Friday, 6 August 2021

What you need to know about this summer’s football transfer season

The Beginning

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It had to happen: For the 3+ years that we’ve been running Your Wealth, it does surprise us that we’ve yet to run an out-and-out football issue. Sure, we ran Afcon a few years back, but does that really count? Afcon Egypt 2019 was a big thing for Egypt, so much so that even people otherwise apathetic to football were talking about it. It was a national moment in a way that European football will never be, no matter how many goals Salah scores.

So here it is: the inaugural Enterprise football season preview issue. With just a few weeks before the start of the new season, we revisit the tumultuous events of last season, look at the seismic changes currently underway in Spanish football, and take a look at what is happening in the transfer market. We also have the A-Z on Europe’s three most-competitive leagues — the Premier League, La Liga and Serie A — (sorry Bundesliga and Ligue Un fans, but one-team leagues aren’t that interesting).

And if football is near the top of your “things I don’t care about” list? Allow us indoctrinate you with some of the greatest goals ever scored (watch, runtime: 9:59).


The 2020-2021 season was one of the most tumultuous periods for global football in living memory. The covid-19 pandemic was still making its presence felt, shuttering stadiums and sending financial shockwaves through even the wealthiest clubs in the world. Traditionally dominant teams were swept aside and replaced by new pretenders to the national league titles. And the attempt at creating a European Super League threatened — at least for 48 hours — to turn over a 100 years of footballing tradition on its head, momentarily placing the sport front and center of the front pages of the global press. These are the events that shaped the 2020-2021 season.

Covid-19 defined much of last season: The impact of the covid-19 pandemic lingered on well into the 2020-2021 season with football still being played in front of hollowed out stadiums and questions over the financial future of many clubs still looming. The pandemic delivered a significant blow to player valuations that saw the aggregate value of the 500 most valuable football players decrease almost 10% between February 2020 and January 2021, according to KPMG (pdf). Low stadium volumes have meant ticket revenues have been slashed and marketing agreements contracting, leaving much of the financial burden of the pandemic on individual clubs. The entire industry is set to miss out on some EUR 9 bn in revenues this year, with top clubs shouldering the bulk of lost income reaching EUR 7.2 bn. Clubs were able to avoid losing out an additional EUR 2 bn by postponing rather than outright cancelling Euro 2020, which was held in June and July this year.

In some of Europe’s biggest leagues, the established order was upset: Paris Saint Germain, one of the richest clubs in the world, failed to secure the Ligue 1 title in France in a surprising upset that saw last year’s fourth place team, Lille clinch the title. The results marked PSG’s first loss in Ligue 1 since 2017 and Lille’s first win in a decade. In Italy, last season’s Serie A champions Juventus suffered a rare home defeat to AC Milan in a game that almost led to them failing to make the Champions League for the first time in a decade. The team ended up finishing fourth place, narrowingly qualifying for Europe by just one point. In Spain, neither of the usual suspects Real Madrid or Barcelona won the La Liga championship this year. Instead Athletico won their first title in seven years.

Elsewhere, it was business as usual: In Germany Bayern Munich won their ninth straight league title in the Bundesliga, while in the UK, Manchester City ended up easing to a fifth title in nine years despite a rocky start to the season.

The controversy over the European Super Cup dominated much of the back end of the season: Spearheaded by JPMorgan and the owners of Real Madrid, Manchester United, Liverpool and Juventus, the idea was to form a closed, breakaway league outside of Uefa rules where the wealthiest teams on the continent were guaranteed to play each other every year in a lucrative European competition offering bns of USD in TV money. Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, Inter Milan, AC Milan, Manchester City, Chelsea, Tottenham and Arsenal were also persuaded to sign up to the scheme, and the league was unilaterally announced in April.

A rapid rise and fall: News of the move triggered outcry among football fans around the globe and insurrection in the UK, decrying the league's perceived greed and abandonment of tradition. With swelling protests and unexpectedly strong denunciation in the sports media, Chelsea and Man City pulled out after just 48 hours of its announcement, precipitating a mass abandonment by the league’s participants and a collapse.

The decision to form the league came after a difficult year for most clubs who’ve struggled with lost revenues from empty stadiums and lost sponsorship agreements. The opportunity to secure a baseline USD 400 mn for each of the founding members, in addition to income generated from the sale of the league’s broadcast rights was difficult to pass up. This also came alongside a growing sentiment among elite club owners that placing top teams in a single league could generate cash that would “lift all boats,” according to Real Madrid president Florentino Pérez. Real Madrid, Barcelona and Juventus — all of which are experiencing serious financial issues and were counting on the league to provide some relief to their balance sheets — are still clinging to the idea that the Super League is a viable prospect. Action against the three teams has since been dropped and they’ve since been admitted to next season’s Champions League.


