There should be something for everyone in the transfer market. In an ideal world, every signing would be scouted for months beforehand, a result of careful identification of your squad’s most urgent weakness, and tailor-made for the role for which they have been bought.
But the transfer mill needs its grist, the filler to keep its world turning, the bread-and-butter deals that justify the ongoing existence of everybody from agents to roving Sky Sports News reporters. Among the odd shrewd acquisition, no-brainer big-money deal and sensible reinforcements, there are transfers that just feel like they happen every single summer.
They have happened before. They are happening right now. They will happen again. And they will happen forever.
The Turkish Süper Lig Recyling Service
It is a little-known quirk of Fifa’s transfer regulations that, if a Premier League side simply leaves their unwanted, unsettled or wage-sapping Premier League players on the pavement outside their training ground, a Turkish club will eventually come and pick them up for a small fee. Just make sure to separate your plastics from your goal-shy strikers beforehand.
Fenerbahce are chief among the Süper Lig clubs who simply cannot resist freecycling themselves a steady stream of uninspiring Premier League operators.
Vincent Janssen escaped there on loan from Tottenham last season, adding himself to the dubious recent pantheon of Turkey-bound surplus stock (your Gael Clichys, your Samir Nasris, your Martin Skrtels, and so on) but kudos to Jeremain Lens, who managed to be farmed out to Fenerbahce and Besiktas between 2016-18 as Sunderland desperately tried to offload him from their end-of-year accounts.
This sub-market could soon be dominated by a new player, though: upstarts Istanbul Basaksehir currently boast no fewer than seven ex-Premier League veterans in their squad, including Emmanuel Adebayor and the ancient Emre Belozoglu, once of Newcastle. It’s the nearest thing football has to Gumtree.
2018/19 editions: Andre Ayew (Swansea to Fenerbahce, loan), Jaroslaw Jach (Crystal Palace to Çaykur Rizespor, loan)
The yo-yo striker
Being “too good for the Championship, not good enough for the Premier League” must be one of the more frustrating niches to occupy. All that hard work over 46 games, a steady stream of authoritative finishes that most people will only half-watch on Quest to pass the time before Match of the Day comes on, perhaps scraping into the promotion places…only to be overlooked in the top flight.
The Zone of Cameron Jerome, the Former Republic of Robert Earnshaw, the Void of Vydra: whatever you want to call that crack between the top two divisions, that’s where you’ll find a small army of tidy but limited goalscorers who will struggle with that step up for the rest of their playing days. In the grand scheme of any profession, that’s probably not a terrible place to find yourself, but it does make for some circuitous career paths.
Most recently, spare a thought for Benik Afobe who – after a passable 29 goals in 63 Championship games over the last four years – hoped Wolves had big plans for him when they took up their £10m option to sign him from Bournemouth this summer. Barely a week later, they had moved him on – and down – to Stoke for £12m, some swift transfer chicanery that he described as “direspectful” and an “embarrassment.”
Join the queue, Benik – for you are not alone. Also going in the wrong direction to find their true level are fellow yo-yo strikers Dwight Gayle (36 goals in 61 Championship games, 18 in 99 in the Premier League) and Lewis Grabban who, thanks mainly to 14 moves in 12 seasons, always seems to be about to be transferred somewhere for a fee in the region of £6m.
2018/19 editions: Dwight Gayle (Newcastle to West Brom, loan), Lewis Grabban (Bournemouth to Nottingham Forest, £6m), Benik Afobe (Bournemouth to Wolves, £10m and then Wolves to Stoke, loan)
Forever a loan
Chelsea’s loan policy has been the subject of much fascination over the last few years, mainly thanks to the sheer volume: they currently have 24 players on loan to 21 clubs in 14 different leagues, constituting about a third of the entire Premier League’s outgoing loan deals at the start of this season. The loanees have their own WhatsApp group and a dedicated team of “loan player technical coaches”, whose job it is to feed back to the far-flung youngsters and make sure they don’t feel forgotten.
Within that mass of temporary spells, there are some curious stories. Portuguese goalkeeper Eduardo, a Euro 2016 winner who played third fiddle to Thibaut Courtois and Willy Caballero last season, will celebrate his 36th birthday on loan at good old Vitesse Arnhem.
Meanwhile, Colombian forward Joao Rodriguez, who signed for Chelsea on his 17th birthday back in 2013, is now 22 and about to begin his eighth loan spell in six seasons: a spectacularly futile journey from Colombia (three times) to France, Portugal, Belgium, Mexico and, finally, Spain where he will play for second-tier Tenerife.
Quite how much thought and planning goes into where these battery-farmed young (or old) players are sent out each summer isn’t entirely clear, but the cost to Chelsea probably isn’t enough to change their ways. In any case, there will be some strange footballer autobiographies being published in about 15 years’ time.
2018/19 editions: Too many to count.
