It’s been over six months since the summer 2021 transfer window ended. If you’ve already forgotten how amazing it was, just remember that both Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo switched clubs, while the likes of Arsenal spent over £150 million on new players despite the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on football’s finances around the world.
So, now the dust has settled on the biggest movers, it’s time to assess how well they have done at their new clubs.
REAL MADRID: David Alaba, Free: A
As expected, the world-class Austria international has brought stability, experience and a touch of quality to the Real Madrid defence. The versatile defender needed little time to settle and his presence in the centre of defence should also be credited for the sharp improvement of the 24-year-old Eder Militao alongside him. Alaba has continued where he left off at Bayern Munich: confident and strong in one-on-one situations when playing as a centre-back, while showcasing his creativity and crossing when playing wide. Alaba is regularly the starter of Madrid’s attacks courtesy of his precise distribution (93% passing accuracy in LaLiga) from the back.
ARSENAL: Ben White, £50m: A
The 24-year-old centre-back has kept improving following his nightmare debut in the 2-0 defeat against Brentford last August. Six months on, White appears as confident and comfortable as he’s ever been in an Arsenal shirt, combining good pace with resolute, decisive defending and cool distribution/ball carrying. The former Brighton man’s partnership with Gabriel looks the kind that Arsenal can build on for years to come and they are as compatible as any centre-back partnership in the Premier League.
PARIS SAINT-GERMAIN: Achraf Hakimi, €70m: A-
Hakimi has picked up where he left off at Inter Milan. The Morocco international needed little time to adapt to French football and was flying up and down the right-hand side in typical fashion from the start. As is often the case with such an attacking-minded defender, there have been the odd troublesome moments: he was given a torrid time by Kamaldeen Sulemana in the 2-0 defeat at Rennes, and he could have defended better on both goals in the 2-1 defeat to Manchester City in the Champions League. Yet, Hakimi has been among the more reliable PSG players this season and is already proving he’s worth the substantial transfer fee.
AS ROMA: Tammy Abraham, €40m: B+
Already a favourite of the Roma fans, the England international has impressed during his first months under Jose Mourinho. Not only has he scored 11 goals in 25 Serie A games, but his overall centre-forward game — winning free kicks and holding on to the ball when under pressure — has stood out. The ex-Chelsea striker has been among the club’s best players this campaign in a team that hasn’t always been recognised for its free-flowing attacking football.
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MANCHESTER UNITED: Cristiano Ronaldo, €15m: B
Aside from the never-ending debate on what impact the Portuguese superstar has had on his United teammates, dressing-room harmony, the club’s style of play and manager, Ronaldo has had a decent return to Old Trafford. In the wake of his recent barren spell in an underperforming side, it’s easy to forget that he came to the team’s rescue on several occasions in the autumn. Those who expected to see the Ronaldo of old will obviously be disappointed, as the 37-year-old rarely takes on defenders these days, yet he’s still United’s most reliable attacking player and has 15 goals in 29 games to date.
PARIS SAINT-GERMAIN: Gianluigi Donnarumma, Free: B-
The No. 1 goalkeeper in the world last year somewhat unexpectedly finds himself being rotated along with Keylor Navas, after switching from AC Milan to PSG for free last summer. While maybe not quite as dominant as one would have anticipated, he’s managed eight clean sheets in 16 games. The Italy international hasn’t made any glaring errors either and, though Navas is an excellent goalkeeper too, it might be sensible to give Donnarumma an extended and uninterrupted run in the team in order to settle properly.
MANCHESTER UNITED: Jadon Sancho, €85m: B-
Sancho had a frustrating start to his United career, but he’s clearly on the ascent and his two best performances for the club have come this month against Southampton and Leeds. While he looked tactically lost and struggled to find the same frequency as his teammates during his first few months, the England winger now operates more in cohesion with the movement around him. Whereas he previously tended to hesitate in decisive moments, he now looks to have regained some of the cutting edge from his Dortmund days and will be looking to improve on his two goals and two assists from 21 league games.
