The 10 best European Football transfers of 20/21

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Which players starred the best moves in european football, one year ago? With the club season over, individual and team performance data lend us an helping hand in picking the 10 best transfers of the summer 2020 transfer window. Loan deals were not included in this exercise, and as such, the likes of Mario González (Tondela) and Gaël Kakuta (Lens) have been left off the list. But there is plenty of interesting cases to go through so… enjoy the ride.

Édouard Mendy to Chelsea
bought for 22M€, from Rennes

Chelsea capped off an incredible turnaround under Thomas Tuchel by defeating City in Porto to hoist their second Champions League triumph, a victory that was enabled by their plethora of summer signings. Kai Havertz grabbed the lone goal of the contest prior to halftime, whilst fellow summer arrival Timo Werner helped create space for the goal by dragging Rúben Dias out of position. Ben Chilwell and Thiago Silva have become vital cogs in defense since joining from Leicester City and Paris Saint-Germain, respectively, but perhaps their finest signing has been Édouard Mendy.

[ Mendy’s average performance in the EPL vs the UCL. The keeper flew even higher in the European stage ]

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The “blues” found themselves in desperate need of a goalkeeper after a disastrous campaign from record signing Kepa Arrizabalaga, with Gianluigi Donnarumma, Jan Oblak, and André Onana being lined up as potential reinforcements, but it was Mendy who joined from Rennes for a reported fee of £22 million, arriving from the same club as legendary goalkeeper Petr Čech. Unlike Čech, Mendy is a late bloomer at 29 years old, but he has proven against the likes of Real Madrid and Manchester City that he has what it takes to man the sticks and lead Chelsea to the finish line.

Pedro Gonçalves to Sporting
bought for 6.5M€ (50%), from Famalicão

Sporting have ended their 19-year title drought and ended Benfica and Porto’s hegemony in Portuguese football thanks to a rock-solid defense that has seen them concede just 20 goals in 34 matches, an efficient set-up by rookie manager Rúben Amorim, and a brilliant summer transfer window that saw the likes of João Mário, Pedro Porro, Antonio Adán and Zouhair Feddal arrive at Alvalade. The crown jewel was Pedro ‘Pote’ Gonçalves, who arrived in the summer for a fee of €6.5 million, with Famalicão maintaining 50% of his economic rights.

[ Replacing Bruno’s offensive impact at Sporting was and still is a tough act to follow but Pedro was a title-winning MVP ]

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Playing on the right side of the Leões’ front three, Pote has been a revelation in Lisbon, with the 22-year-old attacking midfielder picking up 23 goals in the league including a hat-trick on the final day against Marítimo to surpass Haris Seferović and finish as the league’s top scorer, becoming the first Portuguese player to do so since Domingos Paciência in 1996. The cherry on top? His form has been rewarded with a maiden call-up to the Portuguese national team, where he will look to help Portugal defend their Euros crown.

Rúben Dias to Manchester City
bought for 56.6M€, from Benfica

Whilst Pote will likely only play a small role as an impact sub in this summer’s Euros, having come off the bench for João Félix at halftime in a friendly match against Spain, Rúben Dias will be a guaranteed starter for Fernando Santos after a brilliant campaign in England. The 24-year-old center back began his 2020/21 season in Thessaloniki, Greece, playing the full 90 minutes as Benfica lost 2-1 to PAOK. This defeat deprived Benfica of Champions League football and put them in a quagmire after a summer filled with expensive signings such as Darwin Núñez and Luca Waldschmidt; when Manchester City came knocking for a new center back after their deal to sign Jules Koundé from Sevilla fell through, there was nothing they could do but part ways with him for an initial fee of €56.6 million and Nicolás Otamendi in return.

[ Although his impact should be measerd beyond individual analytics, Rúben Dias summed impressive performances this season ]

Dias has been a revelation for the Sky Blues, helping to fix a previously leaky defense, forming a rock-solid pairing alongside John Stones, and beating out the likes of Harry Kane and Kevin de Bruyne to claim the FWA Footballer of the Year, becoming the first defender since Steve Nicol in 1988/89 to win the individual accolade. Whilst his club season ended on a dour note after losing to Chelsea in the Champions League Final, he has the chance to add onto a season that has already seen him pick up the Premier League title and EFL Cup by winning this summer’s Euros with fellow Seixal products and City players João Cancelo and Bernardo Silva.

Burak Yılmaz to Lille
free transfer, from Besiktas

Over the past decade, Lille have built a reputation of buying young players with potential and selling them for massive profits. Nicolas Pépé, Victor Osimhen, Rafael Leão, Yves Bissouma…the list goes on and on. However, they have won their fourth Ligue 1 title and first in a decade thanks to a strong performance from 35-year-old striker Burak Yılmaz, who chipped in 16 goals and 5 assists in 28 league appearances this season. Having played the entirety of his career in Turkey, apart from a lone season in China, Yılmaz made the move to a top five league after his contract with Beşiktaş expired last summer.