Returned to the continent, in a saleable condition and with proof of purchase, for a partial refund
The format here is fairly simple: promising early-career CV in a second-tier league (the Eredvisie will usually suffice), solid £20m transfer fee that suggests the player is ready to be thrust straight into the Premier League picture and then, roughly 12 months on, they are quietly shuffled off to the Bundesliga to try and remember what exactly it is about professional football they actually used to enjoy.
Such expensive, disheartening stories of anti-climax are manifold, but this season’s headline concession of defeat is Everton’s Davy Klaassen, who arrived for £24m last summer with the stamp of authenticity that comes with graduating the Ajax youth academy, and now finds himself hoping to pick up the pieces with Werder Bremen. The muted club statement confirming his low-key departure extended to just 68 words.
2018/19 editions: Davy Klaassen (Everton to Werder Bremen, £12m), Guido Carrillo (Southampton to Leganes, loan), Sofiane Boufal (Southampton to Celta Vigo, loan)
The young, English £15-20m centre-half
Sturdy, captain-material centre-backs everywhere, emboldened by Slabhead: The Harry Maguire Story, are now dreaming of Premier League moves and slow-motion World Cup montages.
There remains something comforting about having an honest-to-goodness, salt-of-the-earth six-footer at the heart of one’s defence, and nobody appreciates that more than Sean Dyche, who has equalled Burnley’s transfer record to secure the services of Middlesbrough’s Ben Gibson, finally filling the Michael Keane-shaped hole in his squad.
2018/19 editions: Ben Gibson (Middlesbrough to Burnley, £15m), Alfie Mawson (Swansea to Fulham, £15m)
The semi-forgotten former Premier League import, back for a second bite at the cherry
Perhaps it’s the lure of London, or the belated realisation that life wasn’t going to get any better than having Sky’s Paul Merson mangle your surname between 3-5pm every Saturday afternoon, but they invariably come crawling back for more.
Much like ex-Chelsea man Andre Schurrle, the first chapter tends to go rather unremarkably, leading to a couple of seasons under the radar back on the continent before they return, precisely three years younger than you assumed, with their expectations firmly managed for round two. Perhaps that’s what Davy Klaassen has his sights set on.
Before they know it, though, they’re playing for their third Championship club in five years, two bilingual kids happy enough at their Surrey school and they’ve even learned to appreciate the food and the weather. Almost.
Anyway: never give up. Best league in the world™ and all that.
2018/19 edition: Andre Schurrle (Borussia Dortmund to Fulham, loan)
Successful loan deal, tantalising wait, permanent move
The flip-side to the low-risk, rent-now-pay-later, scratch-and-sniff benefits of hitting the loan-deal jackpot is that the parent club might just notice that the player has suddenly hit his stride.
After some diminishing returns over two-and-a-bit seasons at Newcastle, Aleksandar Mitrovic took it upon himself to urge his compatriot Slavisa Jokanovic to bring him down to Fulham. At that point he became the focal point of every tidy, geometrically-perfect Craven Cottage attacking move, quickly earned cult-hero status for being a Crimewatch reconstruction of Diego Costa, and scored 12 times in 17 Championship games.
Even if Rafa Benitez still didn’t fancy him back at St James’ (and Fulham will be thankful he didn’t), the subsequent negotiation of a permanent deal was far from straightforward. It was a full nine weeks after the play-off final victory that restored Fulham’s top-flight status – during which Mitrovic’s value remained steady at the World Cup – until his permanent move was agreed for fee that could rise to £27m. A reasonable conclusion for both parties, but it could have been rather more expensive if it had dragged on to deadline day.
2018/19 edition: Aleksandr Mitrovic (Newcastle to Fulham, £22m)
The British Back-Up Goalkeeping Merry-Go-Round
One unexpected transfer sub-plot this summer has been the chain reaction of low-profile moves for capable British goalkeepers. It’s not entirely clear where the epicentre of these ripples lies, but some latent paranoia over homegrown player quotas, wage budgets and potential injury crises has been the propulsive force.
Where recently we once peered curiously at the existence of such resolutely third-choice goalkeepers (Richard Wright, Stuart Taylor, come on down) we’re now witnessing a cottage industry based entirely around making sure you have someone else lying around who knows where a wall should stand for a free-kick and how to shout at a defence for giving the ball away in front of their own goal.
Burnley, like a schoolboy completing a Panini sticker album, now have three England internationals to choose from between the sticks, thanks to Joe Hart’s latest bid for freedom. Rob Green and Lee Grant, who will be vital components of the pre-match warm-ups for Chelsea and Manchester United respectively this season, will tick the Honest Pro, Never Complains box.
The UK headquarters of the Goalkeepers’ Union has never been so busy.
2018/19 editions: Joe Hart (Manchester City to Burnley, £3.5m), Rob Green (Chelsea, free), Lee Grant (Stoke to Manchester United, £1.5m), Ben Foster (West Brom to Watford, £4m), Angus Gunn (Manchester City to Southampton, £10m), Danny Ward (Liverpool to Leicester, £12.5m), Sam Johnstone (Manchester United to West Brom, £6.5m), Ben Hamer (Leicester to Huddersfield, free), David Button (Fulham to Brighton, undisclosed)
The Eredivisie Coin-Toss
The path from the Dutch top flight to the Premier League is a well-trodden one. Of the last 21 players to have topped the Eredivisie scoring charts in the last 30 years, no fewer than 12 have swiftly moved on to English football. Of those dozen, just four – Dennis Bergkamp, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Dirk Kuyt and Luis Suarez – could even loosely consider themselves a success here.
