August 31 is Deadline Day in the summer window of Europe’s football transfer market. The long-drawn-out transfer storylines reach their much-awaited conclusions as clubs scramble to assemble their squads for the season.
This year, the role of the main protagonist has been willingly taken up by FC Barcelona. The Blaugrana’s financial downfall has been well documented, but the narrative around the Nou Camp has shifted dramatically this year.
Huge questions prevail over how the club has been able to make high-profile additions to their squad like Franck Kessie and Andreas Christensen, or how they paid a reported fee that could rise to €67 million for the transfer of Brazilian winger Raphinha from Leeds United. They also signed defender Jules Kounde for €60 million.
But the biggest of the lot is undoubtedly that of Robert Lewandowski from Bayern Munich. Lewandowski was on the final year of his contract, and at the age of 33, the inflated fee of €45 million will have put the club under even more scrutiny.
The Pole’s transfer is a typical case of the interlinked web of Europe’s lucrative transfer market. A single transfer, particularly one as high-profile as Lewandowski, can create a ripple effect across the continent. The top teams are looking to latch onto the top talent, but at the same time, looking to balance their books by offloading as many of their out-of-favour players.
These players are willingly taken up by the lower-rung teams that are ensuring financial survival by selling their best players and replacing them with cut-throat deals or promising homegrown talent. In Lewandowski’s case, the ripple has been felt across Europe, from England to Portugal to the Netherlands.
Sadio Mane: Liverpool to Bayern Munich (€32 million)
Mane cannot be seen as a direct replacement for the Pole – he was purchased at a time when Bayern were still negotiating with Lewandowski to get him to stay, and the Bavarian club may well have planned to fit the duo into their system together. But with the possibility of Lewandowski’s move already looming, Bayern acted quickly to make sure they feel less of a pinch after losing their talisman.
— FC Bayern München (@FCBayern) August 14, 2022
Primarily a left-sided winger, he can play across the three positions in the frontline, and his attacking output, coupled with a high-pressing ability makes him a good fit for manager Julian Nagelsmann’s system.
Darwin Nunez: Benfica to Liverpool (€75 million)
The forward line was a cause for concern for Liverpool and Jurgen Klopp. Despite big-money signings over the past two seasons for Diogo Jota and Luis Diaz, they were still heavily reliant on Mane and Mohamed Salah for goals.
After losing Mane, Liverpool were proactive in the market, signing long-term target Darwin Nunez from Portuguese side Benfica. Nunez was one of the most prolific goalscorers in Europe last year, and his turn of pace and movement in the box makes him a good fit for Klopp’s team.
DARWIN 2️⃣7️⃣ pic.twitter.com/ijzkesgP9Y
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) August 9, 2022
Peter Musa: Boavista to Benfica (€5 million)
Benfica are both the biggest beneficiaries and the biggest losers of Europe’s interlinked transfer market. On the one hand, their dominance in Portugal and their easy immigration policy for Brazilians allows them to get their hands on the best talent across both countries. At the same time, they are forced to sell their best players and make readjustments accordingly and are entirely financially dependent on this cycle.
In the past few years, they have lost the likes of Joao Felix, Ruben Diaz, and Ederson. And once Nunez’s move was confirmed, they moved to sign forward Peter Musa from Portuguese side Boavista.
Musa was out of favour with his home team Slavia Prague in Croatia, having been moved around on loan for a few years before hitting form in Portugal and prompting Boavista to trigger the buy option on the loan deal this year. But within weeks of acquiring his services, Boavista sold him for a profit – and two players – to Benfica, who were in the market after losing Nunez.
Robert Bozenik: Feyenoord to Boavista (loan)
After losing Musa, Boavista were forced to make a snap call and sign up the services of Robert Bozenik from Feyenoord. Bozenik has fallen out of favour at the Dutch club after a January 2020 move, spending last season on loan at Fortuna Dusseldorf in Germany.
The capped Slovakian international is a cheap and ready reinforcement for Boavista, who will be hoping to unearth another gem from the Balkan region after Musa.
Danilo Pereira: Ajax to Feyenoord (free transfer)
If there were question marks over Bozenik’s place in the Feyenoord squad, they were undoubtedly put to bed after the team was able to acquire Danilo Pereira from Dutch rivals Ajax. The promising Brazilian came to Europe at Ajax in 2017 but has failed to make a significant impact at the club.
Although he scored just 2 goals in the Eredivisie last year, his total was 15 in 26 appearances for the club, the kind of goalscoring form Feyenoord will be hoping to find on a regular basis at the top level.
Will the cycle come full circle at Barcelona?
Barcelona are in dire need to cut costs (wages) and earn income (transfers) if they are to be able to complete the La Liga registration of their new signings. With a move for Frenkie de Jong unlikely, they will look to move on Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang or Memphis Depay by the end of the transfer window.
Depay is linked to Ajax, but also to Tottenham, who sold winger Steven Bergwijn to Ajax. He’s also been linked to Everton, who sold forward Richarlison to Tottenham. But reports suggest Juventus are in pole position, cash-rich after selling Mathijs de Ligt to Bayern Munich for nearly €80 million.
This cycle of inflated fees, hidden gems, and star power, now forms a central part of modern European football.