August has started and that means the European football summer transfer window is approaching the business end of proceedings. While many clubs have been steadily concluding deals as pre-season chugs along, some transfers are still up in the air.
England striker Harry Kane’s future at Tottenham remains in the balance, with Bayern Munich locked in negotiations with the London club for the 30-year-old. Meanwhile, France’s World Cup-winning star Kylian Mbappé continues to toy with Paris Saint Germain (PSG). The 24-year-old is subject to attention from not just Real Madrid but also big-spending clubs in the Saudi Pro League. These two deals are certainly worth keeping an eye on.
But that’s not all. Major clubs across Europe—and Saudi Arabia—have been among the headlines, making it one of the more interesting, and divisive, transfer windows in recent times.
Real Madrid have made some of the biggest moves in La Liga so far in the transfer window, both in terms of incomings and departures. The biggest departure is that of French striker Karim Benzema, who has joined Saudi Pro league side Al-Ittihad. The 35-year-old joined Madrid in the summer of 2009 from French club Lyon and went on to score 354 goals in all competitions and winning 25 major trophies. Manager Carlo Ancelotti admitted in June that Benzema’s departure was ‘unexpected’.
Madrid also cut their losses on Eden Hazard, whose spell in the Spanish capital has not worked out at all. Hazard, once billed one of the best players in world football, came to Madrid from Chelsea in June 2019 in a deal worth approximately $107 million, but injuries and fitness issues meant he made just 76 appearances for Madrid in a four-year spell. The situation is so bleak for Hazard that he is reportedly considering retirement from the game at just 32.
But Madrid have also invested in their future this transfer window with two key midfield acquisitions, including the transfer of England’s Jude Bellingham from German club Borussia Dortmund. Bellingham, at just 20, is one of the most sought-after midfielders in football. It’s hard to imagine that just four years ago, he was playing for Birmingham in the Championship.
An all-action midfielder, Bellingham can attack, put in a tackle and has remarkable composure at such a young age. It’s no surprise he was the Bundesliga player of the season for the 2022-23 season. Madrid have handed Bellingham the number 5 jersey, which was once worn by Zinedine Zidane.
Turkish wünderkind Arda Güler has also been signed from the Turkish side Fenerbahçe. The 18-year-old prodigy has already made 4 appearances for the Turkey national team. Madrid have tied him down to a six-year contract and he is one to watch in the years to come.
The Crisitano Ronaldo-Lionel Messi era has now officially moved outside Europe. While Ronaldo secured a move to Saudi club Al-Nassr earlier this year, Messi left PSG and joined Major League Soccer (MLS) club Inter Miami, which is co-owned by former England and MLS star David Beckham.
There were conversations about a return to his former club Barcelona, but the Catalan club simply didn’t have the financial might to get their record goal scorer back for a second stint.
At Miami, Messi is the new face of the MLS and has signed a two-and-a-half-year contract. His signing is undoubtedly a coup for Inter Miami, a club which was founded only five years ago. Make no mistake, this is a lucrative deal both for the player and the league. The MLS solidifies its credentials ahead of the 2026 Fifa World Cup, while Messi ensures a financially secure end to his career. The 36-year-old will reportedly earn between $50-60 million per year. But more importantly, the World Cup winner also has in place profit-sharing agreements with both Adidas and Apple.
According to Bloomberg, last year, Apple agreed a $2.5-billion deal to acquire the global rights to broadcast the MLS exclusively for 10 years, via a dedicated app that costs $14.99 per month or $49 for the season. The Bloomberg report adds that Messi will earn an undisclosed cut from the growth in international subscriptions to Apple’s MLS service.
Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp is witnessing a midfield revamp ahead of the new season. While experienced Premier League campaigned James Milner left the club after his contract expired, Klopp has seen club captain Jordan Henderson and defensive midfielder Fabinho depart for the Saudi Pro League. Naby Keita and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain have also left the club on free transfers.
Henderson, who joined Liverpool in 2011, has moved to Al-Ettifaq, where he will reunite with former Liverpool teammate Steven Gerrard, who has taken up the managerial job at the Dammam-based club. Fabinho, meanwhile, will join Benzema at Al-Ittihad, who have also recruited N’Golo Kante from Chelsea.
