With the lingering issue of association football being unable to conclude its 2019-2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve decided to take a look at what has gone right this year in the world of football. What better place to start than the transfer window, which routinely offers the canniest bargains, top prospects and all the players your favorite team missed out on.
Manchester United’s last-second unveiling of a 30-year-old ex-Watford striker as their proposed star forward established that this year’s window would not be one that captivated the minds and hearts of fans. This year saw the lowest net spending for transfers in the past decade by a significant margin. Notably, the window saw Chelsea’s saga of trying to rescind their transfer ban conclude successfully for the Blues, only for them to make zero signings afterwards.
Despite some disappointments, there were plenty of big deals made, with several top players making smart moves to new teams. Several of these players have proved or look likely to be crucial signings that will push their respective teams to resounding success. The following ten transfers are the ones that appear destined to be difference-makers for their newfound clubs, providing them with the extra step across the line between triumph and failure.
No. 10: Sander Berge – KRC Genk to Sheffield United
Sheffield United’s fight for its place in European competition is what football is about. The most unabashedly rag-tag squad competing in the Premier League since 2016’s title-winning Leicester City, it’s understandable to be reserved about new signings the club makes at this time. Nobody wants to see the equilibrium this scrappy side has found fall to the wayside, and throwing a new face into the mix could certainly disrupt the flow the Blades have managed to find.
Keeping this in perspective, Chris Wilder has again proved himself as one of the most quietly shrewd managers working today, as his decision to pick up a midfield anchor instead of a mercurial striker is one that strengthens the club financially and personnel-wise. Our first of two young dynamo Norwegian internationals on this list, the 21-year old Sander Berge has pace aplenty to keep up with the rapidity of English football, all the while pulling strings in the middle of the park. Berge comes to England from reigning Belgian champions Genk, with a £22 million price tag blowing previous club fee records out of the water. It’s a sign that Sheffield has a vested interest in remaining at the top level, and with the likes of Chelsea and Napoli rumored to have been interested in Berge, Sheffield’s acquisition of the Belgian is a testament to their growing influence if nothing else.
The top tier of English football is known for growing intensely in terms of pressure near its end, and Sheffield can rely on the proven maturity of Berge, who is known for his veteran-like level-headedness. He showed great promise in his debut against Crystal Palace, distributing well and registering the most tackles on the Sheffield roster.
No. 9: Jean-Kevin Augustin – RB Leipzig to Leeds United
Arsenal’s decision to end the loan spell of the young Eddie Nketiah at Leeds United proved to be yet another hindrance in the ever-floundering attempts of the West Yorkshire flagship club to return to the English first division. Though the Whites remain comfortably at the top of the Championship, fans should be nowhere near satisfied as Leeds are tried-and-true masters of stumbling at the finish line. They have already let a sizable lead slip through their fingers, sitting at first in the second tier by a measly point. To say they need reinforcements to see the endgame play out in their favor is a loud understatement.
Nketiah’s replacement could very well provide that much needed relief. The Parisian-bred forward is one of the most talented wonderkids around, and in all honesty, Leeds are lucky to have signed him on a loan. Premier League giants Manchester United were reportedly gunning for Augustin, and his rejection of the Red Devils shows just how far the once elite side have fallen without Fergie at the helm. The decision has undoubtedly enamoured the Leeds fanbase with Augustin, after the Frenchman embarrassed one of their greatest rivals in selecting the smaller club. Of course, Augustin’s workrate will have to match his talent if Leeds is to survive the gruel of the Championship’s closing stages. If he’s up for the task, Leeds will find itself lining up against United in no time.
No. 8: Reiner Jesus – Flamengo to Real Madrid
Real Madrid have seen enough talent pass through the gates of the Santiago Bernabeu to last a multitude of lifetimes. It’s easy to hate on the Spanish titans, who can’t help but snatch prodigious talent from anywhere they please. As of late, rather than invest in the superstardom of Galacticos (a model that’s worked for Madrid for seventy years), the Spaniards are starting to recognize that propping up young players is the way of the future.
Young Brazilians Rodrygo and Vinicius Junior have already showcased their value to Madrid president Florentino Perez, so it’s no surprise that teenage Reiner Jesus was Les Merengues’ latest target. A technical playmaker, Jesus made his debut for Rio-based Flamengo last summer. At seventeen years old, Jesus played in fourteen games, netting six goals to help his side lift the Brazilian title. His play saw the side capture the Copa Libertadores and reach the finals of the Club World Cup.
