Grading every big signing from Europe’s top clubs

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact the world of football, and while the summer transfer window will open as normal across Europe (just like the January window), this summer’s budgets for clubs are expected to be hit hard again.

Clubs spent nearly €1.5 billion less ($1.9bn) in summer 2020 than they did over the same period in 2019, according to FIFA, while Deloitte reported a 50% drop in activity across January 2021. However, there are still going to be plenty of loans, swaps, free transfers and even some permanent deals to keep an eye on.

Here are grades for all the major summer deals, with each day listed in order of highest transfer fee. All fees are reported unless confirmed with an asterisk (*).

July 8

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Signing a defender of Ramos’ quality is always going to be a good deal, even if he’s 35. PSG have handed him the two-year contract that Real Madrid were not willing to offer him. Though Ramos clearly didn’t want to leave Bernabeu, and he could have stayed if he had been quicker to accept the one-year deal that was on the table, he should improve PSG’s defence.

July 6

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Inter Milan: A

Sign a player for €40m, move him on for €70m a year later after he helps you to win the Scudetto. A good piece of transfer business for Inter but they’ll regret the financial situation that means they have to let one of their stars go.

PSG have shown a willingness to spend big in certain positions and now they have a top quality right-back. The Morocco international is only 22 and has plenty of room to develop, but he’s already world-class.

July 2

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Lille: B+
Leicester: A+

Lille were always going to have to let their star 22-year-old depart once they won Ligue 1 this season. Given they landed him on a free transfer from PSG’s youth teams in 2017, it’s good business but they’ll wish they’d been able to secure him to a longer deal as €25m is nothing for a player of his quality.

Leicester keep making brilliant moves in the window, especially from France. Wesley Fofana was an inspired signing last summer and Soumare could be even better. One of the most talented young midfielders in Europe, they have landed him for a bargain transfer fee and he should have a massive impact.

July 1

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RB Leipzig: B+
Bayern Munich: A

With a release clause inserted into his contract, there wasn’t much that Leipzig could do to stop their star defender from departing. Upamecano is only 22 but has become one of the best young players in Europe after joining from FC Salzburg in 2017 for around €10m. The club have made their peace with letting him go and will move on.

Bayern edged themselves ahead of the rest of Europe’s top clubs to land the Frenchman and should be very pleased. He is still developing but should be a fine addition to their multitalented squad as he was one of the most coveted players of this transfer window.



Julien Laurens suggests USMNT prospect Bryan Reynolds will develop better at Roma than Juventus.

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RB Leipzig: B+
Liverpool: A

Another Leipzig star with an achievable release clause inserted into his contract. Much like Upamecano, Konate wasn’t going to last long at the club before moving on to one of the top teams in Europe. Leipzig did well to get a big transfer fee and can rebuild with it.

One of the top young defenders in Europe, Upamecano took most of the headlines but Konate is equally deserving of a big move. Liverpool have struggled this season but should be set for the future if the 21-year-old can hit the ground running in England and stay free of injury.

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Chelsea: B
Milan: B+

After breaking into the team last season, Tomori fell out of favour under then-manager Frank Lampard and when Thomas Tuchel restored Antonio Rudiger to the side his days were numbered. Chelsea can use the funds for their new signings and his exit doesn’t impact their defensive depth at all.

A rare example of a loan move from Chelsea working out well for all concerned. Tomori impressed during his six-month spell and €28.5m for a 23-year-old with bags of potential is a decent deal for Milan too.

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Schalke: C
Juventus: A-

Schalke’s relegation after a dismal season ensured this move was always going to be on the cards. His loan to Juventus in August 2020 came as something of a surprise, and the German club may regret not keeping hold of him to help their battle against the drop. Though with the payments to Schalke split over three years, they have secured their financial future and could also bag an extra €6.5m in add-ons.

