Sep 1, 2021
Jon Molyneux-CarterSenior Editor
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.
Here are grades for all the major summer deals, with each day listed in order of highest transfer fee. All fees are reported unless confirmed with an asterisk (*).
Barcelona grade: F
Atletico Madrid grade: A+
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 grade: B
Barcelona grade: B
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 enamoured 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.
Real Madrid: A+
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.
£21.4m (€25m, $29.5m)
Barcelona probably come out of this one slightly better, as they only recently signed him for €9m in a complicated deal with Real Betis (who will be owed €5m as part of the move.) Clearly they have options at right-back in Sergino Dest and Sergi Roberto, so making a decent profit was a priority.
Tottenham have landed a good player, who impressed with Brazil at the Copa America, but it’s still a fair amount to spend on a right-back. He should do well, though, and will replace Serge Aurier.
Man United: B+
Leeds United: B+
James has spent the past two seasons at Old Trafford after signing from Swansea City in 2019 but hasn’t made much of an impact. With Jadon Sancho and Cristiano Ronaldo arriving, it was a good time to move on, and a hefty fee helps United balance the books, too.
Leeds should be able to offer the speedy Wales winger a chance to shine. They have paid roughly £10m more than United did to sign him, which is a bit odd as his transfer value shouldn’t really have increased, but they’ll get a decent young player who is hungry to succeed.
€20m (£17m, $23.4m)
Bologna grade: B
Arsenal grade: C+
Having signed in 2019 from Belgian side Sint-Truiden for around €9m, Bologna have made a decent profit and can help secure their financial future for a while with this deal. The Japan international will be missed, but they couldn’t block his move for long.
Arsenal were under pressure as the deadline ticked down to find a replacement for Hector Bellerin as Ainsley Maitland-Niles made it clear he wanted out. Tomiyasu isn’t the kind of signing that will get Gunners fans that excited, but at 23 he has room to grow and can play either centre-back or right-back.
Barcelona grade: C
RB Leipzig grade: B+
Having tried to sign him to a new contract with his terms expiring in 2022, there wasn’t much Barcelona could have done to prevent this move. How one of Camp Nou’s finest young players slipped into the clutches of another club will be analysed by Barca, but it’s likely to be down to the wages on offer in the midst of their financial crisis.
Leipzig continue to sign up some of Europe’s top young talent, and the 18-year-old has all the skills to impress in the Bundesliga. Moriba should get a chance to shine in Germany — with a host of other teenagers for company.
€15m (£12.8m, $17.73m)*
Man United: A
An incredible few days at the end of August saw Ronaldo ask to leave Juventus, with little resistance. The Turin side can help break even with the €15m fee (plus €8m add-ons), reduce one massive set of wages from their wage bill and focus on the future. Yes, they’ll miss Ronaldo’s goals and presence, but they may be better off.
United are being somewhat romantic by bringing the 36-year-old back to Old Trafford, as they don’t really need another forward, but they’ve had success with older players before. Ronaldo isn’t the same player as fans remember between 2003 and 2009, but just keeping him out of the clutches of rivals Man City may be reason enough to sign him.
Atletico Madrid grade: C
Chelsea grade: A
LaLiga champions Atletico won’t have wanted to let Saul go, but the player reportedly pushed for a move after slipping down the pecking order. They will miss his versatility and their squad will be weaker as a result.
It’s a sign of a world-class squad when you still manage to add quality to it without really needing to. Chelsea wanted a central defender but ended up with a midfielder and Saul will add some depth to an area they have filled with poor choices in recent years.
Arsenal grade: C
Real Betis grade: B
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.
Sporting CP grade: C
PSG grade: A
This one came out of nowhere as the deadline ticked closer and it’s hard to see what Sporting get out of it. A loan fee of €7m will help, but given that the 18-year-old left-back is one of their best young players for a long while, a €40m option seems on the low side when they were asking twice that a few months ago.
Another stunning piece of business for PSG. They have arguably one of the most dynamic full-back pairings in world football with Mendes on the left and Achraf Hakimi on the right. If he impresses during his loan spell, then the option to sign him permanently will be a bargain.
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.
RB Leipzig: D
Bayern Munich: A
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.
West Ham: A-
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.
Hertha Berlin: B+
Atletico Madrid: B
Cunha only joined Hertha in January 2020 from RB Leipzig and scored seven goals in the Bundesliga last season, but after an impressive Olympic tournament with champions Brazil, the German club were always going to struggle to keep hold of him. A fee of €25m will go a long to helping them rebuild.
