last long at the club before moving on to one of the top teams in Europe. Leipzig did well to get a big transfer fee and can rebuild with it.
One of the top young defenders in Europe, Upamecano took most of the headlines but Konate is equally deserving of a big move. Liverpool have struggled this season but should be set for the future if the 21-year-old can hit the ground running in England and stay free of injury
Fikayo Tomori: Chelsea to AC Milan
After breaking into the team last season, Tomori fell out of favour under then-manager Frank Lampard and when Thomas Tuchel restored Antonio Rudiger to the side his days were numbered. Chelsea can use the funds for their new signings and his exit doesn’t impact their defensive depth at all.
A rare example of a loan move from Chelsea working out well for all concerned. Tomori impressed during his six-month spell and €28.5m for a 23-year-old with bags of potential is a decent deal for Milan too.
Hakan Calhanoglu: AC Milan to Inter Milan
With 172 appearances over the past four seasons, Calhanoglu has been a key player for AC Milan and it’s a major shock to see him move to the club’s city rivals, Inter. At 27, the Turkey international clearly felt he was worth better wages and what Milan couldn’t offer, Inter could. He will improve their attack and the club have done well to snap him up on a free transfer. Just wait until the fans are allowed back into San Siro though.
Giorginio Wijnaldum: Liverpool to Paris Saint Germain
PSG did well to land a quality midfielder like Wijnaldum from under the noses of Barcelona, and on a free transfer too. It’s somewhat surprising that the Dutchman didn’t see a future for himself under Barca coach Ronald Koeman, but PSG will reap the rewards and Liverpool will be sad to see him depart. He’s not one for future, but can provide some much-needed experience to bolster the midfield and help the club’s younger players to develop.
Sergio Aguero: Manchester City to Barcelona
With 260 goals in 389 games for Manchester City, Aguero is one of the best strikers to have ever played the game. At 32, and with a season of injury struggles behind him, he has opted for a new challenge and still has plenty to offer. If his body holds up, Barca will hope that he will have a similar impact to Luis Suarez but his arrival may be more important in persuading fellow Argentine Lionel Messi to sign a new contract.
David Alaba: Bayern Munich to Real Madrid
Bayern will be furious that they weren’t able to persuade one of their top defenders to sign a new contract, but the 28-year-old Alaba clearly had a new challenge in mind. Madrid have got themselves a world-class player who can operate in several different positions. They are paying him a lot in wages but the lack of transfer fee makes it completely worthwhile. If Sergio Ramos or Raphael Varane leave, the club have a natural replacement.
Memphis Depay: PSV Eindhoven to Barcelona
Depay has had a strange career: failing at Man United from 2015-17 but reigniting his career at Lyon. A reunion with manager Ronaldo Koeman can help Barcelona’s squad depth but, even though he’s still only 27, his arrival may hinder the development of some younger stars like Trincao and Ansu Fati. His larger-than-life personality isn’t to everyone’s tastes so it will be interesting to see how he settles at Camp Nou. At least if he fails, he was signed on a free.