Juve have managed to get the best out of the United States midfielder and he impressed enough to earn himself a deal through to June 2025. Manager Andrea Pirlo says he is now “more professional than when he arrived” and his fitness and concentration levels have improved. He will only go from strength to strength at one of Europe’s top clubs.

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Man City: B
RB Leipzig: B

“There is a big difference [between Man City boss Pep Guardiola and Leipzig’s Julian Nagelsmann]: One gave me the confidence and played me, and the other didn’t. [Guardiola] killed me. Confidence is everything for me.” That quote just about sums up Angelino‘s time at City, with the former Spain U21 international signing in 2013 but spending most of his time on loan. He left for PSV in 2018 and finally started showing his skills, but City used his buyback clause to return him to the Etihad, where he was loaned again.

Luckily, the 24-year-old had two impressive loan spells at Leipzig, which were enough to persuade them to sign him permanently. City got a decent fee, while Leipzig got a player who has shown himself to be a key part of their side. We just hope there’s no buyback clause included this time.

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Strasbourg: C
RB Leipzig: B+

After failing to make the grade at the Marseille youth academy, two impressive seasons in Strasbourg’s first team as a youngster showed Simakan was ready for the step up. He is still raw and developing, but his style of defending is similar to Lilian Thuram’s, and one can’t help thinking that Strasbourg could have held out for a bit more.

Let one player depart for €42.5m and use the cash to sign his replacement for €15m; Leipzig have got the hang of transfers. The club beat out competition from AC Milan to land the highly rated Simakan, who has bags of potential and is still only 21. He is a born organiser who should help fill the void of Upamecano.

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Lille: C
AC Milan: B

Having won Ligue 1 this season, Lille’s exodus began with their star goalkeeper as Maignan made the move to Italy. Having built a fine reputation in France, the 6-foot-3 stopper left on the cheap as his contract was set to expire in 2022. Lille will struggle to replace him with similar quality.

Milan moved quickly when it became clear that Gianluigi Donnarumma wasn’t going to sign new terms. The 22-year-old Italy international will leave on a free transfer and Maignan is his replacement. He won’t win over the fans like Donnarumma did when he made his debut aged 15 but Maignan is a solid player who can help Milan get over the loss of their biggest young star.

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FC Dallas grade: A
Roma grade: B-

Reynolds moved to Roma on loan in January but has only played a handful of times since. He’s still only 19, so the €6.75m obligation to sign him (plus €5m in add-ons) is a lot of money and Dallas can be happy with how they brought him through to progress his career. He will be missed, but it’s better for the player that he move on.

Roma beat Juventus to the U.S. right-back, and the club will offer him a clearer path to the first team. He’s got a lot to learn and isn’t the finished article yet, but he has bags of potential, and Roma will be hoping he has a similar impact to that of U.S. star McKennie in Turin.

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Estudiantes: B-
Man City: B+

A small, nimble, Argentine forward, Sarmiento has had the unwelcome distraction of comparisons with the untouchable Lionel Messi to deal with in his young career to date. He was handed his Estudiantes debut as a 16-year-old in 2019 and hasn’t looked back since, impressing with his dribbling and direct running style. The club could have held on to him for a bit longer to see how he develops, but opted to take the money early.

It’s a bit of a gamble for City and you may see Sarmiento sent on loan before he makes an appearance in the City first team. But the Premier League champions have not spent a lot to sign the 18-year-old, so they may reap the rewards if he turns out to be half as good as Messi.

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Inter Milan: B

With 172 appearances over the past four seasons, Calhanoglu has been a key player for AC Milan and it’s a major shock to see him move to the club’s city rivals, Inter. At 27, the Turkey international clearly felt he was worth better wages and what Milan couldn’t offer, Inter could. He will improve their attack and the club have done well to snap him up on a free transfer. Just wait until the fans are allowed back into San Siro though.