Messi abandons Barcelona after 18 years of service: After a lifetime of legendary performance, arguably the greatest player of all time (GOAT for you born before 1999) is leaving Barcelona. “Both parties deeply regret the wishes of the player and the club will not be fulfilled,” said Barcelona in a press statement last night. And so, ends Messi’s historic run with the Catalan club. Messi had hinted at the division with the club following the sale of Neymar and the club management’s abysmal leadership under former president Josep Maria Bartomeu. Messi had hinted that he was not happy with the decisions of the club last year in an interview with Goal (runtime: 18:40). While a lot of it had to do with the player transfers that Barcelona had taken to save funding, Messi (like Michel Jordan) had always placed championships above internal politics of his club.

Where might Messi go? As with Tottenham’s Harry Kane, Messi’s decision might be based on the monetary elements involved in football — namely, that GCC’s financial football strategy will win out. Manchester City (owned by the UAE’s Sheikh Manssour) and Paris Saint Germain (owned by Qatar’s Naser El Khalifi) are the clubs primed to take on the legend.

We might see another wage record in the transfer market, as Messi’s statement follows Manchester City’s record GBP’s 100 mn offer for English midfielder Jack Grealish.

The unravelling situation at Barcelona is one of the biggest stories of the summer: Thanks to the pandemic, the Catalan giants are finally having to reckon with La Liga’s stringent wage cap and are faced with having to dramatically slash their outgoings on player wages. The club are now frantically trying to offload some of their most overpaid players and cut the salaries of others in a bid to comply with league regulations and stay solvent. The fate of French World Cup winner Antoine Griezmann is one that is being watched particularly closely: reportedly being paid more than EUR 410k a week, the club are anxious to sell. Reports are mixed; with some reporting that the club is in talks with Griezmann’s former team Atletico Madrid, others saying that Juventus is interested, and others claiming that the player is refusing to leave.

Believe or not, the club has lined up a raft of new signings, but La Liga isn’t allowing them to join the club until its gets its wage structure in line, leaving some wondering whether ex-Man City striker Sergio Aguero, Dutch winger Memphis Depay, and Brazilian defender Emerson Royal will even be playing for the club next season.

Now the Euros and the Copa America are over, the transfer season is kicking into high gear. With only two weeks until leagues across Europe have started the 2021-2022 season and just 3.5 weeks until the transfer window closes on 31 August, transfer activity is beginning to ramp up.

The transfer window so far belongs to PSG and Man Utd: It has been a successful window for the Parisian club in particular, which has snapped up some of Europe’s top talent on the cheap. Real Madrid legend and one of the world’s best defenders Sergio Ramos is heading to PSG, as is AC Milan’s star goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma, who having just won the Euros with Italy is thought of as being one of the world’s best goalies at the age of just 22. Most significantly, both players are heading to Paris on free transfers; having reached the end of their contracts at their clubs, PSG’s Qatari owners haven't had to pay anything in transfer fees to sign two of the best players on the continent.

Over in Manchester, the Red Devils have filled two of the biggest holes in their squad, bringing in Jadon Sancho from Borussia Dortmund for GBP 73 mn and Real Madrid’s decorated French defender Raphael Varane, who having been on the final year of his contract at the Bernabeu was sold for EUR 50 mn.

The game of musical chairs in football management continued this summer: After Jose Mourinho and his staff were sacked from Tottenham Hotspurs after 17 months, the Portuguese manager is now in Serie A taking charge of Roma. Julian Nagelsmann left RB Leipzig for Bayern Munich, following the footsteps of Hansi Flick, who will be coaching the German national team. Meanwhile Everton have lost Carlo Ancellotti to Real Madrid, and have taken the bizarre decision to hire Rafael Benítez, who as a previous manager of crosstown rivals Liverpool, is widely despised by the fanbase.

What will the rest of the summer have in store? One of the biggest unresolved stories is the fate of Spurs’ star striker Harry Kane, who told the club last season that he wanted out. Despite being among the world’s elite strikers, he is yet to win any trophies and wants to head to a club that can deliver him silverware. There are only a few clubs with the amount of money that Spurs would demand (rumored to be around GBP 150 mn). A controversial move to cross-town rivals Chelsea is basically off the cards, PSG already have Kylian Mbappe and Neymar, and it's unlikely Man Utd are going to shell out that much given how much they’ve already spent. This leaves Man City as the favourites. Now strikerless after Sergio Aguero left to Barcelona, the club’s Emirati backers certainly have the financial muscle needed to get the player and rumors have persisted for weeks that a bid is imminent.

