It has been a truly glorious summer of sport.
Wimbledon threw up a classic men’s final. The Women’s World Cup won the sport new fans. The Cricket World Cup may yet return England to the days when kids practiced their forward-defensive strokes. The Tour de France has entered the mountains, while the Open is making a first trip to Ireland in decades.
Like racing’s National Hunt season, football (the men’s version) has continued on its all-year-round calendar.
Sadio Mane and Riyad Mahrez are in the African Cup of Nations final while Liverpool and Manchester City were already into their pre-season schedule of friendlies.
But spare a thought for the transfer gurus this summer, particularly those who specialise in the Premier League. Sky Sports News’ Transfer Talk team of bright young things have done a fine job this summer, bringing the banter when business has been, in truth, slow.
The current window will close on Thursday August 8, and the deals so far have not exactly been stellar.
Rodri, who joined Manchester City from Atletico Madrid, for £62.6m, has been the highest fee paid, with Tottenham’s initial £55m for Lyon’s Tanguy Ndombele in second position. With respect to two players of talent, two midfield water carriers, as Eric Cantona used to label such types, do not exactly set the heart racing.
A glance at the highest fee received, the £88.5m that Chelsea accepted for Eden Hazard from Real Madrid, reminds that English football has lost perhaps its best-attacking talent.
Manchester United’s continued chase for Harry Maguire and the question of where Gareth Bale might pitch up – probably on loan – are likely to be the headline stories in the window’s remaining three weeks. That’s all a bit underwhelming for those who get their kicks from phrases like ‘preparing a bid’, ‘a come-and-get-me plea’ and ‘slapped in a transfer request’.
For fans of Tottenham and Arsenal, both in need of an overhaul but whose owners are being parsimonious it is doubly disappointing. And that sound you can hear is the wail of frustration from Manchester United fans that Ed Woodward is yet to deliver a team of galacticos to lift the spirits at an increasingly dilapidated Old Trafford.
Beyond Rodri, and the return of Angelino, Manchester City have been conservative. Despite the loss of Vincent Kompany they are yet to move for a centre-back.
Liverpool have meanwhile signed nobody for their senior team. Both clubs would appear to be satisfied with teams that won a domestic treble and the Champions League respectively, and were streets ahead of the rest.
— Aaron Ramsey (@aaronramsey) July 1, 2019
The real action is to be found on the continent, in the Spanish and Italian leagues, going back to the old school with some riotous spending.
It would appear that English clubs’ performances in Europe this season have jolted Barcelona and Real Madrid into action, while Juventus are in the process of the rebrand they began with last summer’s signing of Cristiano Ronaldo.
Their spending was taken beyond the £100m mark when Mattias de Ligt’s summer of being the subject of speculation was ended with a £67.8m move from Ajax. And that sum total does not include the free transfer and huge wages being lavished on Aaron Ramsey.
Real have spent more than £250m on Hazard, striker Luka Jovic and defenders Ferland Mendy and Eder Militao, along with Brazilian forward Rodrygo. Barcelona’s rebuild includes Antoine Griezmann and the much-coveted Dutch midfielder Frenkie de Jong. It may yet include an emotional return for Neymar from PSG.
And Atletico Madrid, who added Kieran Trippier this week, have been busiest of all, the sale of Griezmann, and Lucas Hernandez to Bayern Munich, generating the funds they swiftly lavished on Joao Felix for £113m, the third-highest deal in history. Diego Simeone, sustained success to Atletico having faltered, has been allowed to overhaul his team.
— Aston Villa (@AVFCOfficial) July 8, 2019
That all added up to the Liga teams spending over a collective €1 billion within 42 days of the window opening, when the total spend was €930m last season. The Premier League sat at £963.5m on Thursday, with its biggest spenders, at £83m, Aston Villa, with Manchester City in second place on £81m.
Villa’s aim is not to “do a Fulham”, and repeat the fate of the club who spent over £100m last summer only to sink without trace, while Leicester, perhaps aware that Maguire will wipe out their deficit, have spent £76.5m, mostly on Youri Tielemans and Ayoze Perez.
What lies behind what is beginning to look like parsimony in relative terms?
There is a sense that many clubs now know their place in the Premier League. Newcastle’s chaotic summer, in which they have only just landed a new boss – subject to a legal challenge from Sheffield Wednesday – has not seen a single penny spent while players like Perez have fled the nest. Everton look to have clipped ambitions with the addition of Fabian Delph and the permanent signing of Andre Gomes looking little more than consolidation.
It wasn’t a dream… pic.twitter.com/cgb39G08Jn
— West Ham United (@WestHamUtd) July 18, 2019
With TV money not having increased by the multipliers of bygone days and pound sterling at a low against the Euro and not looking like climbing any time soon, these are times when clubs are no longer spending windfall money.
Even a club like West Ham, who have made a couple of interesting purchases in Villarreal’s Pablo Fornals and Eintracht Frankfurt’s Sebastien Haller, are not going for a broke, even if those signings cost around £65m between them.
Prices are high for players of promise but by no means guaranteed quality, so conservatism abounds.
English clubs are being forced to pay a premium as a price of their financial success. And meanwhile, European success from their clubs has ratcheted up the spending of the continent’s elite, thus increasing the value of players yet further, with wages just as hefty as the transfer fees.
It is thus little wonder that those transfer specialists find themselves with not too much to talk about this summer.