The soccer news starts with the transfer window disappointing without another marquee deal among the super clubs. Neymar stays at PSG. Manchester United sticks with Paul Pogba. Real Madrid decides that they need Gareth Bale after all. Joao Felix from Benfica to Atletico Madrid ends up the highest transfer fee of the summer at almost $138m just ahead of Antoine Griezmann moving from Atletico to Barcelona for just over $131m.
Alexis Sanchez going on loan to Inter Milan from Manchester United might be the most interesting completed move. Obviously, it’s not a transfer. Instead, it’s one response to squad loading and what to do with an elite player that may not fit with a manager’s plans. Manchester United is reportedly paying part of Sanchez’s salary, $7.3m worth. At one point, Neymar’s proposed move from PSG back to Barcelona included trading players, something that’s still not the norm in European soccer. The Neymar deal not happening became the story of the summer 2019 transfer window.
AS’s Santi Gimenez works through what happened with Neymar’s almost move to Barcelona from PSG. ESPN FC’s Julien Laurens works through the timeline of the Neymar transfer discussions. Goal’s Robin Bairner on the pressure Neymar now shoulders at PSG.
It’s an interesting situation for all involved. An elite player wants to move from one super club to another, the same super clubs that moved him in the first place. Somehow, a deal either isn’t feasible or simply isn’t possible given finances and Financial Fair Play. Barcelona goes ahead and buys cover with Griezmann while still pushing for a Neymar deal. The end result is Neymar spending another season exploring the wonders of away days in Ligue 1 rather than La Liga. There’s no last day drama to give European soccer the unnecessary reminder that super clubs get their way. This time, at least one of them didn’t.
What that means for La Liga is an open question. It’s easy enough to slot in last season’s top three to do the same thing this season. Barcelona remains the best team on paper to Atletico Madrid. Real Madrid still has the same issues that triggered the return of Zinedine Zidane. What it means for Ligue 1 is just as easy to predict. PSG lost its second game of the season at Rennes, but in the big picture that’s not going to mean much. They’re still the only French super club, the best team by a sizable margin. Last season, that margin was 16 points and exiting the Champions League in the round of 16. Doing slightly worse in the league but getting into the later rounds of the Champions League would be a success story.
As always, it’s the Champions League that looms. Barcelona’s latest exercise in attempting to load up on star players is because of the Champions League. Last season’s semifinal loss to Liverpool after being up 3-0 from the home leg looms over the club until they push it aside through results on the field. That means getting back to Europe’s final four.
Whether or not any of this puts additional pressure on the January window is worth asking. There’s not enough room for all of the super clubs and would-be super clubs to contend in Europe. In the past, January moves weren’t as popular because once a player appeared in the Champions League group stage it tied him to that team for the extent of the tournament. Why buy a superstar you can’t play in the biggest tournament until the following season? As with so many things involving super clubs, UEFA fixed that. Starting last season, players weren’t tied to their group stage clubs. Given the soccer business’s lethargic response to change, it was always likely to take a cycle before we really saw the impact of that rule change. That could mean a revived January window when clubs preparing for the knockout rounds of the Champions League spend accordingly.
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