Summer Transfer Hype
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After a two-month summer break, the 2023-24 soccer season has just begun, and the transfer market is as busy as ever. From winger Lionel Messi’s sudden arrival in Miami to the influx of big players moving to the Middle East, this season’s summer transfer window appears to be one to remember, and The Spectator is here to cover it all.
With 42 trophies to his name, Messi’s move away from Paris Saint-Germain was largely expected this summer, as it looked to be the best outcome for all parties involved. However, Messi’s decision to reject a reported offer of a whopping €1.5 billion over three years from Saudi side Al-Hilal in favor of joining MLS club Inter Miami turned eyes around the world. With many of the game’s greats choosing to move to Saudi Arabia recently, the Argentine superstar proved that money was never the most important factor for him. Since his arrival, Messi has taken America by storm alongside fellow Barcelonian legends defensive midfielder Sergio Busquets and left-back Jordi Alba.
With the best playmaker in the world driving every attack, Miami look like a threat as Messi unlocks the best in his teammates, with players like Robert Taylor benefitting tremendously. With 14 goal contributions in his first nine games, Messi led Miami to their first trophy in the form of the Leagues Cup this season, making him the most decorated footballer of all time. At 36 years old, number 10 proves once again that age is just a number, with Miami fans buzzing to find out what more magic Messi can produce.
About a month after Messi’s arrival in Miami, the football world witnessed another blockbuster transfer. Harry Kane, one of the best strikers of his generation, had always been linked with big moves away from his childhood club, Tottenham Hotspur, but nothing manifested until this summer. Though a historic team with a competitive presence domestically and continentally, Tottenham are notorious for their ongoing 15-year-long trophy drought. Because of Tottenham and subsequently Kane’s lack of silverware, many critics of Kane have questioned his status as a true great.
However, on August 12, things suddenly changed for the English striker. He was revealed as German powerhouse Bayern Munich’s new striker in a transfer that cost €120 million and broke the Bundesliga transfer fee record. The Englishman was immediately given a start in the German Supercup against RB Leipzig, though Bayern lost 3-0. Despite this, Kane will have many more chances to finally fill his trophy cabinet, as Bayern are favorites for the German Bundesliga, DFB Pokal, and the UEFA Champions League.
Being the wealthiest league in the world, there was no surprise when Premier League teams started spending millions on new signings. Liverpool led the charge and spent a combined €132 million for Brighton midfielder Alexis Mac Allister, Leipzig midfielder Dominik Szoboszlai, and Stuttgart defensive midfielder Wataru Endō to shore up their lack of depth. Their arch-rivals Manchester United were also on the hunt for new talent. In July, the Red Devils signed Chelsea talisman attacking midfielder Mason Mount, and in August, they replaced departing goalkeeper David de Gea with Inter Milan’s André Onana and signed Atalanta’s young striker Rasmus Højlund for €75 million to be United’s goal-scoring threat. Meanwhile, United’s neighbors Manchester City immediately replaced their departing captain and midfielder İlkay Gündoǧan with Chelsea’s Mateo Kovačić. Additionally, their treble-winning defense was further strengthened with world-class center-back Joško Gvardiol from RB Leipzig.
Down in London, Arsenal sought to replicate last season’s title challenge with the acquisition of West Ham’s captain and midfielder Declan Rice for a massive €116.6 million. Accompanying Rice in the Gunners’ transfer window were Ajax defender Jurrien Timber and Chelsea attacker Kai Havertz. Arsenal’s London rival, Tottenham Hotspur, have also been making moves under new manager Ange Postecoglou and ex-Leicester attacking midfielder James Maddison. Winger Dejan Kulusevski and right-back Pedro Porro’s loan deals were made permanent transfers, while Italian goalkeeper Guglielmo Vicario and Dutch defender Micky van de Ven were signed in a successful transfer window that has cost the Lilywhites almost €200 million.
But the biggest transfer action in London would happen at none other than Stamford Bridge. After a disastrous season that saw them finish 12th in the league, Chelsea experienced an exodus of players and were desperate for replacements. First to arrive were the two young forwards Christopher Nkunku and Nicolas Jackson. Next, the Blues improved their shaky defense with Brighton goalkeeper Robert Sánchez and AS Monaco defender Axel Disasi. To top it all off, the club outbid Liverpool and obliterated the British record transfer fee to buy Brighton midfielder Moisés Caicedo for €116 million. They then added one more midfielder, Roméo Lavia, in a lavish window on which they spent €385.1 million.
