Winners and Losers of the Wild 2021 Summer Transfer Window
The cliche "now that the dust has settled" would not do this transfer window justice.
It's more along the lines of a 50-foot sand dune being dumped on the football ground of your choosing because this summer has been one for the ages. You'd be hard pressed to remember a transfer window with this much superstar activity across Europe and beyond.
What it means is we have a whole bunch of players with something to prove at their new clubs and an altered landscape across the big leagues entering the thick of the season following the international break. The storylines are endless.
Given that we have this pause in the domestic action through next week, let's try to make sense of the madness and dish out some winners and losers from one of the most memorable summer windows in recent memory.
Winners: The Superstars
Well, most of them.
This summer has been all about the biggest names in world football and, more importantly, where they would end up. There hasn't been many windows in recent memory where so many of the best players in the world changed clubs, and certainly not at the level we saw this summer.
Let's start with the obvious ones. Lionel Messi to PSG was a jaw-dropper all the way around. Everyone, and I mean everyone, thought he was staying at Barcelona. You're either lying to yourself or you work for Barca as an accountant if you thought otherwise. How could the greatest player of all time, a one-club man, change teams of his own volition?
The answer to that, if you choose to believe it, is that Barcelona was unable to make his wages work within the structure of its shambolic finances. So off Leo went to Paris. Much more on him and his stacked team shortly.
This window also saw the return of Cristiano Ronaldo to Manchester United, a move that absolutely no one saw coming, like Leo, but everyone is excited about. Though Ronaldo had been linked to Manchester City, the mercurial Portuguese said his former manager Sir Alex Ferguson was the "main key" in his decision to return to the Red Devils instead. That 180—all done within a day or so—has tugged on the heartstrings of football fans worldwide. Let's get this international break over already.
Outside of that pretty famous pair, Romelu Lukaku made his return to Chelsea, Jack Grealish went to Man City on a record deal, Sergio Ramos left Madrid for PSG and David Alaba replaced him in the Spanish capital, Sergio Aguero left Man City for Barca and Antoine Griezmann went back to Atletico Madrid. These are all huge names in the game, and it is wild they all changed clubs in the same window, but here we are.
That's not even all the names either, but there are other things to discuss.
Losers: Leagues That Aren't the English Premier League
The Premier League spent big this window, or so it would appear. Big names and big-money deals across the league, all while the other big divisions in Europe were seemingly much more, let's say, frugal.
Now, saying these leagues may be considered losers because they didn't spend a ton is perhaps a harsh designation, but you can point to the recognition, attention and interest drawn to the EPL because of its whimsical spending as a real positive.
England's biggest league is often considered the most competitive in the world, and grabbing the majority of the non-Messi headlines this summer only strengthens that belief and keeps it—commercially at least—far and away at the top. And at a time where PSG's Ligue 1 dropped below the Portuguese Primeira Liga in UEFA coefficient rankings, the rest of the leagues need all the help they can get.
Furthermore, the financial situations of teams in Europe's other big leagues—again, outside of primarily PSG—are all pretty dire at the minute. Because of this, we haven't seen the spending en masse that we have in years gone by. England has somehow been impervious to this, but maybe don't say that to a Liverpool supporter.
Did the strong get stronger this window? It sure seems that way. Fresh off a season where three of the eight quarterfinalists and both finalists for the UEFA Champions League were English, we could be in for more of the same in the seasons ahead.
Winner: Paris Saint-Germain
The Parisian giants snapped up as much of the UCL-winning talent it could get its hands on this summer, and in doing so completed arguably the single-best individual club transfer window since the silly season gained its entirely fitting namesake.
Messi, Ramos, Gianluigi Donnarumma, Georginio Wijnaldum, Achraf Hakimi and Nuno Mendes. If those six players transferred to one LEAGUE you'd be impressed. One team is a different proposition altogether. That four out of the six were on free transfers makes the summer even more impressive. Sure the club's wage bill will be eye-opening, but sometimes you have to put your money where your mouth is if you want to win that oh-so-elusive Champions League title.
Imagine if they don't win it this season.
Losers: Arsenal and Barcelona
On the other end of the happiness spectrum, we have Arsenal and Barcelona. Two teams that can't, as they say, buy a bucket.
Arsenal, the highest spenders in Europe this summer, was widely lambasted for its acquisitions. It didn't bring in enough proven talent that the club so desperately needs and few names will push the needle and propel the Gunners above the upper-mid table station it occupies. Only Arsenal could get ridiculed for spending the most money in a window.
However, Martin Odegaard, Ben White and Co. are quality additions who will bring something to the team. They're maybe just not the kind of bonafide stars that fans would have hoped for.
As for Barcelona, you're always going to be a loser when Lionel Messi is forced to leave your club.
Outside that, though, the club's mismanagement is what gets it the nod here. You don't have the money to keep Messi because you brought in Antoine Griezmann from Atletico for a fee of $133 million. Then, you have to loan him back to the La Liga champions with a buy option for a third of what they initially paid for him because his wages (and many others in the squad) broke the system. And despite losing Messi and Griezmann, the squad still has its fair share of deadwood. Philippe Coutinho and Ousmane Dembele, big-money transfers brought in to rejuvenate the squad after Neymar's departure, have both been massively disappointing.
Relying on a number of free-agent and stopgap solutions, all without its biggest-ever star, is what the club has been reduced to. At least Camp Nou is a LEGO set now!
Winners: MLS Exports
MLS has long been thought of as a league where big stars go to ride out their twilight years in the great, wide expanse of North America. This is maybe still true in some respects, but people's perspective of the league is changing.
Developing young, exciting talent that is wanted by those across the pond has become a common occurrence. The academy level in MLS has evolved dramatically in recent years and because of this, the exports to Europe and beyond are coming thick and fast.
Tajon Buchanan (New England Revolution to Club Brugge), Gianluca Busio (Sporting Kansas City to Venezia) and Tanner Tessmann (FC Dallas to Venezia) to name a few, have all been outstanding players in MLS and will continue their burgeoning careers abroad, which should, in turn, strengthen the U.S. national team. Everybody wins.
Losers: Everyone Involved in the Kylian Mbappe Situation
PSG got the plaudits for their incoming business this transfer window, but the one glaring potential outgoing saga we didn't touch on was Kylian Mbappe to Real Madrid, a situation where everyone is kind of a loser.
Mbappe has made it clear he wants out of Paris and has eyes for those cool white kits of Real Madrid. He wants to follow in the footsteps of his idol Cristiano Ronaldo and do great things for Los Blancos. Because of this, he has rejected all contract approaches from his current club and has not hidden his desire to depart for Spain.
Always looking for their next Galatico, Real Madrid will have wanted to capitalize on Messi leaving La Liga. They threw an eye-popping $236 million last-minute transfer offer PSG's way to convince them to let the French wonderkid cross the border early.
This is while knowing that Mbappe's contract expires after this season, and he can agree to sign for Madrid from next season for FREE in January.
To recap: Madrid impatiently tried to waste $200 million. PSG rejected that to instead likely lose a massively valuable asset for nothing next season.
Keeping Mbappe increases the likelihood of the French side going deep in the Champions League, and everyone wants to watch Messi, Neymar and Mbappe together. That all checks out. It just feels like one of those situations where the real loser isn't either of the clubs or the exorbitant amounts of money being tossed around like it's going out of style, but the player who clearly wants out.