It has been a transfer window like no other thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, but it still entailed much of the rumour, speculation and drama that it always delivers.
With the window now SLAMMED shut and all the transcontinental business concluded, here are the storylines that defined this year’s market.
Man United fail to land Jadon Sancho
This was meant to be the summer that Manchester United finally got Jadon Sancho. The Borussia Dortmund winger who has wowed the Bundesliga for several seasons now. The England international who has 30 goals and 35 assists in just 80 senior appearances. The future Ballon d’Or winner they’ve been courting since last year. And he was going to be the final piece to add to their attack.
But it never happened. Why?
In early August it was reported that the club had agreed personal terms with Sancho, which gave them over two months to nail down a deal with Dortmund. In typical United fashion, they failed to get it over the line.
The German outfit set a deadline of August 10 and would not budge on their asking price of €120 million (£108m). Man United believed they wouldn’t stick to either of those conditions, choosing to play a game of brinkmanship in the hope that their counterparts would cave.
Week after week there were countless stories written about this transfer saga, but it never once felt like coming off. Man United were reluctant to put in a formal bid, and in the end they only offered €87m (£80m) plus add-ons.
— utdreport (@utdreport) October 4, 2020
In the meantime, they were linked with the likes of Kingsley Coman and Ousmane Dembele as alternatives or short-term fixes. Ismaila Sarr suddenly became an option, but none of those moves came to fruition either.
Deadline day came and went without a new record signing. Although Ole Gunnar Solskjaer didn’t get his main target, it was still a decent window for the club. They added depth to their midfield (Donny van de Beek), upgraded at left-back (Alex Telles), and bolstered their attack with the experienced, yet expensive, free agent Edinson Cavani.
But they didn’t get that transformative attacker or new centre-back that could have turned them from also-rans into potential title challengers. Despite being one the most financially resilient clubs in the world, they’re in the same position they find themselves in every season; looking like fools and falling behind the best teams.
Messi tries to leave Barcelona
For a while there it really did seem like Lionel Messi would be coming to the Premier League. The world’s greatest player had sent FC Barcelona a now infamous Burofax stating that he was a free agent due to a clause in his contract following a complete disintegration of the relationship between him and the club’s hierarchy.
Their intention to sell Luis Suarez, one of his closest friends, was the final straw. All of the failures on and off the pitch had built up to create an overwhelming crescendo that forced the Argentinian’s hand to take action.
But where would he go? His wages are astronomical, and with Barcelona contending that he still had a year left on his contract, there would likely be a hefty transfer added on too. In the end, there were only two viable options: a reunion with Neymar at PSG or reuniting with Pep Guardiola at Manchester City.
At one point it even appeared as if Messi and City had agreed terms on a five-year-deal, but the legality of his exit still had to be settled. In the end, Lionel and his ‘dadager’ Jorge were outmanoeuvred by unpopular club president Josep Bartomeu.
Following a meeting between the two parties at the beginning of September, the Messis decided they were staying put. They could have taken Barça to court, but the process could have been lengthy and unsuccessful, so he has chosen to let his contract run down instead.
Had Messi a proper agent and not his dad running his affairs, though, he might very well have been a Man City player by now.
Liverpool lose out on Leipzig’s Werner, but make smart moves in the end
Up until this summer, Timo Werner had long been considered a Liverpool player in waiting. The German striker had been heavily linked with a move to Anfield since last year and at RB Leipzig played in the kind of system that would be easily transferable to a Jurgen Klopp side.
The transfer was close to happening in January, but Liverpool didn’t want to spend so heavily on a player that would only be used as a backup for the remainder of the season, so they waited. Then the coronavirus pandemic happened and everything changed.
The financial outlook of every football club in the world changed. in a bid to cut costs, the club chose to put their non-playing staff on furlough, but the public condemnation of such a move forced the owners FSG into changing their minds.
This made big money transfers a PR minefield for the Merseyside outfit. Werner was available for £50m, a relative bargain for such an excellent player, but spending that much would be a bad look when asking players and staff to take a wage cut at the same time. They chose to turn down the opportunity to sign him, allowing Chelsea to swoop in.
“Discussing with the players about things like salary waivers and on the other hand buying a player for £50-60m, we have to explain,” Klopp reasoned.
What makes that explanation strange in hindsight is that Liverpool went and spent almost £70m on the brilliant but injury-prone and post-prime Thiago Alcantara from Bayern Munich and Wolves’ Diogo Jota as a backup attacker. Stranger still, these signings came in the weeks after Klopp had a bite at Chelsea and clubs like them for their massive spending.
“We live in a world at the moment with a lot of uncertainty,” Klopp told BBC’s The Football Daily podcast. “For some clubs it seems to be less important how uncertain the future is – owned by countries, owned by oligarchs, that’s the truth.
“We’re a different kind of club… We cannot just change it overnight and say, ‘So now we want to behave like Chelsea, now we want to behave like them’, now they’ve signed a lot of players.”
To be fair to Herr Klopp, he said this in the context of building a successful team over time and it wasn’t necessarily a criticism of Chelsea, but the timing was odd nonetheless.
