Summer is always a fascinating time for European football fans, where the top leagues and teams bid for the top talent. But more than ever, this year’s summer transfer window blew a hole in fans’ minds and teams’ budgets. An avalanche of deals saw undisputed football gods like Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo move to different leagues altogether. Antoine Griezmann returned to Atletico after a lot of noise and speculation. And in the UK, Romelu Lukaku and Jack Grealish were amongst seven transfer deals totalling nearly £1 billion.
Whether you are just a football fan, who loves watching the beautiful game or a football betting punter that likes to put some skin in the game, read our Playright.co.uk guide that covers news, players, budgets and everything else you need to know about the 2021 summer transfer window.
English Premier League Spends £1.37bn billion – The World’s Richest League
Over the last month and a half, football fans across the world bore witness to what should count as the craziest summer transfer window in modern football history – a window where everything (or at least a lot of things) changed. And right at the centre of the transfer frenzy, as it so often is, the English Premier League stood tall.
With a total of £1.37bn spent on transfers, the EPL accounted for more than 50% of the total transfer amount spent by Europe’s top five leagues. As you would expect, the top six sides in English football made the most major money moves, leaving fans anticipating a much tighter contest at the top than last season, where Manchester City won the league by 10 points.
Players were off representing their countries in the Euros and Copa America early in the summer, so the summer transfer window 2021 took a while to hit full stride. This slow start left ‘when does the summer transfer window open?’ questions hanging on the lips of most anxious fans. When the window did eventually kick into life, it did so with a bang. So how did it all play out? What were the critical summer transfer window dates for the English Premier League? Let’s find out.
The Top Six: How Did They Improve?
English football’s traditional Big Six delivered a timely reminder of their superior financial strength with their transfer market activities, fuelled by distinctly different goals (we’re talking ‘objectives’ here, although distinctive goals during the match also work). Manchester City is looking to retain its crown and seal a fourth league title in five years. Chelsea, Liverpool, and Man United are looking to stop City from doing that. For Spurs and Arsenal, the goal will be to get back into the top 4 after underwhelming seasons.
Pep Guardiola’s Man City side is more potent than last season after the £100 million statement-of-intent signings of former Aston Villa captain Jack Grealish.
However, City could not lure a world-class presence into the center-forward position. Despite its much-publicized interest in Harry Kane. Its pursuit of the England international was one of the most enduring themes of the 2021 summer transfer window. Still, it proved futile in the end, meaning Guardiola will have to make do with the limited striking options at his disposal.
Jadon Sancho’s Manchester United pursuit spanned over two transfer windows. The Red Devils finally got their man this summer, forking out a fee of £73 million. It followed that up by bringing in Raphael Varane from Madrid to complete what looks – at least on paper- like the most effective center-back pairing in the league.
No one could have predicted what was to follow, though. In a sensational 24 hours that had all the twists of a blockbuster movie, 5-time Ballon d’Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo returned to the team where he had first risen to fame, having come oh-so-close to joining their City rivals. The arrival of the Portuguese star came with incredible levels of commercial and digital buzz. More importantly, it leaves Ole Gunnar Solskjaer with a front line that many teams will envy.
Compared to the rest of last season’s top 4, Liverpool was relatively quiet in the 2021 summer transfer window. The Reds completed a £36m deal for Leipzig’s Ibrahima Konate before the window opened. But that was the extent of it as far as incomings were concerned. The club, however, managed to tie down several of its vital first-team players to long-term deals.
In signing Romelu Lukaku from Inter for a £97.5 million fee, Chelsea bolted a glaring star in its team. It did it with the decisive swiftness that Chelsea has become associated with in recent transfer markets. The Blues also landed midfielder Saul Niguez on loan from Atletico to add some extra quality and depth to a squad that looks set to compete for every major honour there is.
Tottenham Hotspur started the summer transfer window 2021 with a protracted managerial saga that saw it negotiate with many potential managers before finally settling on Nuno Espirito Santo. The team ended it with a similarly lengthy saga that saw it keep hold of star man Harry Kane in the face of urgent interest from Manchester City. Those two pieces of business defined the club’s 2021 summer transfer window and will most likely determine the team’s on-pitch fortunes this season.
The Tottenham Hotspurs brought a raft of new faces into the squad between both timelines, including the £42 million Cristian Romero and exciting young winger Bryan Gil.
This summer transfer window saw Manchester City sign Jack Grealish for £100m, United fork out over a hundred million, and Lukaku returning to Chelsea in a mega-money deal. Still, Arsenal managed to come out as the Premier League side to have splashed the most cash.
The most high-profile arrival was Ben White, signed from Brighton for £50m and brought some quality to a defence that very sorely needs it. The Gunners also completed a £34m permanent move for Martin Odegaard and signed young goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale for a fee that could rise to £30m.
The Best and Worst of the Summer Transfer Window
The English Premier League’s top six clubs have taken part in some pretty big moves in the transfer window, and some will be left feeling more satisfied than others with the business they’ve gotten done. So which clubs had the best summer transfer window 2021 and which clubs had the worst market activity?
