In what was supposed to be a frenzied final day to cap off the record spending of the past two months … not much happened. There were plenty of moves all across Europe, but the many rumors about last-minute big-money deals turned out to be nothing more. The 2017 summer transfer window ended not with a bang, but with many whimpers—most of which are coming from North London.
What else is there to even say at this point?
Making a €38 million profit on Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who was in the last year of his deal, is nice business in a vacuum—but the club just lost one of its best young talents to Liverpool, who are a direct rival, three games into a season in which he’s played all but 28 minutes! They’re hanging on to Alexis Sánchez, who’s the best player on the team but who also clearly doesn’t want to be there. Is a year of uninspired play worth more than the £55 million Manchester City offered? The team’s other best attacker, Mesut Özil, will also see out his contract. And of course no replacements have been lined up for either player. Meanwhile, the team’s two big summer signings—striker Alexandre Lacazette and defender Sead Kolasinac—spent most, if not all, of the 4-0 loss to Liverpool on the bench.
The club supposedly were ready to bid €100 million for Monaco’s Thomas Lemar on Thursday but, as The Guardian reported, “[W]ith Lemar in the France squad for Thursday’s World Cup qualifier against Holland in Paris, Arsenal appear to have run out of time to conclude what would be a complicated financial package.” Reportedly, if they landed Lemar, they would’ve then been willing to sell Sánchez … which raises the question: Why are you trying to decide the future of both the club’s potential record signing and the club’s greatest player all in the final few hours of the transfer window?
This summer had no coherent plan: Just Wednesday, the club were crying poor, and a day later they’re bidding nine digits for Lemar. They tried to sell Shkodran Mustafi, one of last year’s major additions, and have moved Lucas Pérez, another 2016 arrival, out on loan. And they’ve waffled back and forth between retaining, extending, and selling the trio of key players on the final years of their deals.
But from manager Arsène Wenger all the way up to owner Stan Kroenke, the lack of a plan is nothing new. As long as the people at the top stay the same, the feedback loop of incompetence will just keep spinning along.
Winner: Comedic Timing
Right before the window shut, this happened:
Winners: Swansea and Bayern Munich
As we told you earlier this summer, someone needed to free Renato Sanches from the Bayern bench. It looked like it might be AC Milan, or Liverpool, or Tottenham, or any number of Champions League or Champions League–adjacent clubs. Instead, the 20-year-old heads out on loan to a Welsh team that finished last season in 15th place and has taken three shots on target in three games this year.
Although it was originally reported as a loan with an option for Swansea to buy, it turns out it’s just a loan with no buyback, which suggests Bayern remain at least semi-committed to eventually finding a place for Sanches in their squad. So, they send him to Swansea, where he’ll get game time while being coached up by Paul Clement, a former Bayern assistant who’s spent many years working with Munich manager Carlo Ancelotti, and Claude Makélélé, one of the best midfielders of his generation. Meanwhile, Swansea get a potentially game-breaking midfielder who was one of the most sought-after youth prospects in the world just a year ago when he moved from Benfica for €35 million.
The deal works for both sides, and it works for all of us, too. We get to watch someone who’s willing to try stuff like this:
We’ll never forget the 80 minutes between Swansea announcing that Sanches would be wearing no. 85, the Premier League saying no, and the Welsh club changing to this:
Loser: The British Detective Tradition
On Tuesday, Liverpool fans had it all figured out. There was a private plane flying from Bournemouth to Liverpool, and it must’ve been Virgil van Dijk, who both lives kind of near Bournemouth and has been on a private plane at least once this summer. Then, there was a silver Mercedes van at John Lennon Airport, and—[enhance, enhance, ENHANCE]—it had the same license plate as the van that Liverpool FC used to pick up Mohamed Salah before he signed with the club earlier this summer. Connect the dots on your corkboard with some string, look deep into the eyes of the man with the spaghetti face, and you will see Virgil van Dijk in a Liverpool shirt.
This, of course, was pure fantasy. Van Dijk is still on Southampton, and one question has been left unanswered: Who was in the van? Overall: really sloppy work from the amateur sleuths on Merseyside. Sherlock Holmes didn’t fake his own death for this.
Yes, they spent €38 million on a player they could’ve signed for no fee in January. Sure, there’s no clear spot in an already-humming starting 11 for Oxlade-Chamberlain. And fine, they missed out on van Dijk and Lemar.
But things look pretty good for Jürgen Klopp and Co. right now. By landing Ox, they weaken Arsenal even further, keep him from going to Chelsea, and get a player who adds depth at three or four different spots on the field. By missing out on Lemar, they don’t have to spend €100 million on a player who was being valued at less than half that just a month or two ago. Liverpool also moved 22-year-old striker Divock Origi, who wasn’t likely to play much this season, to Wolfsburg on a £6 million loan and sold wantaway center back Mamadou Sakho to Crystal Palace for £26 million. Oh, and they also kept their best player after rebuffing any final offers from Barcelona for Philippe Coutinho. (That is, for now. The Spanish transfer window closes Friday.)
For a team that lacked depth ahead of a bloated season with added Champions League games, the roster now runs 19-or-so players deep. They still really do need a better keeper and probably some new talent at center back, but considering the way they’ve started the season—and the impending additions of Chamberlain and the injured (or “injured” in the case of a certain petite Brazilian) trio of Coutinho, Adam Lallana, and Nathaniel Clyne—fans don’t have much of a reason to complain.
