Every summer, transfer windows afford clubs the opportunity to shake things up and change directions completely. While more signings equals more expectations – naturally – rarely does a team successfully alter their fortunes in one window. With so many factors at play, transfers have become increasingly difficult – especially in an era of overpriced and overhyped players. That being said, every year there are a few standouts who are capable of flipping the script due to their innovative scouting and ability to be proactive. Without further ado, let’s have a look at the ten best transfer windows across the big five leagues last summer.
After a tumultuous 15-16 season that barely saw them avoid relegation, the Hornets appointed Marco Silva and took to the transfer window to reshape their squad. With Premier League consolidation on their mind, Watford got off to a brilliant start, lingering around the European places early on. Led by summer signing Richarlison, Silva’s men went toe-to-toe with English giants, narrowly beating Arsenal and drawing Liverpool in a 3-3 thriller. While the Brazilian would cool down after Silva’s sacking, his five goals, four assists and overall electric play meant Watford could forget all about the relegation battle.
As Richarlison stole all the headlines in Hertfordshire early, it was up to signings like Cleverley to provide the consistency and solidity. Operating behind the striker and dropping in the midfield when need be, Cleverley proved to be a valuable signing at just £8M. Making 23 appearances, the former Manchester United man established himself as a key member at the heart of the team. Chalobah was supposed to have a similar impact on the side, however, went down with a knee injury early on. Benfica loanee André Carrillo also proved to be an asset throughout the season featuring regularly on Watford’s right wing. His end product was sometimes lacking, but the Peruvian’s unpredictability was enough to make the Hornets’ attack that much more dangerous.
With Silva now moved on, Watford have another important summer ahead of them – but if last year was anything to go by, the Pozzos will get along just fine.
Brighton Hove & Albion –
After dominating the Championship the year before, Brighton Hove and Albion returned to the Premier League in hopes of becoming regulars. Instead of signing Premier League journeymen like most newly-promoted outfits do, the Seagulls went all in on undervalued players with impressive underlying numbers. See: Pascal Groß. The midfielder swapped Germany for England from Ingolstadt for a mere £2.7M and arguably was the Premier League’s signing of the season.
Scoring seven goals and adding a further eight assists, Groß was awarded Brighton’s player of the season and made a lasting impression in the final third in every game he played. On the other side of the pitch, goalkeeper Matt Ryan had a similar, positive impact on the team. Making crucial saves in tight affairs, the Australian registered ten clean sheets on the season and proved to be quite the bargain.
In the middle of the park, Davy Pröpper – the club’s record signing – proved to be crucial, featuring in all but three of the side’s games last season. At 26 years old, Pröpper is in the prime of his career and will continue to dictate play in South East England for years to come. With Pröpper pulling the strings from deep, it was another summer signing – José Izquierdo – that made the difference in the final third. Featuring on the left wing, the Colombian scored five goals and added three assists and regularly supplied the goods to burgeoning forward Glenn Murray.
Like Watford, Brighton Hove and Albion’s impressive scouting network should be enough for them to be safe next season.
Notorious for poaching talents from around the Bundesliga, Bayern Munich wasted no time last summer destabilizing the competition and bringing countless promising talents to Bavaria. It all started with a triple swoop on Nagelsmann’s Hoffenheim bringing in Niklas Sule, Serge Gnabry, and Sandro Wagner. Initially they seemed like depth signings, but Sule eventually featured prevalently at the back, rotating with Boateng and Hummels. Wagner – by contrast – proved to be a solid option off the bench for Lewandowski scoring eight goals in eight starts.
The club’s signing of the summer, however, was undoubtedly the influential James Rodriguez. Outcasted in Madrid by Asensio and Lucas Vazquez, the Colombian moved to Germany in hopes of becoming the main man again. As the season wore on, James became more comfortable with his new surroundings and oozed class either from deep or behind the striker. His seven goals and 11 assists were but a small indication of his overarching effect on the side and quickly made Bayern fans forget all about the departed Douglas Costa. In the midfield, it was the former Lyon man Corentin Tolisso that won over the Bavarian faithful with industrious displays. Acting as the side’s box-to-box midfielder, the Frenchman proved essential in Heynckes’ plans.