Touted as the future of Brazilian football, Madrid has bought into the hype and coughed up 26 million pounds to get Jesus into the white jersey. Breaking into the first team is unlikely for Jesus, who will likely play with the reserves for the time being. His six-year contract points to Madrid seeing Jesus as a future powerhouse, but not one that will do much to aid in their current journey to recapture the La Liga title after three years of falling short. He’s the riskiest buy on the list, with no payoff guaranteed, but if he can muster the same energy he brought to Flamengo, he’ll easily fulfill Perez’s vision of a world class player.
No. 7: Steven Bergwijn – PSV Eindhoven to Tottenham Hotspurs
Spurs would have easily topped this list had they gotten the target they were initially after, who you’ll see down the line. Their alternate buy is far from a poor decision however, and will probably have an easier time fitting into legendary head coach Jose Mourinho’s system. Spurs fans have had a hard time adjusting to the controversy-courting Portuguese, but Mourinho has done more for Tottenham in the transfer window then his immediate predecessor Mauricio Pochettino ever did.
Liverpool and Manchester United were in talks to buy out winger Steven Bergwijn, only for the Dutchman to surprisingly announce his commitment to side with the Lilywhites. Mourinho has done really well to spot a quality player, who plays on the left side and cuts in through defenders to score with his favored right foot. Bergwijn is reminiscent of top Premier League wingers like Raheem Sterling or Mo Salah, as he deftly scores and creates equally.
His versatility will allow him to fill any role on the front line, as Mourinho has been struggling to deal with finding a substitute for injured Spurs talisman Harry Kane. First appearing against Premier League terrorizers Manchester City, Bergwijn initiated a brutal takedown of Spurs’ heavily favored rivals. His chest-and-volley opener caught the Citizens off guard, and left them vulnerable to the follow up strike that handed Spurs the upset. Should he continue in this fashion, Bergwijn will quickly find himself a fan favorite.
No. 6: Takumi Minamino – RB Salzburg to Liverpool
I know Liverpool has been the best team in the world this past year, and anyone can easily make the argument that they don’t need any strengthening. I wouldn’t argue hard against this notion, even if I do think our first ex-RB Salzburg player is a steal for the Reds. Inbound to Liverpool for just £7.25 million, it’s a great piece of business for the unofficial 2020 Premier League champions.
It’s a bit of a personal choice, as I love wingers with pace, and Minamino is a player I feel is barely ever recognized. I think flying so low under the radar will be to the Japanese forward’s advantage, as there won’t be as much pressure to perform as there will be for marquee signings at other clubs. He comes to Liverpool from Salzburg, which had a hand in bringing up Sadio Mane, one of the biggest cogs in Jurgen Klopp’s master project.
I think there will be some unexpected chemistry between the two, as they’ve been brought up in the same style of play. Minamino made Liverpool take notice of him in their uncomfortable 4-3 win over Salzburg in October of 2019, when his volley against the Reds put their Champions League campaign on thin ice. While he won’t be removing either Mane, Salah or Roberto Firmino from their posts at Liverpool’s attacking trident, he’s a good option for Klopp to experiment with in a league where injury is a common plague.
No. 5: Sam Kerr – Chicago Red Stars to Chelsea
As an Arsenal fan, I don’t hate Chelsea as much as it seems to have been required these past few years. Their struggles have been in parallel with Arsenal and Manchester United, so I can sympathize with fans disappointed with things like a lack of activity in the transfer window. For consolation, Blues supporters should look to their women’s side for business being well handled in this area. Chelsea have made what looks to be the signing of the year in women’s football.
Finishing 12 points behind eventual champions Arsenal in last year’s Women’s Super League, Chelsea will easily find themselves in contention for that crown with the gain of an all-time great. Sam Kerr has been a top scorer in every country she’s laced her boots up for, notably tallying four goals for the Australian side she captained at the 2019 World Cup. At 26 years old, she holds the records for most goals scored in both the Australian and American domestic leagues. She will look to top England’s list as she joins the ladies of Stamford Bridge.
Named the Most Valuable Player of the 2019 National Women’s Soccer League, Kerr had verbally agreed to sign with Chelsea back in November, joining the instant the transfer window opened. Early games in the WSL have proven a challenge for Kerr, who is battling a recurring quadricep strain, but the Aussie did score in Chelsea’s 4-1 battering of Arsenal in the beginning of the year. Once she settles in properly, there’ll be no stopping this prolific powerhouse.
