The 2021 summer transfer window will take some beating, with Lionel Messi moving from Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain and Cristiano Ronaldo heading back to Manchester United from Juventus. But already there are a host of top players in Europe who have agreed a move on July 1.
Clubs across the English Premier League spent a colossal €1.6 billion last year, according to Transfermarkt, while even the January window saw €338 million splashed. For comparison, the Spanish LaLiga saw €300m spent in the summer, and just €78m in January.
For most leagues the transfer window doesn’t open until July 1, and yet Premier League clubs have set aside around €123m for new arrivals already.
Here are the grades for all the major deals. The most recent write-ups are at the top; each day is in order of highest fee. If you don’t see a grade for a major move that has been completed, check back later. All fees are reported unless confirmed with an asterisk.
Borussia Dortmund: C
Man City: A+
There’s not much Dortmund could have done to keep one of the world’s best young strikers, given they agreed to a release clause when they signed him from FC Salzburg in 2020. But €60m is less than the €75m originally reported, and significantly less than his €180m valuation if there had been no clause. Luckily they already had his replacement lined up for €38m (see below).
This could work out to be one of the best moves City have ever made. Haaland is top class and is still only 21. He’s an all-round superstar and should bed in well under Pep Guardiola. City needed a central striker and they beat their rivals to land the best around.
A huge statement signing. Landing the most attractive young player in the world — and possibly the defining centre-forward of the next decade — is a massive coup for City. Technically he might be slightly different from the classic Pep Guardiola type of forward, but it’s hard to imagine Haaland not fitting into (and scoring goals in) a team that generates so many chances in and around the box. — Tor-Kristian Karlsen
Sporting CP: B-
It was always a possibility that Mendes would be signed on a permanent deal after his loan move expired, and Sporting knew the risks given the €40m clause in the deal. The 19-year-old has outgrown the Portuguese league already and the club can move on and focus on unearthing the next superstar.
PSG moved to land the teenage left-back permanently after he impressed this season across 40 appearances. A player who could cement his place in the side for the next decade, his transfer fee seems on the low side and the French champions did very well to land him ahead of plenty of other interested sides.
FC Salzburg: B
Borussia Dortmund: A-
Salzburg are well versed in bringing young talent through and then moving them on for a significant profit. Adeyemi has been a star, but the Austrian club will have another waiting to take his place, and €38m is a good fee to get for a 20-year-old with no experience in a “Big Five” league.
Dortmund have been tracking the Germany international since it became obvious that Haaland would move on this summer. The club has made a series of canny moves already and Adeyemi is highly rated, with all the skills needed to shine in the German Bundesliga.
Adeyemi hasn’t quite managed to follow up on his explosive start to the season. After the turn of the year he was restricted to a few good streaks and his performances have generally dropped too (he also struggles to score away from home, in the comparatively modest Austrian league.) However, while it’s impossible to replace Haaland like-for-like, Adeyemi’s dribbling skills, pace and avid pressing game will clearly become assets for Dortmund. — TKK
FC Salzburg: B
Leeds United B+
The United States midfielder, who can play as a No. 10 or as an inverted winger, is regarded as one of the top prospects in the country and had outgrown life at Salzburg. The club signed him for €6m in January 2021 and he helped them to two Austrian Bundesliga titles, so they weren’t going to stand in his way. A €21m transfer fee profit will go a long way for reshaping their squad.
At Leeds, Aaronson will reunite with American coach Jesse Marsch, who managed him at Salzburg in the 2020-21 season, and that should help the youngster score more goals and get more assists. The midfielder has a high ceiling, and if he can fulfil his potential then Leeds will have landed a bargain.
One of the most fascinating moves of the summer. Will the talented American manage to make an impact in a league in which some of his signature qualities — pressing, finding quick practical actions, incisive off-the-ball running, agility, defensive contribution — are already such an integral part of the game? Likely to be greatly appreciated by the Elland Road crowd. — TKK
Borussia Dortmund: B+
Freiburg will be disappointed that after sending him on loan to Union Berlin in 2020-21 and giving him plenty of first-team action this season, he has chosen to move on with his contract ending in 2023. Still, €25m is a decent transfer fee return for a 22-year-old.
Another young Germany international who should grow into a fine player at Dortmund, the club landed a bit of a bargain. Schlotterbeck carries similar playing traits to Mats Hummels, so Dortmund will be delighted if he reaches his full potential.
An outstanding performer for Freiburg this season. As excellent in the air as he is winning the ball high up the pitch, Schlotterbeck is a fairly complete centre-back who’s also good at finding solutions in midfield when playing the ball out from the back. Will have to deal with more one-vs.one situations at Dortmund than was the case at Freiburg. — TKK
Aston Villa: A-
Coutinho signed for Barcelona for €160m from Liverpool in 2018 and has been sent out on loan twice over the past four years. It just hasn’t worked out at Camp Nou, and with his contract expiring in 2023, and Barca struggling financially, the Catalan club accepted half of the €40m clause required for a permanent deal with Aston Villa.
After five goals and three assists in 19 games back in the Premier League, Coutinho thrived under his former teammate Steven Gerrard after joining on loan in January. Villa have landed a class act for a minimal fee, and if they can get him near the form he once showed at Liverpool then it will be one of the deals of the year.