While Bayern narrowly succumbed at the hands of Champions league specialists Real Madrid in the semis, they can take solace in the fact that they were the better team over the two legs and will surely be back there next year with slight retooling.
Bayern weren’t the only team in Germany that impressed with their summer dealings. Seeking their first trophy since returning to the top flight, Niko Kovac’s men took to the transfer window in hopes of securing young talents on the cusp of emerging. After loaning Luka Jovic from Benfica on loan, Frankfurt signed Ante Rebic from Fiorentina. Together, the Eastern European duo dazzled in the final third – scoring crucial goals, including the winner in the DFB Pokal final over Bayern Munich.
At the back, summer signings Jetro Willems, Carlos Salcedo, and Simon Falette offered the Germans some much needed consistency in Kovac’s free-flowing 3-1-4-2 system. With them at the base, Frankfurt were able to play high octane football and press the opposition with ease. Factor in the experienced Gelson Fernandes as the side’s destroyer and distributor, and Frankfurt would finish comfortably in eighth – their highest ever finish since returning to the Bundesliga.
Now with Kovac off to Bayern, Frankfurt have ensured they have solid foundations to build on regardless of who’s at the helm.
Much like Bayern, Juventus consolidated their domestic dominance with signings within the peninsula. After losing Leonardo Bonucci to Milan, the bianconeri dropped €40M on Fiorentina’s Federico Bernardeschi. The Italian international featured sparingly from the start, yet was a consistent difference maker off the bench, most notably with a winner against Cagliari and a crucial assist vs rivals Torino. Bernardeschi wouldn’t be Juve’s only addition in the final third as the Italian champions also splashed the cash Douglas ‘Flash’ Costa.
The Brazilian was instrumental throughout the season and offered Allegri’s men some much needed quality and end product when needed. With their offensive department in check, Marotta and co. then splurged €20M on PSG’s Blaise Matuidi. While the Frenchman’s signing was ridiculed from the get go as he didn’t represent the midfield reinforcement the fans wanted, Matuidi still impressed and acted as an ideal foil to Miralem Pjanic.
Juventus would round off their summer spending by securing Buffon’s replacement Wojciech Szezsny from Arsenal. Since arriving to Italy, the Polish international has improved leaps and bounds and is now ready to make the leap to be the side’s number one – at least for the near future.
All in all, the Turin-based outfit will be happy with their summer expenditures, revamping their roster in key areas.
Fiorentina were another side in Europe’s big five that had an under the radar summer, rejuvenating the team after key departures. After a terrible start to the season, la Viola’s summer acquisitions acclimated themselves to their new surroundings and strung together a positive run of games.
Dealing with the untimely loss of team captain Davide Astori, Pioli banded his men together and dealt with the adversity head on winning eight of their last thirteen games in heroic fashion. Led by their €15M man – Giovanni Simeone – up top, they proved to be a handful to deal with. In the midfield, Jordan Veretout and Marco Benassi developed an impressive partnership and were able to supply the goods, scoring eight and five goals respectively – giving the Viola faithful a taste of what’s to soon come.
Fiorentina also added to their defensive ranks with low-cost signings including the likes of Cristiano Biraghi, German Pezzella, Vincent Laurini and most notably Nikola Milenkovic. The highly-rated Serb moved to Fiorentina for €5.1M and eventually became a set starter for the side as the season went on.
Outside of improving their first team, Fiorentina were proactive and added Simone Lo Faso from Palermo on loan with an option to buy. The young Italian is rumoured to be one of the country’s most promising young talents and should feature more next season. As a whole, Fiorentina had a successful summer and will push on for European places in the coming year after narrowly missing out.
Competing in the hegemony imposed by Barcelona and the Madrid duo is never easy, yet last summer Valencia took a step in the right direction. Los Che’s summer began on the right foot with impressive loan moves of Geoffrey Kondogbia, Jeison Murillo and Portuguese startlet Gonçalo Guedes.
Following a dire spell in Italy with Inter, Kondogbia reinvented himself under Marcelino and formed a formidable partnership with the underrated Dani Parejo. Together, the midfielders acted the side’s base at the heart of the team and dominated proceedings. Factor in their bosman move for the talented Nemanja Maksimovic from FC Astana, and Valencia’s midfield ranks were no longer lacking.