Klopp has reinforced his midfield with the signings of Alexis Mac Allister (from Brighton) and Dominik Szoboszlai (from RB Leipzig), but it will be a tough ask to follow in the steps of Henderson and Fabinho, who were an integral part of Liverpool’s recent successes in England and Europe.
Earlier this week, Klopp, speaking on the sidelines of a friendly against Leicester City in Singapore, said the club were “working on solutions” to strengthen the midfield. The club are also exploring a deal to sign Belgian teenager Roméo Lavia from Southampton.
Chelsea’s recent performances on the football pitch reflect the business they’ve conducted in the transfer market since billionaire US businessman Todd Bohley took over the club last year: lacking clarity and direction. In the January transfer window, the club signed eight players, including the marquee signing of Argentina midfielder Enzo Fernandez from Benfica for roughly $130 million. Ukraine winger Mykhailo Mudryk was another big-money signing from Shakhtar Donetsk—the 22-year-old putting pen to paper on a massive eight-and-a-half-year contract. By the end of last season, Chelsea had a bloated squad with an interim manager in the form of Frank Lampard.
But with Mauricio Pochettino now in the manager’s hot seat, a Chelsea revolution seems to be underway. Homegrown stars Mason Mount (to Manchester United), Ruben Loftus-Cheek (AC Milan), goalkeeper Edouard Mendy (Al-Ahli), defender Kalidou Koulibaly (Al-Hilal), midfielders Mateo Kovacic (to Manchester City) and Kante, and attacking talents Kai Havertz (Arsenal) and Christian Pulisic (AC Milan) have all left Stamford Bridge. Club veteran César Azpilicueta also bid goodbye. Overall, at least 25 players have departed, in the biggest overhaul the West-London club has seen in a while.
During his unveiling in July, Pochettino, who previously managed Chelsea’s crosstown rivals Tottenham, said he was hopeful the Chelsea squad would only get better. “I think we are going to have a squad that can deliver in the short term and give what we expect and from day one we need to think to win. Then if we don’t win, maybe if little by little we need more time to develop our idea, maybe it is possible,” he told Reuters.
Manchester United have been criticised heavily in recent years for a lack of quality signings to get the club back to its former glories. The signing of Ronaldo in 2021, which backfired, was the most recent example.
Under manager Erik ten Hag, who guided the club to their first trophy in six years last season and a top-4 finish, the club finally seems to be banishing their transfer window demons.
The biggest change has been made in the goal-keeping department. Spanish goalkeeper David de Gea left the club in July after his contract expired. While United have been criticised for the manner in which they handled de Gea’s departure—the Spaniard signed for United in 2011 and made more than 540 appearances—they have replaced him with Cameroonian international André Onana (signed from Inter Milan), a better fit for ten Hag’s system of playing from the back.
The club have also signed Mason Mount from Chelsea and are reportedly close to finalising a deal for young Danish striker Rasmus Højlund, 20, with Atalanta. There are bound to more outgoings at United, especially in the midfield department, with ten Hag now firmly calling the shots at the club and fixing areas in the squad that have long demanded attention.
When Cristiano Ronaldo joined Saudi Pro League side Al-Nassr in January, it marked a watershed moment for a relatively lesser-known football league. But that move was just the beginning.
According to multiple reports, the Saudi Pro League has spent close to $380 million pounds on transfers so far, making it one of the top spending leagues in the world in the summer 2023 transfer window. This money has not been spent on unknown names, but rather, established superstars from European football, some of whom still have their best playing years ahead of them. This spending spree is expected to continue.
But Saudi Arabia’s massive foray into football, including the purchase of English Newcastle United by the sovereign state-owned Public Investment Fund in 2021, is just one part of a bigger scheme. According to an Associated Press report, the Saudi-funded LIV Golf has “shaken up” professional golf. Critics, however, have dismissed the efforts as “sportswashing,” attempting to leverage professional sports to clean up the kingdom’s dismal human rights record.
The Chinese Super League tried it back in 2016-17, and the following years. But an economic slowdown and the imposition of a “transfer tax” by the Chinese government meant the whole project nosedived. The Saudi Pro League’s expenses are underwritten by indefinite fossil fuel wealth, but it too could crash.
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola admitted in July, that the Saudi league has “completely changed the market”. Perhaps we are witnessing the beginning of an epochal change in football.