Big, brash, but ultimately unsatisfying, the story of a record breaking transfer window
This was a deadline day which promised much but delivered little. Despite the late transfers of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Serge Aurier, Fernando Llorente, Mamadou Sakho and Wilfried Bony, the focus from Thursday will be about what didn’t happen, rather than what did. Either way, this has been a record breaking window. But is that necessarily a good thing? By Jamie Braidwood.
Never before had deadline day appeared so mouthwatering. Never before had so many top clubs gone into the final day of the window with unfinished business, with so much on the line. For once it seemed deadline day would live up to its own hype. For once, Sky Sports’ hyperbole, sensationalism and yellow ties seemed appropriate.
But then nothing really happened. Alexis Sanchez remained at Arsenal, despite a half-hearted late approach from Manchester City. Consequently, Thomas Lemar remained at Monaco, despite accepting a bid from Arsenal worth over £90m. Philippe Coutinho, Riyad Mahrez, Virgil van Dijk, Ross Barkley, amongst others, all remained at their respective clubs, despite all being linked to moves away.
In some cases it all seemed so certain. Mahrez, player of the season only last year, was available all summer for the relatively fair price of £40m. Only Roma, who failed to meet Leicester’s valuation, showed serious interest. Mahrez spent Thursday waiting and waiting for the call that never came, all whilst hidden in an unknown European airport.
The question is why did these clubs, these professional organisations run by experienced businessmen, wait until the final day? Alexis Sanchez, who has entered the final year of his Arsenal contract, has surely been available for the right price for months. City were linked to the Chilean all summer, but waited until the final week of the window to act, leaving Arsenal with little time to find a replacement. They weren’t going to authorise a deal.
In other cases, transfer sagas lasted all summer with no end result. Liverpool held onto Coutinho and in the end only had to reject three bids from Barcelona, the final of which was worth £130m. Coutinho’s public transfer request had no impact on Liverpool, whose stance throughout the whole summer remained simple: Coutinho was not for sale at any price.
At the other end of the food chain, Liverpool were similarly rebuffed by Southampton over Van Dijk. Although the player made clear that Liverpool was his preferred destination, Southampton were annoyed by Jurgen Klopp side’s approach and after making a formal complaint to the Premier League in June, received no formal bids, from any team, despite weeks of speculation.
But for all of what didn’t happen on deadline day, it’s important to remember that this summer will go down in history as a record breaking one. 2017 will feature four of the ten most expensive transfers of all time, headed by Neymar’s world record move from Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain for the astonishing and incomprehensible fee of £198m (€222m).
PSG, backed by the state of Qatar, have been by far been the window’s biggest spenders. Keen to mount a serious challenge for the Champions League, their ultimate prize, PSG followed their signing of Neymar by agreeing a highly irregular, and somewhat suspicious, deal with Monaco over wonderkid Kylian Mbappe. The deal sees the 18 year-old join PSG on loan for the upcoming season, allowing the Parisiens to sign him permanently the following summer for a price of £165m. All whilst avoiding UEFA’s whimsical Financial Fair Play restrictions.
Other deals include Ousmane Dembele’s £96.7m move from Borussia Dortmund to Barcelona, making him, for now, the second most expensive footballer of all time. Dembele’s transfer illustrates just how prices have escalated from even last summer, when he joined Dortmund from Rennes for just £12m.
Perhaps Dembele is an extreme example, but across the Premier League transfers of around 30 or 40 million pounds have become the norm. Such a figure used to signify world class talent. Now it can buy you Michael Keane or Jordan Pickford (both 25m), Gylfi Sigurdsson (45m), or even Kyle Walker (50m). Such figures make last season’s record breaking transfer of Paul Pogba for 89m appear quite reasonable.
All in all, and despite the window’s unspectacular ending, this summer has offered a glimpse into some intriguing power shifts within the Premier League. Chelsea, the champions, for example, were turned down by Romelu Lukaku, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Llorente and then Ross Barkley.
Chelsea have also been left frustrated by their failure to capture Italian defender Leonardo Bonucci, who joined Milan, and were left stung when they lost a collection of talented youngsters in Nathaniel Chalobah, Nathan Ake, Tammy Abraham and Dominic Solanke, who all left in search of more game time.
Manchester United capitalised further through the signing of Nemanja Matic, a signing which appears to make nothing but complete sense, while City’s purchase of Kyle Walker, although expensive, resembles a victory over Spurs, who have finished above them in each of the past two seasons.
Liverpool’s dominance over Arsenal on the pitch was clear in their 4-0 victory over the Gunners last weekend, but it was further emphasised off the pitch by Chamberlain’s desire to turn down a £180,000 a week contract in order to move to Anfield. Everton, meanwhile, have bought wisely to ensure they stay ahead of the chasing pack. Wayne Rooney’s transfer back to Goodison has slipped under the radar given other transfers, but remains a prudent move for both parties, as his start to his second spell at Everton has shown.
Elsewhere in the Premier League, smaller clubs such as West Brom and Swansea have benefitted from being able to offer out-of-favour players regular game time, as well as competitive wages. West Brom and Swansea in particular raised eyebrows with their loan signings of Grzegorz Krychowiak and Renato Sanches from PSG and Bayern Munich respectively. Both players were stars of Euro 2016 but have fallen out of favour at their clubs. They will undoubtedly strengthen their new sides.
But after an entertaining final week that ultimately delivered little, fans will be pleased to see this window shut. In what has been a summer of endless rumour, cringey transfer announcements, record deals and an incomprehensible amount of money, getting back to the actual football will be a relief. That said, January is only four months away…