Across Europe, transfer windows are slowly opening, but as clubs move to line up potential deals and consider the cost of improving their squads, many of them are hit by the same regrettable realisation: The disruption to football that a pandemic has caused leaves them with significantly less funding to work with than before.
Even the biggest clubs have been affected: Real Madrid President Florentino Perez has lowered expectations when it comes to big signings, per El Transistor (h/t MailOnline). Borussia Dortmund are expecting losses close to €50 million, and Manchester United are desperately trying to lower BVB's demands for Jadon Sancho, per B/R's Dean Jones.
Not every club is struggling—Chelsea's 2019 transfer ban means they have cash to burn, and they're doing just that, while Manchester City seem undeterred in their pursuit of targets—but the majority are. The teams without such funding may well have to consider alternative methods for acquiring new players.
That's right, you guessed it: swap deals.
Clubs across Europe may lack cash, but they don't lack playing assets. In fact, some clubs have so many spare parts and unwanted outcasts that it makes complete sense to trade in players, not euros.
Mutually beneficial swap deals are perhaps easier proposed than sealed—and that's saying something, because even proposing them is tough—but we've put together five here that are realistic and would make sense for every party involved.
Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, CM, Southampton
Kyle Walker-Peters, RB, Tottenham Hotspur
This one makes too much sense not to happen.
Tottenham's interest in Hojbjerg is established, per B/R's Dean Jones, and while he's not the exact type of player their midfield needs, he does tick a lot of the boxes: commanding, mobile, aggressive, a prolific ball-winner and stabilising presence.
Spurs could cut the cost of the deal by using Kyle Walker-Peters, who has excelled on loan at Southampton, as a makeweight. Finally allowed his first run in a senior side (at age 23), the right-back has proved a big upgrade on Cedric Soares, who was sold to Arsenal in January.
KWP's great form, age and upside could even bring the stock of these two players level—as in, no extra cash on one side to balance it. Straight swap, everyone wins.
Alex Telles, LB, Porto
Nicolas Otamendi, CB, Manchester City + £15M
Despite Joao Cancelo's emergence as a force at left-back lately, City are still in the market at that position, per B/R's Dean Jones.
The left-back market is a difficult one because of the extreme shortage of top-tier options, which drives prices high and makes each pursuit of a player a hotly contested one.
Telles is one of said top-tier options, having enjoyed four excellent seasons at Porto. And with just one year left on his contract, he would hold all the power if he were to ask for a move.
City could use a player of his ilk on the left and would be able to pay cash. They'd also be able to supplement the deal with a player Porto know well in Otamendi, who spent four years there between 2010-2014 and, even at 32, would lower the average age of their centre-back corps (Ivan Marcano is 33, and Pepe is 37!).
Should there be a clamber for Telles' signature this summer, City's ability to trade player plus cash could push them to the front of the queue.
Chris Smalling, CB, Manchester United
Justin Kluivert, LW/RW, Roma
Smalling has just completed an excellent season on loan at Roma, but the latest reports from Sky Sport Italia (h/t MailOnline) suggest the chances of that move being made permanent are remote because a fee can't be agreed between the two clubs. The potential sale of the Giallorossi this summer could further complicate a move.
Well, perhaps when the dust settles and they gather to discuss this again, they could try swapping assets rather than talking cash. Each club has a string of expendable players who could be used in a deal.
One in particular catches the eye from United's perspective: Justin Kluivert. He's a smart, quick, two-footed winger with immense potential, but Roma appear to lack faith in him—he last completed 90 minutes in the league in February.
Signing him would add much-needed depth to the forward ranks but not endanger a potential deal for Jadon Sancho (who profiles as a similar player but at a higher level) while also paving the way for Smalling to continue to play a key role in Rome.
Memphis Depay, FWD, Lyon
Divock Origi, FWD, Liverpool + £10M
Lyon are in a bit of a sticky situation with Memphis. He has just a year left on his deal at the club, and, recent ACL injury notwithstanding, he's ready for a big step up.
Allowed to develop in (relative) peace away from the glare of Old Trafford, he's evolved into a dynamic, authoritative forward in France who puts up strong goal and assist numbers and injects speed into his team's play.
Capable of playing as a striker or in a wide-forward role, he's an ideal fit for Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool—a club that is in the market for someone like Memphis, judging by their pursuit of Timo Werner earlier in the summer.
As tearful a goodbye as it might be given the player's status among the Reds' fanbase, swapping Origi for Memphis (and supplementing the deal with a small fee) would improve Klopp's forward options while giving Lyon a little more than just a reduced sum given Memphis' contractual situation.
With Les Gones utilising a genuine front two of late, Origi projects to fit quite snugly there as well.
Ismael Bennacer, CM, AC Milan
Luka Jovic, ST, and Dani Ceballos, CM, Real Madrid
Let's finish with a genuine blockbuster: A two-for-one swap deal between two of Europe's true giants.
Real Madrid don't have a clear weakness in their squad, but they could do with finding Casemiro's understudy given how important he is to the makeup of their team. They can offer a long list of spare parts in return for the signature of the right man, and one who fits the bill is Bennacer.
The Algeria international only joined Milan last summer but has consistently shone since breaking into the team, supplying all-action, rounded performances that see him destroy and create.
It would take a lot to convince Milan to part with him, but Real Madrid have a lot to offer. Ceballos and Jovic may seem a steep price to pay (and value Bennacer at around €70-80 million), but it directly plugs the hole in the middle left by Bennacer's departure and adds a long-term solution up front.
Jovic would sync back up with Ante Rebic, whom he played alongside for Eintracht Frankfurt in 2018-19, and Ceballos represents world-class potential in central midfield.
All statistics via WhoScored.com