The cynics among the regulars in your pub might suggest that the transfer window that slammed shut at 11pm last night brought the curtain down on three months of bluster, posturing and pointless media speculation. Love it or hate the multi-billion pound swap shop though, there’s no denying it provides plenty of entertainment and provokes more than its fair share of late-night bar-stool debate.
If the coverage given across the mainstream UK media is anything to go by, the most compelling debate of them all is whether the transfers that did not happen are in fact more interesting than those that did.
The two highest value transfers in history effectively went through in the last few weeks – the Qatari owners of Paris St Germain (PSG) shelling out around £200m to lure Brazil’s Neymar away from Barcelona, before stretching the principles underpinning UEFA’s Financial Fair Play (FFP) rules by taking Monaco youngster Kylian Mbappe to the French capital on loan and agreeing to pay in the region of £166m for the 18-year-old next summer.
While the Premier League has been outdone in that one historical context, the 20 clubs that currently inhabit the self-proclaimed best league in the world have hardly been backward in coming forward with their own wheelbarrow-loads of cash. The final £1.4bn payout equated to roughly £71m per club, easily eclipsing the previous record.
So, who went where and what will your punters be talking about in the next few months?
• The running joke earlier in the summer was that biggest spenders Manchester City had spent more on their defence than many small African nations, bringing in Kyle Walker from Spurs, Benjamin Mendy from Monaco and Real Madrid’s Danilo for just short of £130m combined. Pep Guardiola’s men also splashed £45m on another Monaco man, Bernardo Silva and £36m (a world record for a goalkeeper) on Ederson from Benfica.
• Manchester United were not far behind, with Romelu Lukaku (biggest single transfer at £90m) and Nemanja Matic arriving from Premier League rivals Everton and Chelsea respectively. They also signed a new centre half, Victor Lindelof from Benfica, and re-signed last season’s top scorer Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who was out of contract having suffered a long-term injury (he won’t play again until the New Year).
• In London, Chelsea’s flagship signings were Alvaro Morata from Real Madrid (£70m) and Tiemoue Bakayoko, another Monaco deserter, while Tottenham spent most on Davinson Sanchez from Ajax and Serge Aurier from PSG. Without Champions League football this season, Arsenal’s biggest outlay was on Alexandre Lacazette from Lyon (£52.3m), some of which the north London club recouped through the sale of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to Liverpool on deadline day.
• The Ox, who alongside Kyle Walker was conspicuous as the only Englishman at the top of the value charts, joined Mohamed Salah, an early-season hit at Anfield.
All of these major signings by the perennial top-6 are big news of course, as were other notables such as Everton manager Ronald Koeman upping the ante in the blue side of Liverpool by spending well over £130m on Gylfi Siggurdson, Jordan Pickford, Michael Keane, Wayne Rooney and Davy Klaasen. Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez’s move to West Ham with Marko Arnautovic looked like a masterstroke at the time – less so now with the Hammers rooted to the foot of the table after three games and Arnautovic suspended. Bournemouth spent over £20m on a player – Nathan Ake from Chelsea, Leicester City persuaded Man City’s Kelechi Iheanacho to join their ranks for almost £25m, and Crystal Palace waited until the last minute before securing long-term target Mamadou Sakho from Liverpool for around £26m.
The team that finished bottom of the Premier League last year made £100m in prize and TV money, just £50m less than the champions Chelsea. That pot will grow again in the current season and it doesn’t take into account the significant additional income that the top sides earn in European competition. It’s no surprise then that every single Premier League club spent upwards of £10m on at least one player and perhaps more surprising that five clubs – Arsenal, Spurs, Swansea, Burnley and Stoke City – actually exited the window having made a profit (in transfer fees at least, although the wage demands of their new recruits might put an extra dent in that figure).
Five go nowhere
Arguably though, the enduring stories of this window will be the transfers that did not happen. From the time when it was flung open on 1 June to the time this article was written, the greatest conjecture has surrounded the futures of four men – Alexis Sanchez (Arsenal), Virgil van Dijk (Southampton), Philippe Coutinho (Liverpool) and Diego Costa (Chelsea). All four were adamant they wanted to leave. All four made it pretty clear which club they wanted to go to. All four failed to force that move through by 11pm on August 31st, although as the Spanish window stays open for another 24 hours, both Coutinho and Costa – whose preferred destinations are Barcelona and Atletico Madrid could still be on their way. A fifth want-away, Everton’s Ross Barkley, also failed to find a route out of Goodison Park, hindered first by another long-term injury and then his own lack of desire to join Chelsea after a controversial medical.