Atletico described their new signing as “a versatile player who can play in various positions — as a striker, winger or even attacking midfielder,” and this is key. It seems Fiorentina’s Dusan Vlahovic and Wolves’ Rafa Mir were first choice, but they’ve still landed a young player with great potential, who can move around the forward positions.
€6m (£5.3m, $7m)
Liverpool grade: C
Lyon grade: A
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.
Real Madrid grade: A
Arsenal grade: B+
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.
Ian Darke and Julien Laurens react to Arsenal’s moves of signing Martin Odegaard and Aaron Ramsdale.
Sheffield United grade: A-
Arsenal grade: B-
Having been Sheffield United’s Player of the Year and Young Player of the Year for 2020-21, I’m sure the Blades would have wanted to keep Ramsdale. But they were relegated and still managed to make a decent profit on a player they only signed for £18.5m from Bournemouth in August 2020.
It’s not often that a backup goalkeeper costs over £20m but Arsenal clearly have bigger plans for the England international and he’s expected to replace Bernd Leno long-term. It’s an odd move though and one feels that, given Arsenal’s terrible start to the season, the money would have been better spent elsewhere.
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 great success.
€40m (£34m, $47m)
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.
The ESPN FC crew look at all the factors that will affect how Raphaël Varane meshes with the Manchester United defense.
€41m (£34m, $46m)
Real Madrid: C
Man United: A+
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.
Craig Burley says Chelsea adding Romelu Lukaku from Inter Milan is a great move for Thomas Tuchel.
€115m (£97.5m, $135m)
Inter Milan: D
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.
Ale Moreno joins SportsCenter to explain that only a Champions League trophy counts as success for PSG now.
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.
Atalanta took Romero on loan for two years, then paid €16m to sign him permanently this summer before negotiating a possible €50m move to Tottenham. It’s a loan for this season but the money will come as an option to sign him permanently is expected to be taken in 2022. It’s excellent business and they’ve even landed a top young player in Juventus’ Merih Demiral to replace him.
Romero will become the second most expensive arrival for Tottenham (after Tanguy Ndombele, who joined for €60m in July 2019) and they will owe a further €5m in add-ons. Romero is 23, so has plenty of room to grow and clearly has a lot of potential. But, much like Arsenal’s signing of Ben White, it seems like a lot of cash for a relatively untried player.
Mark Ogden debates how Pep Guardiola will utilise Jack Grealish and wonders whether Man City even need him.
Aston Villa: A+
Man City: A-
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.
Brighton grade: A
Arsenal grade: B+
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.
After coming through the ranks at Ajax, Malen was snapped up by PSV Eindhoven as an 18-year-old following a spell at Arsenal from 2015-17 where he did not make a single first-team appearance. PSV got a bargain and have made a decent profit to rebuild but they’ll struggle to find another player of his quality.
You never want to let one of your best players go, but Malen will prove to be a fine a replacement for Jadon Sancho at Dortmund. At 22, he has room to grow and also has a lot of similar qualities including: pace, dribbling skill and an eye for goal. He should shine in the Bundesliga.
€25m (£21.3m, $29.4m)
The 20-year-old Spain winger hasn’t played much for Sevilla since making his debut in 2019 but has impressed on loan at both Leganes and Eibar. A livewire dribbler with good skills on the ball, Gil could have been an important player for years to come but Sevilla decided to take the cash and they did get an able replacement in Erik Lamela as part of the deal too.
It’s tough to judge potential, especially when it’s a young player who will take time to get used to a new league and country, but Gil looks like a special talent. Tottenham needed to move Lamela on and this could be an excellent solution.
For reasons best known to himself, Atalanta boss Gian Piero Gasperini dropped the goalkeeper in February and then signed Juan Musso from Udinese to take his place, so Gollini’s time at the club was clearly over. A loan spell with an option to sign him permanently for €15m is a good short-term solution, but he was a key part of Atalanta’s rise in Serie A last season and will be missed.
Gollini should have his sights set on Hugo Lloris’s No. 1 spot at Tottenham, otherwise it will be a terrible move. With a youth stint at Man United and a 20-game spell at Aston Villa in 2016-17’s Championship behind him, the 26-year-old has a chequered history in England. It just seems odd he’s willing to play backup at this stage of his career, when he would have had other offers around Europe. Spurs have landed a quality player to compete with Lloris, but it could turn nasty if he doesn’t play.
€85m (£72.9m, $101m)
Man United: A+
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.
ALBERT SAMBI LOKONGA
€20m (£17.2m, $23.5m)
Anderlecht grade: B
Arsenal grade: B
At 21, the midfielder established himself as a regular under manager Vincent Kompany last season, but when one of Europe’s elite clubs comes calling it is hard to hold them off. For the Belgian side, €20m is a good amount and they will be able to do a lot with that.