Loser: The Good London Teams
Oxlade-Chamberlain turned down a move to Chelsea, and then Ross Barkley supposedly did the same. These are mid-tier England internationals who haven’t really ever gotten their careers going, and they’re saying no to the defending champs. At one point it looked like Chelsea, behind their undying desire to get more British, might sign Ox, Barkley, and Danny Drinkwater. Instead, they landed only Italian right back and human Jugs machine Davide Zappacosta for €25 million. Chelsea may still sign Drinkwater—if the Premier League grants them an extension—but that’ll likely be for around the same fee they got from Manchester United for Nemanja Matic, who’s a much better player than the Leicester midfielder.
Tottenham, meanwhile, get the award for weirdest signing of the window by bringing in 32-year-old striker Fernando Llorente from Swansea. Llorente scored 15 goals in the Premier League last season, but he did it with smoke and mirrors; expected goals put him closer to eight. He took just 52 shots last year—for comparison, Zlatan Ibrahimovic took 115, Sergio Agüero took 139—and his shot volume has decreased by nearly two per 90 minutes over the past four years. On top of Tottenham paying for an aging player coming off a fortunate season, it’s hard to see how he fits in with Mauricio Pochettino’s style. In a team of up-and-down-the-field athletes, Llorente could end up looking like a tree.
Loser: Kieran Trippier
Well, it took only three weeks for Tottenham’s new right back to become their old right back. In two games as Kyle Walker’s replacement, Trippier recorded one key pass, completed one cross, and dribbled by just two defenders. In addition to the lack of attacking oomph, he also made the mistake that led to Burnley’s tying goal in last Sunday’s match at Wembley.
So, in comes 24-year-old Serge Aurier from PSG for €25 million. He’s both an active creator—more assists than any defender in Ligue 1 since 2013-14—and a disruptive defender. In other words, Aurier is just really good. He was also suspended in 2016 for homophobic insults he directed at former Paris manager Laurent Blanc. His apology after that incident was half-assed at best, and plenty of Spurs fans were rightfully concerned with the signing. However, Tottenham’s official LGBT supporters group says they’ve spoken to the club and have offered up a statement welcoming Aurier to London. The crux of it: “But this is a journey—we don’t want to recriminate. One of our main tools for change is education, so we’d like to see engagement with LGBT+ fans is at the top of Serge’s list.” Here’s to that.
Winner: RB Leipzig
After convincing superstar midfielder Naby Keita to stay for one more season before heading off to Liverpool, Leipzig added Kevin Kampl for €20 million from Bayer Leverkusen. Kampl was supposed to be off to the Chinese Super League, but Leipzig instead lands one of the better progressive midfielders in all of Europe. The 26-year-old Slovenian can play anywhere across a midfield. Paired with Keita, that team’s going to be a bear trap on the defensive end and a freight train going forward. Do whatever you can to catch one of their games.
Although Scottish winger Oliver Burke ended his stint with Leipzig after a year, moving to West Brom for €15 million last week, plenty more British youngsters have moved to clubs across the continent this summer.
It’s not easy, of course, for a teeanger to move to another country, but this doesn’t happen enough. Given their track records, Benfica and Dortmund especially are much better places for prospects to develop than in England, where everyone has so much money to spend and none of the top teams are really incentivized to bring players up through the youth system.
Diversity breeds progress. If British players get experience outside of Britain, it’s ultimately a good thing for British football, too.
What we talk about when we talk about taking the piss:
Juve definitely did this just to mess with Arsenal; the Bianconeri have earned the benefit of the doubt. They shockingly lost star center back Leonardo Bonucci to AC Milan last month and Dani Alves left for free, but as always, they otherwise seem to be playing a different game from everyone else: €20 million for French international Blaise Matuidi, €12 million for Italian international Mattia De Sciglio, and loan deals for Brazilian international Douglas Costa and German international Benedikt Höwedes. They lost a couple of older stars, and then refreshed and reloaded the roster. Juve’s big-money deal was €40 million for 23-year-old winger Federico Bernardeschi, who put up good-not-great creative numbers with Fiorentina. With the addition of Bernardeschi, if Paulo Dybala makes the leap—both his goals and assists numbers dropped off last season—Max Allegri’s team could be even better than last year.
They sold Keita Balde, who’s one of the more promising young wide attackers in Europe, to Monaco for €30 million. Balde posted 16 goals and three assists last year and he was one of the best dribblers in Serie A. So, who’d they replace him with?
Whoops, there should’ve been a warning about clicking play. Nani was actually decent for Valencia last year—averaging about a goal or an assist every 180 minutes—but he turns 31 in November. Direct your empathy toward whichever Lazio fans aren’t fascists.
Winner: Manchester United
Two years ago, United were thwarted by the Luddites over at Real Madrid who supposedly couldn’t figure out how to work a fax machine in time to complete the deadline-day transfer of keeper David De Gea. Last year, they hung on to a number of senior players who were never going to play. But this time around, United didn’t need to do anything in the waning moments of the window.
The club’s three big signings—Romelu Lukaku, Victor Lindelof, and Nemanja Matic—all came in well before the start of the season, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic is returning at whatever time he feels will be most dramatic. José Mourinho reportedly wanted a fourth signing, but United still appear to have plenty of depth. They’re two points clear at the top of the table with 10 goals scored and none allowed. As all of their rivals scrambled to fill out their squads, the view from the top must’ve looked pretty nice.