Aside from the traditional “big six,” other Premier League teams have been using their money astutely, particularly Newcastle United and Aston Villa. Despite having the large financial backing of the Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF), Newcastle have spent rather modestly on underrated talent. This season was no different as they picked up AC Milan’s defensive midfielder Sandro Tonali, Leicester’s left-winger Harvey Barnes, and Southampton’s full-back Tino Livramento for a combined fee of €153 million. Meanwhile, Villa forked out a total of €93 million for exciting winger Moussa Diaby, experienced center-back Pau Torres, and midfielders Youri Tielemans and Nicolò Zaniolo,leading them in a new season where they will be competing in Europe.
One of the most significant transfers this summer was the move of 20-year-old Jude Bellingham from Borussia Dortmund to Spanish giant Real Madrid. Widely renowned as a midfield maestro, there was little doubt that Bellingham would bring something special to his new home. What has been shocking is how quickly the English midfielder has adapted, bagging three goals in his first two games. Bellingham’s versatile playing style brings a whole new dynamic to the Madrid midfield, while also offering attacking creativity when deployed in more advanced positions. A true heir to the Luka Modric, Toni Kroos, and Casemiro era, he’s now the lynchpin in the new system under coach Carlo Ancelotti, complementing the playing styles of teammates like central midfielder Federico Valverde and defensive midfielder Aurélien Tchouaméni. Most importantly, Bellingham’s license to venture freely into the final third has caught La Liga defenses off guard, and his superb physicality in the air and unpredictable movement has brought Madrid to a different level. Fans are excited to witness how he will continue to shape Madrid’s success this season, especially in the Champions League.
On the coast of Spain, the arrival of Gündoǧan from Manchester City for free certainly bolstered FC Barcelona’s squad with some much-needed leadership as the Spanish titans look to continue their rebuilding under coach Xavi. Two years into the post-Messi era, Barça have made a lot of progress in forming a talented core of youngsters such as central midfielders Pedri and Gavi alongside left-back Alejandro Balde. Additionally, Gündoǧan brings the image of a well-rounded and successful leader, having led City to the treble last year. Already praised by his coach and teammates, Gündoǧan looks right at home from his performances at the start of the season. This was evident during Barcelona’s 2-0 win versus Cádiz where he assisted Pedri creatively for the first goal. Now, Barça look to continue their booming transfer window by negotiating deals for Portuguese stars João Cancelo and João Félix to strengthen the squad.
When the Saudi PIF acquired ownership of Newcastle United in 2021 and convinced soccer legend Cristiano Ronaldo to join Al-Nassr, there were hints about how far the country would go in order to get a firm grip over the sport. However, almost nobody would have expected what was to come this summer.
Backed by the PIF’s decision to acquire and privatize the four biggest teams in the Pro League, Saudi clubs have spent a total of about €450 million on transfers, with a huge chunk aimed at foreign signings. One of the first to arrive was Ballon d’Or winner and striker Karim Benzema to Al-Ittihad, with compatriot defensive midfielder N’Golo Kanté and ex-Liverpool midfielder Fabinho joining him days later. Ittihad’s rivals, Al-Hilal, were not shy spenders either, as they brought in iconic Brazilian forward Neymar for €90 million. Other notable arrivals in the mass influx to Arabia from Europe include UCL winner and forward Sadio Mané and UCL finalist and defensive midfielder Marcelo Brozović to Al-Nassr; ex-Chelsea center-back Kalidou Koulibaly and goalkeeper Édouard Mendy to Al-Hilal; and the ex-Premier League trio of winger Riyad Mahrez, forward Roberto Firmino, and winger Allan Saint-Maximin to Al-Ahli. The ethics behind this lavish spending can be debated, but one thing is certain: The influence of billionaire countries and conglomerates on this beautiful game is not going away anytime soon.
This has undoubtedly been one of the busiest transfer markets in soccer history, which has seen some of the game’s biggest stars move to new destinations. With many teams now sporting different lineups and designing new tactics, the 2023-24 season will have much to offer, as all of these transfers look to send the football world in a new and interesting direction.