New England Revolution: B
Turner took over the starting spot with the Revs in 2018 and hasn’t looked back since. He was named MLS Goalkeeper of the Year in 2021 and helped the USMNT to the Gold Cup title, winning the Golden Glove award as the tournament’s best keeper. The Revs will miss him, but they couldn’t deny him a move to Europe.
The Gunners needed a backup to Aaron Ramsdale given that Bernd Leno is likely to depart this summer. Ramsdale is the undoubted No. 1, but Turner should prove competition for him, and his international experience and a strong will to succeed make it a good move.
With 10 goals and eight assists in the Championship for Fulham this season, Carvalho helped the club to promotion. The young attacker was in demand so, once it was clear he wasn’t going to sign a new contract, Fulham agreed an £8.4m move in January only for it to fall through at the last minute. That has cost them around £3.4m.
Liverpool swooped early to avoid the transfer fee going to a tribunal, as it could have been a fair bit higher than £5m. Having been forced to pay a record compensation fee for a 16-year-old when signing Harvey Elliott from the Cottagers in 2019, the Reds hope that the 19-year-old Carvalho will follow a similar developmental path.
Whenever you lose your captain, who has made over 400 appearances for the club, on a free transfer, you have to ask questions why. Insigne wasn’t able to agree a new contract and opted to leave, but Napoli will miss the Italy international a lot.
One of the best transfers that Major League Soccer has ever pulled off. Insigne is 30, still at the top of his game and will provide the touch of star quality to the Toronto side that it missed when Sebastian Giovinco left in 2019. The 5-foot-4 superstar is reportedly set to become the highest-paid player in MLS history, and a lot is expected of him.
Toronto may have pulled of the coup of the year by signing Insigne in his prime. Not only is he going to lift the sporting standards on the pitch with his creativity, flamboyant style and goal threat, but he’ll also attract a new crowd to MLS. Still a top player with a lot to give. — TKK
Atletico Madrid: C
Houston Dynamo: B
Herrera played a key role in Atletico’s 2020-21 LaLiga title win but made only 27 appearances this season as his impact waned. Atletico had been looking to move him on for a while, but were resigned to letting him leave on a free transfer in the end.
One of Mexico’s top stars, Herrera has played at the 2014 and 2018 World Cups, won a gold medal at the 2012 Olympic Games and has the most Champions League appearances for a Mexican (at FC Porto and Atletico). At 32, his best years might be behind him, but he’s still a game-changer and his signing will certainly help the Dynamo.
Inter Milan: C
The versatile 33-year-old, who can play as a wing-back and a forward, was a major player for Inter this season with 10 goals and nine assists in his 49 games. His impact and experience will be missed, while Inter may be ruing the fact they lost one of their best performers for nothing.
The Antonio Conte factor was clearly huge in landing Perisic, with the pair linking up well at Inter a few years back. The Croatia international has been linked with a move to the Premier League for many years, so it will be interesting to see how he settles. He’s heading towards the end of his career but it’s still a canny deal for Spurs.
Aston Villa: A
Marseille really dropped the ball here as they allowed one of their best young players to leave on a free transfer. Kamara helped the club finish second in Ligue 1 to secure qualification for the Champions League and his exit will leave a gaping hole, while Marseille will miss his versatility in defence and midfield as well.
Villa managed to agree a deal ahead of their rivals for one of the most highly rated young players in Europe and should reap the rewards in the future. Despite being only 22, Kamara has lit up Ligue 1 with his performances and, honestly, with the elite clubs that were linked with him (he was tipped to sign for Atletico) it was something of a surprise that Villa got their man.
All credit to Villa. Signing a player of Kamara’s quality and reputation should normally be impossible without offering Champions League football. The dynamic defensive midfielder — who can also play centre-back — covers a lot of ground, links well in possession with his teammates and reads the game expertly. — TKK
Ajax Amsterdam: C
Bayern Munich: B
Mazraoui caught the eye in the Champions League in recent years and his quality is assured as he came through the youth academy at Ajax. The 24-year-old right-back can also play in midfield and was linked with Barcelona when it became clear he wouldn’t sign a new contract. Ajax will miss him but could have perhaps let him leave in January for a fee.
Bayern have struggled with budget options at full-back in recent years — namely Bouna Sarr and Omar Richards — but Mazraoui should add a touch of class. The Morocco international could well become Bayern’s first-choice right-back if Benjamin Pavard moves into the centre of defence to replace Niklas Sule.
With his proactive style — always supporting the attack on overlaps — and quality on the ball, Mazraoui should be a good fit for the German champions. While he is mostly recognised for his attacking one-vs.-one abilities, he’s a better defender than credited and still has margins for improvement too. — TKK
Bayern Munich: D
Borussia Dortmund: A
Usually Bayern are the ones signing players from Dortmund in their prime, but Sule has turned the tables. At 26, the Germany international is just reaching his best years, and he played 36 times this season for the Bundesliga champions so they will need to replace him. Another to leave on a free transfer, he rejected contract extensions and reportedly felt unloved over the offers which came from the club.
It may not be a signing which will change the destination of the league title, but Dortmund will be pleased to have a PR boost over their rivals and can pair Sule with fellow countryman Schlotterbeck in the future. It’s a good move for Dortmund and he should blossom as a leader.
After two outstanding seasons at Bayern, Sule’s career took a slight plunge this season as he appeared a bit non-reactive and on the back foot when being challenged defensively. Yet he remains among the most composed and precise passers of the ball in Europe and should, at least on paper, work well in tandem with Schlotterbeck — TKK.