Despite their respective influence on the team, none were as impactful as Guedes. Dubbed Ronaldo’s heir, the winger was a constant nuisance on the left scoring five goals and adding another eleven assists – making it look easy in the process. Moving forward, they will hope to secure the PSG man long-term. Summer signing Simone Zaza was the primary benefactor of the Portuguese international’s creativity, finding the back of the net thirteen times before cooling off.
Between the posts, on the other hand, Marcelino’s men replaced Matt Ryan with another Juventus man – Neto. The Brazilian was among La Liga’s best performers last season, earning ten clean sheets in the process. Acting in tandem with the Gabriel-Murillo partnership, the trio were able to put Valencia’s past defensive woes behind them.
While their initial title push seemed a bridge too far, Valencia were still able to secure Champions League football finishing a mere six points off second place, only three off Real Madrid.
Real Betis –
Real Betis were another side able to make a leap from mid-table anonymity to relevance due to their summer dealings. Led by the innovative Quique Setién, the Seville-based outfit went from 15th to 6th place, all-while playing expansive football.
After securing Marc Bartra from Dortmund, Real Betis made another high-profile signing and landed Cristian Tello – another former Barca boy – on the cheap. The winger impressed and was key in helping Setien instill his quick-fire possession-based football. Outside of Tello, Betis made yet another shrewd signing, securing Sergio Leon from Osasuna. The Spaniard had his best season since emerging on the scene notching 11 goals, becoming the side’s main catalyst in the final third.
With Tello and Sergio León combining nicely in the final third, it was Andrés Guardado and Javi Garcia that came together effectively in the midfield. For a combined €4M, Betis revamped the spine of their team and brought in some much needed experience and composure.
While their signings mostly performed as expected, their promotion of Loren Moron from their B team was a move that went unnoticed and most importantly cost them nothing. In 15 appearances, Moron found the back of the net seven times and should feature consistently next season.
In France, it was Jean Aulas’ Lyon that impressed throughout the summer transfer window. After losing Tolisso and Lacazette among others, Les Gones immediately replaced their output with Real Madrid’s Mariano and Amiens’ Tanguy Ndombele. In his maiden season in France, Mariano scored 18 goals and was a big reason they were able to clinch top four. Another one of Lyon’s major players in attack was Bertrand Traoré. Operating on the right, the winger interchanged wonderfully with Fekir and Depay and made a regular impact on games.
In the midfield, Ndombele proved to be one of football’s best young talents slotting in seamlessly alongside Tousart in Genesio’s double pivot. Due to his exploits, Lyon will find it hard to keep hold of him this coming summer.
After redefining their midfield and offensive ranks, Genesio’s men made a number of bargain signings at the back, securing Ferland Mendy, Marcelo, and Kenny Tete. Once the backline began to understand each other’s movements, they became one of the league’s most well-oiled machines, catching out the opposition regularly. Mendy, in particular, stood out at left back registering five assists and constantly overlapping Depay.
With Champions League football and yet another busy summer on deck, pay attention to Lyon’s upcoming dealings.
Much like Lyon, Rennes had a proactive few months last summer and largely used the window to secure offensive production. It all started with the signing of Ismaïla Sarr from second division side Metz, who would eventually become the side’s difference maker. In his debut season with the club, Sarr got five goals and five assists – a tally that he will likely improve on next year. With the flow of the game going through Sarr on the left wing, summer signing Benjamin Bourigeaud was also able to thrive.
Having just moved from Lens, the 24-year-old made the most of his move to France’s first division and acted wonderfully as the side’s link between midfield and attack. Averaging 2.6 key passes per game, Bourigeaud notched 10 goals and seven assists in all competitions, playing in all but one of Rennes’ games. At €3.5M, few signings last summer represented better value for money.
Loan signing Wahbi Khazri also played an important role in the final third, but largely operated in the shadow of Sarr and Bourigeaud. Rennes’ impressive window wasn’t done there as they also ensured their future between the sticks by signing Tomas Koubek. In his 34 appearances last season, the Czech international registered ten clean sheets.
After a summer of wheeling and dealing, Sabri Lamouchi’s men had one of their best ever season’s since the inception of the club finishing a respectable fifth place.
Honourable mentions: Manchester City, Getafe, PSG, Eibar.
By: Gregory Caltabanis
Photo: TF-Images/Getty Images