[ Performing above average throughout the season, Burak was decisive in the last run towards the title ]

While he was expected to play a veteran presence and replace the departing Loïc Rémy, Yılmaz has ended up becoming the team’s attacking talisman, compensating for Jonathan David’s slow start to life in France and hitting the ground running. He has been not just a deadly finisher in the final third, coming up massive with a brace against Lyon in the final weeks of the season, but also with a calming presence on and off the pitch to lead Lille to the finish line and end Paris Saint-Germain’s hegemony. 

Wesley Fofana to Leicester City
bought for 35M€, from St-Étienne

This season has seen a wide variety of teams end long-awaited trophy droughts; Sporting, Lille, Inter and Rangers have all claimed their first league title in at least 10 years, whilst Leicester City contested their first FA Cup Final since 1969, winning it for the first time in their history with a 1-0 victory over Chelsea at Wembley Stadium. Youri Tielemans led the Foxes to victory with a tremendous effort from long range, but arguably the finest player on the pitch was Wesley Fofana.

[ Wesley Fofana’s might have missed goal actions but didn’t fail delivering the goods in his main duties, as his numers show ]

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Brendan Rodgers’ side were hamstrung early on with Jonny Evans hobbling off and Fofana picking up a booking for a poor tackle on Timo Werner, but the 20-year-old defender held his own and guided his side to victory with a stellar display alongside Çağlar Söyüncü and Timothy Castagne in defense. It was a risky strategy from Leicester to spend €35 million on a player with just 30 senior appearances for Saint-Étienne, but he’s proven to be worth his weight in gold so far. Whether playing in a back three or back four, Fofana combines standout physical qualities with an intelligence beyond his years, and it’s only a matter of time before he’s playing Champions League football for Leicester or another club.

Sven Botman to Lille
bought for 8M€, from Ajax

As the saying goes, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. That was certainly the case with Sven Botman, who, despite an impressive loan spell at Heerenveen, found himself starved of opportunities at boyhood club Ajax with the likes of Daley Blind, Edson Álvarez and Perr Schuurs ahead of him in Erik Ten Hag’s pecking order. It’s why, 11 years after joining De Toekomst, Botman left the Netherlands last summer and joined Lille for €8 million, replacing the outgoing Gabriel Magalhães.

[ Botman risked a move and ended up collecting the rewards ]

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Botman has been a mainstay in defense alongside Portuguese veteran José Fonte, with Christophe Galtier’s side conceding just 23 goals en route to their first Ligue 1 title since 2011. The Dutchman is an aerially imposing, speedy defender who is already drawing attention from the likes of Barcelona, Manchester United and Liverpool, and it’s all but certain that he will enable Lille to land a hefty profit on him. However, with Mike Maignan off to Milan and Boubakary Soumaré looking likely to join Leicester, Les Dogues will be doing everything they can to hold onto their prized asset for another season.

Emiliano Martínez to Aston Villa
bought for 17.5M€, from Arsenal

Édouard Mendy has gone from strength to strength since arriving in London, but he’s far from the only late bloomer goalkeeper to make a major impact after joining a new club in the summer. Antonio Adán has gone from warming the bench for Jan Oblak to playing a vital role in Sporting’s league title, whilst Emiliano Martínez has become a revelation in Birmingham since joining from Arsenal for a fee of £20 million.

[ Martínez GoalPoint Rating shows he delivered while facing a demanding work rate ]

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After countless loan spells and a decade of biding his time, Martínez finally got his opportunity to shine for the Gunners following Bernd Leno’s injury on June 20, 2020, but with the club preferring the German as the long-term option between the sticks, the Argentine elected to leave for Aston Villa. What was once a previously leaky position for them has now been fortified by Martínez, who has equalled Brad Friedel’s club record for clean sheets (15) and won the Aston Villa Supporters’ Player of the Season award. Next up? A Copa América campaign with Argentina, just one week after making his debut for the Albiceleste.

Luis Suárez to Atlético Madrid
bought for 7M€, from Barcelona

On August 14, 2020, Bayern Munich humiliated Barcelona 8-2 in the Champions League quarterfinals in Lisbon, setting the tone for the rest of the competition as Hansi Flick’s side won their first Champions League since 2013 and completed a historic treble. The match sent shockwaves throughout the Camp Nou; manager Quique Setién was sacked and replaced by Ronald Koeman, Lionel Messi publicly attempted to leave his boyhood club, and Barcelona offloaded several veterans such as Arturo Vidal, Ivan Rakitić and Luis Suárez to clear up space in the wage bill. As embarrassing as their defeat was, it paled in comparison to the events of the next eight months.

After a move to Juventus fell through due to passport issues, in which Juve officials were accused of accelerating the process of obtaining Italian citizenship and enabling Suárez to cheat on his language test, the Uruguayan striker joined Atlético Madrid for a fee of €6 million, with Álvaro Morata joining Juventus on loan and Diego Costa eventually being released midway through the season to make way for him. With Suárez in the line-up, Atleti have a player that they have missed since Antoine Griezmann’s departure — a reliable goalscorer who found the back of the net on 21 occasions this season, a figure only bettered by Lionel Messi, Karim Benzema and Gerard Moreno. As Griezmann and Messi watched in desperation as the Blaugranas finished third, El Pistolero fired Atleti to their first league title since 2014 with vital goals in the final two matchdays against Osasuna and Real Valladolid.