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MANCHESTER CITY: Jack Grealish, £100m: B-
Although one might have expected more telling contributions for such a large transfer fee, Grealish is doing okay after his British record move to Manchester City (he also has two goals and two assists, from 17 league games). He was always going find it tough to reproduce the exceptional numbers he managed at Aston Villa in a side that is regularly having to negotiate a wall of defenders every week. His average dribbles per game have almost halved (from 5.8 to 3.2) and the congested nature of the game that he’s having to deal with now does slow him down and can make him less incisive.
The bar was set pretty high for the Portugal international after he scored a stunning 28 Bundesliga goals for Eintracht Frankfurt last season. Though it’s taken him a while to adjust to Leipzig’s attacking patterns, the 26-year-old striker has picked up lately and is starting to show a return to form with six goals in his last 11 league games.
MANCHESTER UNITED: Raphael Varane, £41m: C+
Still some distance away from the world-class centre-back everyone remembers from his Real Madrid days, Varane’s career at Old Trafford has not been helped by injuries or the fact that the defence appeared disjointed and in need of clear organisational principles prior to the arrival of interim manager Ralf Rangnick. With both Victor Lindelof and Harry Maguire having gone through challenging spells, Varane has been further hindered by the lack of an undisputed partner.
ATLETICO MADRID: Antoine Griezmann, Loan: C+
Apart from a few inspirational Champions League displays — especially the brace against Liverpool and his magnificent volley (after coming off the bench) that helped turn the game around against AC Milan — there’s been little more than flashes from Griezmann on his return to Atletico. Out with a muscular injury since early January, the France forward has eight goals and three assists in 22 games in all competitions and should join the club permanently from Barcelona for €40m in the summer.
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PARIS SAINT-GERMAIN: Lionel Messi, Free: C
The former Barcelona forward’s first six months in Paris have not been particularly brilliant after an emotional free transfer in the summer. Two Ligue 1 goals from 15 games is a surprisingly low return and, while he has performed better in the Champions League and for Argentina, there’s little evidence that French football is a good match for the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner. However, even at 34, Messi still is among the most creative players in European football: his 3.1 key passes and 2.2 chances created per game are nearly on the same level as he produced for Barcelona last season and he has managed nine assists.
REAL MADRID: Eduardo Camavinga, €30m: C
This was always going to be a signing with the future in mind, but the 19-year-old midfielder scoring on his debut didn’t help to cool expectations. Camavinga’s best performances came early on — though he mainly came on as a substitute — but he’s failed to make a significant impact on the games since the turn of the year. The fact that he’s been fielded in a variety of positions hasn’t helped, or the fact he has the ageless duo of Luka Modric, Casemiro and Toni Kroos ahead of him in the pecking order.
BAYERN MUNICH: Dayot Upamecano, €42.5m: C-
By far a better performer in the Champions League than the Bundesliga, Upamecano has shown his quality in patches for Bayern but his debut season has been marred by a few terrible outings. He had a shaky debut against Borussia Monchengladbach and didn’t cover himself in glory in the matches against Eintracht Frankfurt or Borussia Dortmund either. His worst display, however, came in the surprise 4-2 defeat away at Bochum two weeks ago, in which he was taken off at half-time. The centre-back has become a regular for France, but will need to improve his club form in the second half of the season.
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CHELSEA: Romelu Lukaku, €115m: D+
The €115m striker is an illustration of the enigmatic nature of the transfer market: Lukaku already knew his way around Chelsea from a previous spell between 2011-14 and he had joined the European champions on the back of 64 goals in 95 games for Inter Milan over two seasons, the last of which landed a Serie A title. But the move back to London hasn’t worked out, at least not yet. Lukaku has looked short of confidence in the Premier League — though he was decisive in January’s Club World Cup — and has just five goals in 17 games, while he managed just seven touches vs. Crystal Palace last weekend. Also, the fact that he only averages half of the dribbles he did last season indicates that Inter’s end-to-end style, in which space was often abundant, suited him better.
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