The financial side of the incredible sums being switched between clubs is fascinating. Because base income levels have risen substantially, the increase to £1.4bn means they have merely continued to spend between 20% and 25% of their income on transfer fees, which sits safely within the FFP parameters. Whether PSG can be said to have done the same – if the agreed Mbappe fee is included then the Parisians have spent an estimated 45% to 50% on player transfer fees. That story will continue to unfold in the coming weeks and months.
The increasing wealth of the clubs though is bringing with it unintended consequences. Rather than being content with wages of between £60,000 and £250,000 a week, the five players picked out above were among a vocal minority who decided the grass elsewhere was not just greener, but also tinged with gold. The unseemly stand-offs this caused with their clubs have provided the most unpalatable elements of this transfer window; Southampton, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool dug in their heels and refused to sell unless their terms were met, which is laudable in some respects, but not without its consequences. Considering none of these players is likely to happily re-integrate themselves with their former team-mates, its safe to assume the next transfer window – in January – will feature more of the same.
Best business – why these are our top 10 buys
1 and 2) Lukaku and Matic to Man Utd – one to score goals and one to shore up the midfield and set the playmakers free
3) Morata to Chelsea – a more than capable replacement for beach-bum Diego Costa
4) Chicharito to West Ham – proven Premier League quality to light up the London Stadium
5) Siggurdsson to Everton – high-class distribution and will score crucial goals for the Toffees
6) Renato Sanches to Swansea (on loan from Bayern Munich) – showing the value of a manager’s connections
7 and 8) Michael Keane to Everton and Harry Maguire to Leicester City (from Hull City) – England’s future centre back partnership add steel to their respective new clubs
9) Fernando Llorente to Spurs (from Swansea) – a much-needed dependable deputy for Harry Kane
10) Mohamed Salah to Liverpool – perfect foil for the irrepressible Sadio Mane for the attack-minded Scousers
Watching brief – what do these 10 have to prove?
1) Wayne Rooney to Everton – Man Utd and England legend, but can he last the pace any more?
2) Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to Liverpool – nine goals in seven seasons for Arsenal, but can he live up to his huge price tag?
3 and 4) Marco Arnautovic and Joe Hart to West Ham – both inconsistent performers in recent times, but are they capable of stepping it up in East London?
5) Alexandre Lacazette to Arsenal – should score goals, but will he thrive in the turmoil at The Emirates?
6 and 7) Bernardo Silva and Kyle Walker to Man City – neither has settled well so can they propel City to greater heights?
8) Wilfried Bony to Swansea – 34 goals in two seasons before leaving Swansea, but flopped at Man City and Stoke; does he still have it?
9) Jay Rodriguez to West Brom – injury ravaged in his last three seasons at Southampton; will his body stand up in the West Midlands?
10) Andre Gray to Watford – hardly set the world alight at Burnley; will he score the goals to justify a fee in excess of £18m?
Late and Never
* Danny Drinkwater – Leicester City to Chelsea – joined former team-mate Ngolo Kante at Stamford Bridge after FA granted two-hour window extension
* Davide Zappacosta – Torino to Chelsea – highly-rated full back reunites with his former manager Antonio Conte
* Fernando Llorente – at the 11th hour, the seasoned Spanish international signed on the dotted line for Spurs
* Mamadou Sakho – Liverpool to Crystal Palace – excelled on loan in south London last season; now has the chance to make himself a permanent fixture
* Ross Barkley – Everton to Chelsea – having wanted out all summer, England man travelled to London to have his medical, then turned his back on £35m deal
* Lemar – Monaco to Arsenal – clubs ran out of time despite agreeing astonishing £92m fee on the night Lemar scored two in Paris for France against Holland
* Alexis Sanchez – Arsenal to Manchester City – Chilean’s move was also agreed by clubs, but Arsenal couldn’t get replacements in, so pulled the plug