Harry Kane has his say: Harry Kane refused to come back to Tottenham's training ground, refusing to train with the rest of the team, according to Sky Sports. This is further indication that the player who has done the most for the club that hasn't won a trophy in ages is looking to move on (as some of us are Arsenal fans, we had to throw that in).

Then there’s the Kylian Mbappe situation. The French star is entering the last year of his contract at PSG and is reportedly not willing to renew. This puts the club in a bind: sell the player this summer and get money for him, or let him leave for nothing next season. Most sports journalists are assuming Real Madrid will be the eventual destination whether this season or the next. But given the poor state of their finances, it remains unclear whether they will be able to get the money needed to either pay the transfer fee or meet his salary demands.

Finally, it wouldn’t be a transfer window without a bit of Paul Pogba drama. The mercurial French midfielder is apparently still angling for a move away from Old Trafford, with PSG said to be interested in getting his signature. Also on the final year of his contract, Man Utd risk letting the player leave for nothing having paid GBP 90 mn for him a few years ago. But with fellow Frenchman Raphael Varane now in the team and the club showing more ambition in the transfer market, Pogba may be tempted to stay, should they meet Pogba and his bullish agent Mino Raiola’s wage demands.


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The Egyptians making us proud in leagues abroad: It’s no secret that Egyptians love their football. From 74-year-old Ezzeldin Bahader who refused to quit and eventually broke the Guinness World Record as the oldest professional player in the world to the common scene of cafes and ‘ahawey’ on match days. We have the proud Al Ahly fans and the proud El Zamalek fans, and of course the unifying force among football fans in the country: Mohamed Salah, whose Liverpool matches are notorious for causing traffic jams in Egyptian streets across the country.

Where are the Premier League stars now? As of now, Salah seems set to continue his legendary run at Liverpool, with gold standard football journalist Fabrizio Romano reporting earlier this month that the club had entered talks with the player to renew his contract, which expires in 2023. Previous rumors claimed that both Paris Saint-Germain and Juventus were interested in signing him, but as of now these stories remain only tabloid transfer gossip. Carrying slightly more weight was a story back in March, that claimed he could be open to a move to either Real Madrid or Barcelona. Given Barcelona’s dire financial situation, Real Madrid are the most likely suitor and have reportedly added Salah to their transfer shortlist for if they cannot sign PSG’s star striker Kylian Mbappe. Still, there is little credible reporting that a move to the Spanish capital might be imminent, meaning that Salah will likely stay at Liverpool for another year at least.

Mohamed Elneny wants to stay at Arsenal and is in talks to renew his contract before it ends next summer. There were rumors that Elneny could move back to Turkey to rejoin Besiktas, but the Gunners are unlikely to want to offload another midfielder this window, given that Granit Xhaka looks to be on his way to Rome and Dani Ceballos has returned to Madrid.

Aston Villa’s Trézéguet has been out of action for a while now following a long-term knee injury last season. Although it’s unlikely he’ll be available to start the new season, there is little reason to suggest that he could be on his way out of the Birmingham club.

Not to mention…: Egypt U19 international forward Salah Basha last season made it to the first team of Serie A club Udinese. The 18 year-old striker signed for Udinese from Al Ahly in 2018, becoming only the second Egyptian to play for the Italian team alongside Zamalek legend Hazem Emam. Meanwhile, 22-year-old Omar Marmoush currently plays for VfL Wolfsburg in the Bundesliga. Marmoush is also still starting out, having played six matches in his Bundesliga career since joining the club in 2017.

And then there’s this queen: Sarah Essam made headlines in 2017 after signing for Stoke City and becoming the first Egyptian and Arab woman to play in the FA Women's Premier League. Essam also played for Egypt's national first team at the age of 16 for the 2016 CAF Africa Cup of Nations. The now-22-year-old plays as a forward and has picked up the nickname “Egyptian Queen” after being signed at the same time as Salah. While Essam got offers from France, Malta, and Spain, she’s happy to focus on the UK for now. You can check out these interviews she did with Kingfut and Her Football Hub.


The victor: We can’t see anyone other than Manchester City winning its fifth league title this season. The blue half of Manchester managed to walk to the title last year without a recognized striker in most of their games, and though Manchester Utd and Chelsea will strengthen their squads, and the return of Virgil van Dyck to the Liverpool back line will likely get Jurgen Klopp’s men back to somewhere near their best, we think that City’s strength and depth will be too much for its rivals. Consider also the very real possibility that the club will this month smash the British transfer record to sign Harry Kane and Jack Grealish, we see an easy title win for the Citizens in 2022. Prediction: 1st.