No. 4: Paco Alcacer – Borussia Dortmund to Villareal
Attacking players have been the theme of this list, and its upper tier will be no different. Spanish international Paco Alcacer arrived at perpetual La Liga mid-table side Villareal for £19.4 million, a club record. Alcacer’s career has been one of struggling for his starting spot against more established strikers at both Borussia Dortmund and Barcelona. In spite of this burden, he has found the back of the net on numerous occasions, coming in as runner up in Bundesliga scoring last season to Poland’s Robert Lewandowski. In the first half of that season, Paco scored in every other game, totaling 18 goals in 26 games. Villareal routinely find themselves a few places behind European qualifiers. With Alcacer now leading their charge, perhaps their time to break into that elusive competition may have finally come. That £19 million looks to have already paid itself, as Paco’s debut paired itself with a goal against Osasuna. The Europa League is up for grabs with this Spaniard at the Yellow Submarine’s helm.
No. 3: Christian Eriksen – Tottenham Hotspurs to Inter Milan
Sulking through the first half of this season got the Danish playmaker the exit from under Jose Mourinho that he was hoping for. Joining Inter Milan for £16.9 million, the Nerazzurri won’t have to wait long for their big signing to start paying off in dividends. Eriksen has been arguably the world’s best attacking midfielder while at Tottenham for the better part of a decade, keeping Spurs in the top echelon of the most challenging league in the world.
The Dane has been vocal about his displeasure with Tottenham’s lack of trophies during his tenure, and though the Lilywhites made it to last year’s Champions League final, Eriksen made it clear the absence of silverware was making him crave a different challenge. I can’t really blame him, as Spurs do seem to have peaked in the wake of that final, while Inter is on the return path to its status as a European great.
The San Siro played host to several top players in their position prior to Eriksen’s arrival, such as Samir Handanovic in goal, Diego Godín in the back line, and Romelu Lukaku at striker. No longer having to rely on himself and Harry Kane to carry Spurs, having a supporting cast he could rely on was clearly too much for Eriksen to resist. As Antonio Conte prepares his team for runs at the Champions League and Serie A titles, Eriksen’s killer instinct on the ball will be at the forefront of that mission.
No. 2: Krzysztof Piatek – AC Milan to Hertha BSC
Remember when I said Spurs could have easily won this transfer window? Well here’s where they fumbled. I’m partial to Polish players, and I get a lot of people would have Eriksen here, but I can’t really see bias getting in the way when it comes to El Pistolero. What club wouldn’t want a classic number nine, a tenacious penalty box predator that invites comparisons to the most in-form striker at the moment, fellow Pole Robert Lewandowski?
Piatek’s game is complete, and his £22.8 million price tag is a small one when compared to the firepower he provides. Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s return to the team that made him the icon he is unfortunately sidelined Piatek, but he still remained one of the most in demand forwards of the year. Spurs were close to securing his talents, but Mourinho reportedly only wanted him as a loan option. Close followers of the saga will know Piatek’s lawyer wife Paulina played a hand in her husband’s decision, as she wanted to remain closer to home.
Serie A saw Piatek scoring for fun last season, netting one more than Cristiano Ronaldo across spells at Genoa and AC Milan. The Pole managed 22 goals in the Italian league, as well as another eight in the Coppa Italia. He has matched records set by legends like Andriy Shevchenko and Gabriel Batistuta, scoring in seven straight games through the 2018-2019 campaign. An output of this sort will easily kick his Berlin club to the top of the Bundesliga.
No. 1: Erling Braut Haaland – RB Salzburg to Borussia Dortmund
In a game where the likes of Leo Messi and Pele make cases for the greatest ever to touch a ball, height is not a be all end all attribute one must have to astound at the highest level. And yet, when a physical specimen like Haaland arrives on the world stage, it’s hard not to marvel at the physicality the forward brings to the table.
As soon as the Norwegian behemoth appeared on the transfer market, the team that came to collect him would invariably be seen as the window’s winner. The Leeds-born teen was heavily linked with Manchester United, as compatriot Ole Gunnar Solskjaer gave Haaland his Molde debut when the youngster was 16. Perhaps remembering the nefarious Roy Keane’s tackle that ended his father’s career, Haaland instead opted for Germany and Borussia. The club and player seem like a good fit for each other, as Dortmund’s demonstrated ability to bring the best out of its youngest players speaks for itself. Jadon Sancho’s run with BVB has allowed him to shine rather than struggle for a starting spot elsewhere, and Haaland looks poised to follow on a similar path.
A goal a game ratio in the Austrian league raised expectations through the roof, but Haaland’s debut has managed to be explosive anyway. Eight goals in his first four games make him the hottest star in the world right now, and all for £17.1 million. He’s admitted to wanting to play in the Premier League in the future, where a glittering career is already waiting for him. His contract at Dortmund has his release clause at £63 million, showing how much he’s grown in value in such a short time.