Broadening things a bit, of the last 38 players to have won either the Dutch Footballer of the Year or the parallel Gouden Schoen award over the last three decades, 21 of them have eventually ended up in the Premier League. With the odd goalkeeper (Ed de Goey, Jerzy Dudek), defender (Jaap Stam, Jan Vertonghen) and midfielder (Marc Overmars, Georginio Wijnaldum) now thrown into the equation, the success rate nudges itself just over the 50% mark.
There are solid reasons for the Premier League’s preoccupation with Eredivisie’s finest. Dutch football (with its residual reputation for technical excellence, whatever the state of the national side) is seen as the perfect halfway house for rising talent, particularly from South America, a stepping stone from which those who flourish can be prised away relatively cheaply.
Unfortunately, for every Van Nistelrooy, there is a Mateja Kezman (105 goals in 122 Eredivise games giving way to 4 goals in 25 for Chelsea). For every Overmars, there is a Memphis Depay. For every Dennis Bergkamp, could there – after 21 goals and 12 assists for AZ Alkmaar last season – be an Alireza Jahanbakhsh? Brighton will hope not.
2018/19 edition: Alireza Jahanbakhsh (AZ to Brighton, £17m)
Cherry-picked main men from relegated clubs
Like the early-evening crowd scene around the reduced-to-clear section of a supermarket, relegated clubs and their unsustainable wage bills attract plenty of vultures. With the prospect of a player returning from a World Cup to happily get stuck into midweek trips to Brentford, Preston and Rotherham looking rather unlikely, the deals tend to get wrapped up fairly smoothly.
This time round, a clutch of players with yellow stickers on them and with no time to waste in the second tier, have been hauled back up to the top flight for a combined fee of around £30m – roughly the same price as a Premier League goalkeeper with two arms. It’s ruthless business, but it’s good business.
2018/19 editions: Xherdan Shaqiri (Stoke to Liverpool, £13.5m), Lukasz Fabianski (Swansea to West Ham, £7m), Ramadan Sobhi (Stoke to Huddersfield, £6m), Jonny Evans (West Brom to Leicester, £3.5m), Ki Sung-yueng (Swansea to Newcastle, free)
The living, breathing transfer rumour who finally, finally gets that Premier League move
There are some players with whom you feel you have become so familiar, despite perhaps never seeing them kick a single ball. For years, transfer gossip columns offered the amusing idea of French defender Rod Fanni moving to the Premier League, but it never materialised (although he did eventually arrive to help Charlton get relegated to League One in 2016.)
The likes of “Nicolas Gaitan”, “Leandro Damiao” and “William Carvalho” – all players for whom there is little evidence that they actually exist – have been imprisoned in the transfer rumour mill, never to emerge.
Every summer or so, one of these semi-fictional players at last gets their chance. This year, along with Joao Moutinho’s £5m move to Wolves, we will finally see Andriy Yarmolenko in English football. The 28-year-old, 70-odd-cap Ukrainian forward from the Bundesliga (not to be confused, of course, with Yevhen Konoplyanka, the 28-year-old, 70-odd-cap Ukrainian forward from the Bundesliga) has rocked up at West Ham, which is where all these very specific type of players ought to end up.
2018/19 editions: Andriy Yarmolenko (Borussia Dortmund to West Ham, £17.5m), Max Meyer (Schalke to Crystal Palace, free), Jean Michael Seri (Nice to Fulham, £25m), Joao Moutinho (Monaco to Wolves, £5m)
The transfer that just sounds right
There is no sophisticated methodology here; no metrics, no algorithms, no cross-referencing. Some transfers just make sense. So much sense that you automatically refer to Wikipedia to double-check the player hadn’t been at that club at some point before. All roads have led to this. James McClean. West Brom to Stoke. £5m.
Stoke, for some reason, seem to be the ideal destination for this sort of thing, perhaps because there are simply so many potential Stoke players out there. McClean has been joined on the Potters’ post-Premier league rebuilding project by Ashley Williams (somehow not once of Stoke) and Tom “£10m to Stoke” Ince. Most recently, meanwhile, Matej Vydra has returned to Burnley for what feels like his third spell with Burnley, despite having never played for Burnley.
These are the reassuring transfers. The repeats-of-Friends-on-E4 transfers. The Southern-would-like-to-apologise-for-any-inconvenience-this-has-caused-to-your-journey transfers. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
2018/19 editions: James McClean (West Brom to Stoke, £5m), Ashley Williams (Everton to Stoke, free), Tom Ince (Stoke, £10m), Callum Chambers (Arsenal to Fulham, loan), Matej Vydra (Derby to Burnley, undisclosed)
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