With the addition of Romelu Lukaku, Chelsea now boasts a genuinely elite presence in front of goal – a forward who’s guaranteed to get 20+ goals in a season. The Saul Niguez loan deal was also quite savvy, and the Blues will be feeling quite satisfied after improving a squad that won the Champions League last season. The London team also trimmed an overly full squad with some smart sales that left them with an impressive net spend of +£31.7million.
As for United, signing the enduringly prolific Cristiano Ronaldo adds a world-class x-factor to a squad already dripping with talent. It’ll be a massive underperformance if the Red Devils do not end their four-year wait for a trophy this season.
In its current form, Liverpool’s first-team can challenge any top European club. But an injury to any of its frontmen will significantly weaken the Reds. The FSG-run club will rightly point to new long-term contracts signed by key players as a measure of the excellent and unsung business they’ve done during the window. But there’s no shaking the feeling that the squad (particularly across the forward line) looks too thin to go all the way in four different competitions.
Speaking of unshakeable feelings, no matter what Pep Guardiola says, City’s inability to convince Tottenham to part ways with Harry Kane will cast a shadow of a doubt over City’s transfer activity.
Other European Leagues
The Premier League may have been central in the breathtaking transfer market, but the rest of Europe’s top 5 leagues were not left out of the insane levels of top-tier activity.
The biggest news out of the Spanish La Liga during this summer transfer window was Lionel Messi’s surprise exit from Barcelona. The 34-year old Argentine international reached the end of his contract with the Catalan giants in July and was expected to re-sign with the club. However, difficulties with keeping to La Liga’s financial requirements meant that his childhood club could not keep him.
Real Madrid saw two massive bids for PSG star Kylian Mbappe turned in the final week of the transfer window, including a stunning £171.7m offer submitted on deadline day. Having seen first-choice defensive pairing Raphael Varane and Sergio Ramos exit the club, the Spanish giants intended to lay down a marker with a marquee signing. They will, however, have to wait until next summer to land their primary target.
In a surprising twist of events late on the deadline day, Atletico Madrid signed forward Antoine Griezmann on loan from Barcelona. The French superstar rejoined his former club on a loan deal with an option to buy and adds a dangerous new attacking dimension to Diego Simeone’s league-winning side.
Given its infamous state-funded wealth, Paris San Germain gave a surprising masterclass in shrewdness during the summer transfer window 2021. PSG signed Gianluigi Donnarumma, Georginio Wijnaldum, Sergio Ramos, and Lionel Messi – four world-class players who will stroll into any first team in Europe – on free transfers! The Parisians also signed talented full-back Achraf Hakimi for £51.3 million from Inter.
Elsewhere in Ligue 1, Rennes’ wonder-kid Eduardo Camavinga left for Real Madrid for £26.6m. Marseille brought in midfield starlet Gerson from Flamengo for a fee within the region of £17.3m. Lyon signed veteran German defender Jerome Boateng on a free, having sold Maxwell Cornet and Joachim Anderson to Premier League clubs.
Cristiano Ronaldo, Romelu Lukaku, Gianluigi Donnarumma, Achraf Hakimi, Cristian Romero, and Rodrigo de Paul were the most high-profile exits from the Serie A in a summer transfer window that changed the entire landscape of the league.
Juventus welcomed back Max Allegri to the dugout in a bid to regain their lost title, but the Old Lady will have to make that challenge with what is arguably their weakest lineup in the last decade. Reigning champions Inter also lost a couple of key players alongside the serial-winning Antonio Conte.
Roma made a couple of intelligent signings, most notable of which was the 23-year old Tammy Abraham. The capital club also hired Jose Mourinho as head coach. All in all, judging from the summer transfer window in Italy, we’re looking at a fairly even fight between 3 to 4 top clubs for the Serie A title.
Bayern Munich won its ninth straight Bundesliga title last season, and on the evidence of the transfer summer it had, it’ll be hard to stop Bayern from winning a tenth straight title. The Bavarians brought in Dayot Upamecano and Marcel Sabitzer in transfers that improved them and, quite crucially, weakened their title rivals.
Leipzig did an excellent job signing forward Andre Silva from Frankfurt in a £19.8 million deal, but the Red Bull side has lost too many key players to put up any serious challenge to Bayern’s crown. Borussia Dortmund, Bayern’s other challengers, have also let go of Jadon Sancho and the long-serving Lukasz Piszczeck. It’s safe to say that, barring an unforeseen and quite frankly ridiculous turn of events, Bayern’s 10th title in a row is pretty much a foregone conclusion.
The transfer market has rounded up with several summer transfer window dates that will remain in memory for a long time. Now, it’s time to strap in and watch on as some of the bold and incredible transfer moves translate into mesmerising entertainment on the pitch as the football season kicks on. The easing of COVID-19 restrictions and subsequent return of fans to stadiums is a welcome factor that is certain to triple the entertainment levels.
It remains to be seen how the English Premier League top-four race and title challenge plays out and how far the teams go in the champions league. But one thing is sure – after one of the most exciting summer transfer windows of recent times, a cracking season of football awaits.
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