The let-down: Tottenham Hotspur are a club in reverse. Since making it to a Champions League final 2019, opening a new and impressive GBP 1 bn stadium the same year, and being the subject of a publicity-boosting Amazon documentary, the club has suffered two poor seasons, and rather than fulfilling its lofty ambitions of joining the European elite, is now in danger of slipping back into mid-table mediocrity.

Managerial tumult and player unrest will likely mean that the backsliding will continue this season. After a characteristic Jose Mourinho exit late last season, the club’s search for his replacement has been nothing short of chaotic. ENIC Group has approached a laundry list of managers only for talks to collapse at every turn. Instead of getting a European heavyweight in the shape of Antonio Conte or Julian Nagelsmann, the club ended up going with the defensive-minded ex-Wolves coach Nuno Espirito Santo, a move that doesn’t quite fit a team with Spurs’ continental ambitions.

Then there’s the saga with Harry Kane, who made it clear at the end of last season that he wants out. Though it’s still not certain if any club will be willing to pay the eye-watering sum Tottenham would demand, losing their talisman would be a devastating blow to a club which just a few years ago wanted to attract Europe’s top talent. Prediction: 8th.

The insurgent: It’s not uncommon for promoted sides to have a strong start in the Premier League — think Nottingham Forest in 1994-95, Watford in 2016-16, Birmingham City in 2009-10, and Sheffield Utd in 2019-20 — but the first-season honeymoon period isn’t the only reason for thinking that Brentford have what it takes to stay in the top flight. Led by statistician and former Bank of America VP Matthew Benham, the club has over the past few years embarked on its own Moneyball-esque story, using analytics and financial smarts to claw itself up from the third tier of English football. Scouting some of the hottest talent from Europe’s lesser known clubs, Brentford have made consistent profits in the transfer market by buying undervalued players on the cheap and selling them to Premier League clubs while most importantly not coming as a detriment to the team. Provided the club continues its smart approach to transfers and scouting, Brentford should manage to avoid the drop this season. Prediction: 13th.

Going down: There’s no doubt about it. Steve Bruce exceeded most people’s expectations last year by keeping Newcastle in the Premier League. One could argue that expectations weren’t very high to begin with, especially after league bosses thwarted the attempted takeover by the House of Saud, disappointing the club’s fans who have long hoped to see the back of their widely-reviled owner Mike Ashley. But next season could be a step too far for the ex-Man Utd captain. There were moments last year when a string of poor results had Bruce’s men flirting with the relegation zone. The team often looked incohesive and out of ideas, and but for a pick-up in form towards the end of campaign, may have found themselves back in the Championship this season. Unfortunately, Ashley doesn’t seem to have changed his spendthrift approach to club management, with the club yet to make a signing during the current transfer window. With other clubs around them strengthening and a less-than-inspirational manager, we think Newcastle will be heading back to the second tier at the end of this season. Prediction: 18th.


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The victor: Capitalizing on the chaos taking place at its biggest rivals and coming off a strong 2020-2021 season, we think that it’ll be this year that Atletico Madrid seals its first back-to-back league wins since the 1950s. Pipping its cross-town rivals to the title last year, it’s hard to see anyone mounting a serious challenge to Los Colchoneros this season, especially with Barcelona and Real Madrid being forced to dramatically cut back their squads (more on that below).

Usually savvy in the transfer market, it’s looking like it could be another solid window for Atleti. Though no contracts have been inked, it’s looking likely that former talisman Antoine Griezmann will be returning to the Metropolitano from a financially-stricken Barcelona. And it’ll be important for the club to keep hold of right-back Kieran Trippier and midfielder Saul Niguez amid rumored interest from English clubs for the two players. Prediction: 1st.

The let-down: You don’t need a crystal ball to figure that 2021-2022 is shaping up to be Barcelona’s most troubled season in a long time. Years of financial mismanagement have left the club in a perilous position, and needing to wipe EUR 200 mn off its wage bill to comply with La Liga’s reduced wage cap and register it’s newly-signed players for the new season. Progress is being made, no doubt. Lionel Messi has already agreed to a huge 50% salary cut, and the planned exit of Griezmann (who reportedly earns almost EUR 700k a week at the Camp Nou) will go a long way to bring Barcelona into compliance. But the club is also having to negotiate salary cuts with other key players such as Gerard Pique, Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba, and it may still have to let either players go, with high-earners Philippe Coutinho, Samuel Umtiti, Miralem Pjanic all slated to exit. All in all, it’s going to be a tough season for the Blaugrana even with Messi in tow, and we wouldn’t be surprised to see it struggle just to make the top four. Prediction: 4th.