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PSG did well to land a quality midfielder like Wijnaldum from under the noses of Barcelona, and on a free transfer too. It’s somewhat surprising that the Dutchman didn’t see a future for himself under Barca coach Ronald Koeman, but PSG will reap the rewards and Liverpool will be sad to see him depart. He’s not one for future, but can provide some much-needed experience to bolster the midfield and help the club’s younger players to develop.

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Barcelona: A+

Having left Barcelona in 2017 for City, Garcia made it clear that he wanted to return to Camp Nou and would not sign a new contract. His breakthrough came last season and he showed he has everything to become a top quality centre-back for years to come. Barca have done well to land him for nothing and the 20-year-old will surely blossom into the successor for Gerard Pique.

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Barcelona: A-

With 260 goals in 389 games for Manchester City, Aguero is one of the best strikers to have ever played the game. At 32, and with a season of injury struggles behind him, he has opted for a new challenge and still has plenty to offer. If his body holds up, Barca will hope that he will have a similar impact to Luis Suarez but his arrival may be more important in persuading fellow Argentine Lionel Messi to sign a new contract.

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Real Madrid: A+

Bayern will be furious that they weren’t able to persuade one of their top defenders to sign a new contract, but the 28-year-old Alaba clearly had a new challenge in mind. Madrid have got themselves a world-class player who can operate in several different positions. They are paying him a lot in wages but the lack of transfer fee makes it completely worthwhile. If Sergio Ramos or Raphael Varane leave, the club have a natural replacement.

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Barcelona: B-

Depay has had a strange career: failing at Man United from 2015-17 but reigniting his career at Lyon. A reunion with manager Ronaldo Koeman can help Barcelona’s squad depth but, even though he’s still only 27, his arrival may hinder the development of some younger stars like Trincao and Ansu Fati. His larger-than-life personality isn’t to everyone’s tastes so it will be interesting to see how he settles at Camp Nou. At least if he fails, he was signed on a free.

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RB Leipzig: A-

Any player who has passed through the extraordinary Ajax youth academy usually goes on to have a decent career. Brobbey’s goal scoring record at youth level saw him net 90 goals in 123 games during his time at the club, but he had grown tired of a lack of chances in the first team and opted to see out his contract before taking on a new challenge in Germany. Leipzig may have got themselves a real star if he can continue this development. They have been searching for a replacement for Timo Werner (after letting Chelsea sign him for €53m last summer) and Brobbey’s versatility gives him an extra dimension up front. At 19, the forward has all the attributes to be a success.

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Bayern: B-

The former England U21 international left-back chose to become the latest young star to move to the Bundesliga by seeing out his contract at Championship side Reading. At 23, he has plenty of room to develop, but it’s a bit of a gamble for Bayern to take. Clearly the German club were impressed by his technical skill and ability to attack from the full-back role, but he’ll have to perform exceptionally well to oust Alphonso Davies from the team.

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Borussia Dortmund: B

It takes a lot of guts to swap clubs at the age of 17, but Coulibaly follows Dan-Axel Zagadou in joining Borussia Dortmund from PSG and is a left-footed centre-back. PSG were unable to offer him any first-team guarantees so, after suffering an ACL injury in training in mid-February, he opted to leave at the end of his contract. Coulibaly was helped in his development by fellow Frenchman Presnel Kimpembe and Dortmund will certainly be able to offer him the chances he needs, if he can show he is up to the challenge. “I’m grateful for my time at PSG, but there is the right step for me,” he said. “I had other offers from other club, but I knew straight away that Dortmund was the right choice for me.”

June 30

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FC Salzburg: B-
Leicester: A

With 68 goals in 125 games for Salzburg, Daka has given everything to the club and helped them win the Austrian Bundesliga four times and Austrian Cup three. As their star player, Salzburg would have hoped to get a larger transfer fee, but COVID-19 put paid to that.

Leicester needed a long-term replacement for Jamie Vardy and the Zambia international certainly has the skills to make an immediate impact on the Premier League. Still only 22, he has room to improve and is another example of Leicester’s fine transfer nous.

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Grading every big signing from Europe’s top clubs

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