Lampard naturally had a little nibble back at the German, but the reality is that these are two wealthy clubs who are very skillful at balancing the books through player sales and loans. Chelsea didn’t even really need a loan from the Bank of Roman to make their deals this year, while Liverpool recovered the cost of their dealings by selling Rhian Brewster, Dejan Lovren and Ki-Jana Hoever while only paying £5m up front for Jota.
Vocal Liverpool supporters were growing agitated at the club’s lack of business earlier in the window, but the recruitment department is still as savvy as ever, making the moves that will keep the team motoring along very nicely.
Chelsea’s spending spree
Speaking of Chelsea, the south west London outfit spent in excess of £225m upgrading their squad this summer. Despite the success of bringing through young academy graduates last season, Frank Lampard has taken advantage of both the club’s open chequebook and the precarious financial position most football clubs find themselves in to strengthen his squad massively.
The likes of Hakim Ziyech, Kai Havertz, Ben Chilwell, Edouard Mendy, and the aforementioned Werner were brought in at significant cost to push the Blues towards major honours. The only question that remains is: can Lampard fit them all into a cohesive unit?
The early signs are not encouraging, as Chelsea were outplayed by Brighton, lost to Liverpool, and drew with West Brom in the opening three matches of the Premier League. A 4-0 win over Crystal Palace presented reasons to be optimistic, with Chilwell instrumental in breaking down a stubborn defence.
However, this season the pressure will only increase on Lampard, who was given countless excuses for his team not performing better than they should have. If the team does not perform this time around, it will be his head laying firmly on the chopping block.
Tony Khan and the quest for a centre-back
Following a thorough 3-0 beating at the hands of Aston Villa, Fulham’s director of football Tony Khan took to Twitter to apologise to the fans, explained why they hadn’t signed a centre-back, and promised to get more players in before the window shut.
I apologize to @FulhamFC supporters for our performance tonight. We’ve looked to add centre-backs since Wembley, I’m sorry we haven’t yet as 2 got COVID + we lost a Free we thought was close + had another issue with a 4th CB. I promise players in + better efforts from this squad.
— Tony Khan (@TonyKhan) September 28, 2020
I should + will apologize repeatedly for that performance. I’m sorry everybody. We all need to do a better job. Everyone at the club for the past year worked really hard to get the team up, & now we need to work significantly harder to stay up. I promise better efforts than today
— Tony Khan (@TonyKhan) September 28, 2020
In response to a reply to his tweets, Khan added “frankly we would’ve absolutely killed to be a yo-yo club when I took it over after finishing 20th in the Championship”, a statement which did little to quell fans’ anger.
Fulham’s transfer business rarely makes ripples in the grander scheme of football – well, apart from that time they blew over £100m in 2018 and went straight back to the Championship – but this immediately threw it into the spotlight. Jamie Carragher called him a “clown” on Monday Night Football for airing the club’s business in public.
(It’s not even the first time he has overstepped the mark on Twitter; in 2019 he told a fan to “go to hell”.)
Khan did at least come good on his promise, signing two centre-backs on deadline day; Joachim Andersen on loan from Lyon and the promising Tosin Adarabioyo from Man City on a permanent deal, and even managed to get Ruben Loftus-Cheek on loan from Chelsea.
Whether these signings are enough to keep the team in the Premier League or not, Fulham fans will be hoping future deals will be conducted quicker – and more quietly – than this summer.
Arsenal get the Partey started without their mascot
Arsenal went from having a decent window to a good one by finally capturing Thomas Partey from Atletico Madrid on deadline day. The Gunners have long been linked with the defensive midfielder, who will add some steel to a midfield that has been lacking it for some time.
Some question marks surround this deal, however. For one, considering the fact that the club have openly discussed the financial strain they have been under this year, why did the feel it was appropriate to drop £45m on one player? If Partey was a great player and not simply a good player, one might understand. Perhaps the problem is that they genuinely believe he will be a game changer for them, but that remains to be seen.
Secondly, if they decided the release clause was worth paying in the end, why did they wait until the last possible moment to do so? Surely if Partey was identified as a key piece to add to the squad, it would have made more sense to act sooner.
And lastly, this transfer looks in exceptionally bad taste when you consider they made 55 non-playing staff redundant just two months ago. That they made these cuts despite a promise to players when they took wage deferrals only makes the club look worse.
— Roy of the Rovers 🔜 New books out TOMORROW! 📚 (@royoftherovers) October 5, 2020
Arsenal also sacked their much loved mascot Gunnersaurus, it was revealed on deadline day. Jerry Quy had donned the costume for 27 years and was also a supporter liaison for away matches.
However, it has emerged that the mascot itself will remain, according to the PA news agency. Quy was made redundant in August as his roles are not currently required without supporters in the stadium, although it wasn’t made clear whether or not he would reclaim his position once they return.
Thankfully Mesut Özil has offered to “reimburse Arsenal with the full salary of our big green guy as long as I will be an Arsenal player, so Jerry can continue his job that he loves so much.” You love to see it.