Not a player who has appeared on the radar of many fans in Europe, Arsenal had Lokonga in their sights for a long time. He should improve the club’s midfield and, though still young and inexperienced, he has a bright future ahead of him.
€1m (£860,000, $2m)
AC Milan: B+
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.
Feyenoord grade: B-
Ajax grade: B+
Wow. Not many players have moved from Feyenoord to Ajax due to the rivalry between the two Dutch sides and Berghuis will feel the wrath of the fans when he returns with his new club this season. Feyenoord were under pressure to let him go as his contract expired in 2022 but it’s not a massive fee.
Taking one of your rivals’ best players is always going to be a good move, but Ajax have got themselves a fine player too. At 29, he’s not one for the future, but the winger can help the Ajax youngsters develop.
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 ESPN that 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.
RODRIGO DE PAUL
Atletico Madrid: A
De Paul had been with Italian club Udinese since 2016 and bagged nine goals in 38 games last season, so earned himself the right to move. At 27, it could be the last big move of his career and Udinese did well to land a decent fee for his services.
The midfielder should fit well in Atletico’s system and will definitely improve them in the middle. He could replace Saul Niguez, who is keen to move on, and €35m is a steal for a player of his quality and experience.
£8m (€10m, $12m)
Benfica grade: B-
Arsenal grade: B
Tavares made 41 appearances in all competitions for Benfica since making his professional debut in 2019 and was highly rated by the club, but they were evidently powerless to stop him when the Gunners came calling.
Viewed as a back-up option to left-back Kieran Tierney, the 21-year-old has plenty of time to develop but will have to adapt fast to a new league. Arsenal may have done better with more experience but he’s got plenty of potential.
Alejandro Moreno shares his thoughts on PSG signing Sergio Ramos on a two-year deal.
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.
Brescia grade: C+
Milan grade: A
Tonali has been one of the top-rated young players in Europe for a few years now and it was only a matter of time before he moved to a bigger club. The Italian is dubbed ‘the new Andrea Pirlo’ due to his fine passing skills and while Brescia couldn’t have done much about his exit, they would have hoped for a higher fee than €10m for the initial loan, then €15m plus €10m add-ons when Milan opted to sign him permanently.
Milan will be incredibly happy they were able to land the 21-year-old and they should be. Holding off other major clubs to sign him, Milan can build their team around the midfielder for years to come.
Inter Milan: A
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.
Lille were always going to have to let their star 22-year-old depart once they won Ligue 1 this season. Given they landed him on a free transfer from PSG’s youth teams in 2017, it’s good business but they’ll wish they’d been able to secure him to a longer deal as €25m is nothing for a player of his quality.
Leicester keep making brilliant moves in the window, especially from France. Wesley Fofana was an inspired signing last summer and Soumare could be even better. One of the most talented young midfielders in Europe, they have landed him for a bargain transfer fee and he should have a massive impact.
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 Salzburg in 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.
Julien Laurens says Ibrahima Konate has improved massively under Julian Nagelsmann at RB Leipzig ahead of his move 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.
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.
Herculez Gomez worries that Weston McKennie might face backlash for playing soccer with strangers.
Schalke’s relegation after a dismal season ensured this move was always going to be on the cards. His loan to Juventus in August 2020 came as something of a surprise, and the German club may regret not keeping hold of him to help their battle against the drop. Though with the payments to Schalke split over three years, they have secured their financial future and could also bag an extra €6.5m in add-ons.
Juve have managed to get the best out of the United States midfielder and he impressed enough to earn himself a deal through to June 2025. Manager Andrea Pirlo says he is now “more professional than when he arrived” and his fitness and concentration levels have improved. He will only go from strength to strength at one of Europe’s top clubs.
Man City: B
RB Leipzig: B
“There is a big difference [between Man City boss Pep Guardiola and Leipzig’s Julian Nagelsmann]: One gave me the confidence and played me, and the other didn’t. [Guardiola] killed me. Confidence is everything for me.” That quote just about sums up Angelino‘s time at City, with the former Spain U21 international signing in 2013 but spending most of his time on loan. He left for PSV in 2018 and finally started showing his skills, but City used his buyback clause to return him to the Etihad, where he was loaned again.
Luckily, the 24-year-old had two impressive loan spells at Leipzig, which were enough to persuade them to sign him permanently. City got a decent fee, while Leipzig got a player who has shown himself to be a key part of their side. We just hope there’s no buyback clause included this time.
RB Leipzig: B+
After failing to make the grade at the Marseille youth academy, two impressive seasons in Strasbourg’s first team as a youngster showed Simakan was ready for the step up. He is still raw and developing, but his style of defending is similar to Lilian Thuram’s, and one can’t help thinking that Strasbourg could have held out for a bit more.