[ The summer drama didn’t impact Suárez ability to make a difference and picking up the consequent silverware ]

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“At the start of the season, with the way I was underestimated… Atlético Madrid opened the door for me, to keep showing that I’m still valid. That’s why I’ll always be grateful to this great club for trusting in me,” stated an emotional Suárez on the final day. “A lot of people have suffered with me. My wife, my kids, they’re with me day-to-day. I’ve been in football for many years and this is the year they’ve suffered the most. It’s special, because of everything I had to suffer. My statistics are there. Five out of seven league titles. That is Luis Suárez.”

Achraf Hakimi to Inter Milan
bought for 45M€, from Real Madrid

Inter Milan have ended a decade-long trophy drought and claimed their first Scudetto since 2010, ending Juventus’ unprecedented dominance and reestablishing their status in Italy’s footballing elite. After finishing one point behind Juve last season, the Nerazzurri took a step forward and claimed a remarkable 91 points in Antonio Conte’s second and final season at the club. Several players such as Christian Eriksen and Nicolò Barella took a step forward in their development, while Romelu Lukaku had a career year with 30 goals and 10 assists in all competitions. However, it cannot be denied that the signing of Achraf Hakimi was a crucial reason for their victorious season.

[ Hakimi’s performance on the right flank was instrumental in Inter’s return to glory ]

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After an impressive loan spell at Borussia Dortmund, Hakimi found himself surplus to requirements under Zinedine Zidane, and Real Madrid elected to cash in on him and sell him to Inter for a fee of €40 million. Hakimi has provided what the likes of Antonio Candreva, Ashley Young and Victor Moses were incapable of providing in Conte’s first season; reliable end product, ability to maneuver in tight spaces, and speed and close control in the final third. Whilst he was reportedly one of Inter’s eight “untouchable” players alongside Lukaku, Barella, Marcelo Brozović, Alessandro Bastoni, Lautaro Martínez, Stefan de Vrij and Milan Škriniar, Inter need to make a capital gains of €100 million this summer in order to compensate for their economic struggles, something that has already caused Conte to resign in disgust. It appears that Hakimi will be the sacrificial lamb, with PSG and Chelsea reportedly interested in completing a deal for the Moroccan wingback, and Inter could receive close to double their money for him just one year after signing him from Los Blancos.

Kevin Volland to Monaco
bought for 11M€, from Leverkusen

If there’s any German player who benefitted from the Euros being delayed a year, it’s Kevin Volland. The 28-year-old forward suffered a ligament tear to his left ankle in February 2020, and while he returned to full fitness by the time the Bundesliga restarted, Bayer Leverkusen had no qualms about parting ways for him for a fee of €11 million, a staggering hit on the club-record €18 million they paid to bring him in from Hoffenheim in 2016. With just one year left on his contract, Volland departed his home country for the first time in his career and packed his bags for Monaco.

[ Volland jumped from a 17 goal action tally in 19/20 (Leverkusen) to 23 in Monaco, this season ]

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Under the tutelage of Niko Kovač, Volland has become a key player in the principality, chipping in 18 goals and 8 assists and earning himself a recall to Die Mannschaft for the first time since November 2016, making his return in a friendly match against Denmark and coming off the bench for Serge Gnabry in the 79th minute. “Kevin Volland makes an extremely strong impression physically and has performed very well in France,” stated manager Joachim Löw. “He can help us with his physicality and ability to find the net.”

Whether partnering Wissam Ben Yedder in attack or cutting in from the left flank, Volland is a versatile, goalscoring threat who has played a leading role in Monaco’s turnaround under Kovač, with Les Monégasques losing to Paris Saint-Germain in the Coupe de France Final and finishing third in Ligue 1 to book a place in the Champions League qualifiers. Six years after captaining Germany in the U-21 Euros and leading them to the semifinals, Volland will be looking to go one step further with the senior team this summer.

Other Honorable Mentions

Tomáš Souček to West Ham, Jonathan Clauss to Lens, Maxence Lacroix to Wolfsburg, Thiago Silva to Chelsea, Federico Chiesa to Juventus, Simon Kjær to Milan, Caio Henrique to Monaco, Renato Tapia to Celta Vigo, Marcos Acuña to Sevilla, Amine Gouiri to Nice, Mehdi Taremi to Porto, Antonio Adán to Sporting, Lucas Paquetá to Lyon, Jude Bellingham to Borussia Dortmund, Raphinha to Leeds United, Yannick Carrasco to Atlético Madrid, Wataru Endo to Stuttgart, André Silva to Eintracht Frankfurt, Al Musrati to Braga, Terem Moffi to Lens.

Zach Lowyhttps://breakingthelines.com/
Zach Lowy co-founded Breaking The Lines with Thomas Anderson in 2016. He is a freelance football writer who runs the weekly English language podcast dedicated to Portuguese football - Cortalinhas - on Breaking The Lines.