Going down: Elche will find it tough staying in La Liga this season, having barely survived in the top flight last year. The Alicante club has been in La Liga 2 for much of their recent history, but managed to win promotion from the second tier of Spanish football in 2019-20. The team struggled in its return to La Liga last year, winning just eight of its 38 games and losing 18, narrowly avoiding relegation by just two points. Prediction: 19th.


The victor: It will likely be a return to business as usual in Serie A this year. By default, Juventus will be the biggest beneficiaries of a drop-off in form of last year’s champions Inter Milan (more on this below). Following last year’s disappointing campaign that saw the Torino club almost miss out on Champions League qualification, the Old Lady will want to return to winning ways and return to the record run that saw it claim nine consecutive league titles.

Much of the blame for Juve’s poor performances last year has been laid at the feet of club legend Andrea Pirlo, whose managerial abilities weren’t up to the same standard as his footballing skills. Soon after the season ended, Pirlo was replaced by Massimiliano Allegri, a safe pair of hands who led the team to five league titles and four Coppa Italias between 2014 and 2019.

Counting against the club are it’s finances. While not facing a Barcelona-esque black hole, the club reported a record EUR 185 mn loss in 2020-21 which will likely curtail its activity in the transfer market this summer. There are rumors that the club could be looking to move on Cristiano Ronaldo who, while being the league’s top goal scorer last year, isn’t getting any younger and reportedly costs it more than EUR 32.7 mn a year in wages. This would free up a large chunk of the club’s wage bill, allowing it to sign Sassuolo midfielder Manuel Locatelli who impressed for Italy in the Euros and out-of-favor Man City striker Gabriel Jesus. Prediction: 1st.

The let-down: Fresh off its first league title in more than a decade, it’s going to be a different kind of season for Inter Milan. First off, the Nerazzurri are going to have to adjust to life without Antonio Conte, the Italian heavyweight manager who masterminded the unexpected title charge last year. Just a few weeks after being crowned champions, Conte submitted his resignation, reportedly due to disagreements over the club’s plans to sell EUR 80 mn of players. Conte has been replaced by Simone Inzaghi, who on a shoestring budget managed to guide Lazio back to the Champions League last year and led it to the Coppa Italia in 2018-19.

More important to Inter’s fate this season is whether the club’s Chinese owners follow through on their plans to offload some of their best players. Optimistically, there are early signs that the club won’t be seeing a mass exit of its best players. While the club’s talented Moroccan right-back Achraf Hakimi has already been sold to PSG for EUR 60 mn, no other sales have yet been signed off on. And though the rumor mill was starting to build around the fate of its star striker Romelu Lukaku, Inter has so far held firm and reportedly told Chelsea it would need to cough up as much as EUR 120 mn to get the player back to Stamford Bridge. Prediction: 3rd.

The insurgent: Although increasingly written off as a has-been, it’s never wise to bet against Jose Mourinho. The Portuguese firebrand has returned to Italy for the first time since leaving Inter Milan in 2010, this time managing a Roma side that has been treading water in recent years. Having come within four points of claiming the Scudetto in 2016-17, the club has since fallen back, finishing a distant 3rd, 6th, 5th and 7th in each of the last four seasons. Mourinho himself is at something of a crossroads in his career. Coming off two disappointing stints at Manchester United and Spurs, Roma is arguably his lowest-profile appointment since his breakthrough job at Porto all the way back in 2002. If he is going to maintain his position as one of Europe’s most sought-after coaches, he is going to need to impress in his time at I Giallorossi. Prediction: 4th

Going down: For our main relegation candidate, we could have gone for Torino, which has been on a downward slide for several years now, narrowly avoiding the drop last year. Or we could have chosen the newly-promoted Empoli or Venezia. Instead, we’re going for the other team to enter the Serie A this year: Salernitana, which is rejoining the top flight for the first time in 22 years. After being relegated in 1998-99, the club has languished in the lower tiers of Italian football. And after being refounded in 2011 following a bankruptcy in 2005, the team has been on a remarkable run, clawing its way up from the lowest rung of Italian football to finally reach Serie A this season. Still, despite its impressive rise, the club is unlikely to have the experience or the financial muscle necessary to make its stay in Serie A more than a one-season affair. Prediction: 19th.

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