Let one player depart for €42.5m and use the cash to sign his replacement for €15m; Leipzig have got the hang of transfers. The club beat out competition from AC Milan to land the highly rated Simakan, who has bags of potential and is still only 21. He is a born organiser who should help fill the void of Upamecano.
AC Milan: B
Having won Ligue 1 this season, Lille’s exodus began with their star goalkeeper as Maignan made the move to Italy. Having built a fine reputation in France, the 6-foot-3 stopper left on the cheap as his contract was set to expire in 2022. Lille will struggle to replace him with similar quality.
Milan moved quickly when it became clear that Gianluigi Donnarumma wasn’t going to sign new terms. The 22-year-old Italy international will leave on a free transfer and Maignan is his replacement. He won’t win over the fans like Donnarumma did when he made his debut aged 15 but Maignan is a solid player who can help Milan get over the loss of their biggest young star.
FC Dallas grade: A
Roma grade: B-
Reynolds moved to Roma on loan in January but has only played a handful of times since. He’s still only 19, so the €6.75m obligation to sign him (plus €5m in add-ons) is a lot of money and Dallas can be happy with how they brought him through to progress his career. He will be missed, but it’s better for the player that he move on.
Roma beat Juventus to the U.S. right-back, and the club will offer him a clearer path to the first team. He’s got a lot to learn and isn’t the finished article yet, but he has bags of potential, and Roma will be hoping he has a similar impact to that of U.S. star McKennie in Turin.
Man City: B+
A small, nimble, Argentine forward, Sarmiento has had the unwelcome distraction of comparisons with the untouchable Lionel Messi to deal with in his young career to date. He was handed his Estudiantes debut as a 16-year-old in 2019 and hasn’t looked back since, impressing with his dribbling and direct running style. The club could have held on to him for a bit longer to see how he develops, but opted to take the money early.
It’s a bit of a gamble for City and you may see Sarmiento sent on loan before he makes an appearance in the City first team. But the Premier League champions have not spent a lot to sign the 18-year-old, so they may reap the rewards if he turns out to be half as good as Messi.
Inter Milan: B
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.
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.
Having left Barcelona in 2017 for City, Garcia made it clear that he wanted to return to Camp Nou and would not sign a new contract. His breakthrough came last season and he showed he has everything to become a top quality centre-back for years to come. Barca have done well to land him for nothing and the 20-year-old will surely blossom into the successor for Gerard Pique.
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.
Real Madrid: A+
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.
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.
RB Leipzig: A-
Any player who has passed through the extraordinary Ajax youth academy usually goes on to have a decent career. Brobbey’s goal scoring record at youth level saw him net 90 goals in 123 games during his time at the club, but he had grown tired of a lack of chances in the first team and opted to see out his contract before taking on a new challenge in Germany. Leipzig may have got themselves a real star if he can continue this development. They have been searching for a replacement for Timo Werner (after letting Chelsea sign him for €53m last summer) and Brobbey’s versatility gives him an extra dimension up front. At 19, the forward has all the attributes to be a success.
The former England U21 international left-back chose to become the latest young star to move to the Bundesliga by seeing out his contract at Championship side Reading. At 23, he has plenty of room to develop, but it’s a bit of a gamble for Bayern to take. Clearly the German club were impressed by his technical skill and ability to attack from the full-back role, but he’ll have to perform exceptionally well to oust Alphonso Davies from the team.
It takes a lot of guts to swap clubs at the age of 17, but Coulibaly follows Dan-Axel Zagadou in joining Borussia Dortmund from PSG and is a left-footed centre-back. PSG were unable to offer him any first-team guarantees so, after suffering an ACL injury in training in mid-February, he opted to leave at the end of his contract. Coulibaly was helped in his development by fellow Frenchman Presnel Kimpembe and Dortmund will certainly be able to offer him the chances he needs, if he can show he is up to the challenge. “I’m grateful for my time at PSG, but there is the right step for me,” he said. “I had other offers from other club, but I knew straight away that Dortmund was the right choice for me.”
FC Salzburg: B-
With 68 goals in 125 games for Salzburg, Daka has given everything to the club and helped them win the Austrian Bundesliga four times and Austrian Cup three. As their star player, Salzburg would have hoped to get a larger transfer fee, but COVID-19 put paid to that.
Leicester needed a long-term replacement for Jamie Vardy and the Zambia international certainly has the skills to make an immediate impact on the Premier League. Still only 22, he has room to improve and is another example of Leicester’s fine transfer nous.