ONE area in which it was predicted football would be most profoundly affected by the coronavirus pandemic was its ever-increasingly bloated transfer market.
While some Premier League clubs are feeling the pinch and making shrewd moves amid tightened purse strings, other are spending as freely as ever, an all-in gamble on immediate on-field returns.
Here, we take a look at the five standout deals of the summer transfer window so far.
The 2014 World Cup appeared to herald the arrival of a new global superstar, an exciting, inventive attacking midfielder ready to assume the mantle of being the world’s next-best player after Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. Scorer of the tournament’s best goal and winner of its Golden Boot, Colombia’s James Rodriguez vaulted himself into the echelon of the elite.
A £63m move to Real Madrid soon followed, Los Blancos desperate to make the game’s newest emerging star their latest Galactico. But six years on and now 29 years old, Rodriguez has rarely scaled the heights imagined for him back in Brazil in the summer of 2014. He arrives at Everton after two years shipped out on loan to Bayern Munich and having ridden the bench back at the Bernabeu last season.
While there is no guarantee he will rediscover his long-lost best form at Goodison Park – it’s hard to shake the feeling his £22m arrival on Merseyside will be either a roaring success or a total damp squib, no middle ground – Rodriguez is reunited with Carlo Ancelotti, the man who coaxed a stunning season of performances from the Colombian when they worked together last in 2014-15.
If Ancelotti can get a tune out of the enigmatic No.10, Rodriguez – combined with the impressive and sensible addition of midfield ballast in the form of Allan and Abdoulaye Doucoure – the pieces are in place for Everton to be a formidable unit this season.
Rodriguez to top score for Everton – 7/1
Everton to finish in the top 10 – 11/20, top six – 4/1, top four – 11/1
It remains to be seen whether Manchester United can snare Jadon Sancho from Borussia Dortmund, but Chelsea have ensured the Bundesliga’s other hyper-talented young star will be lighting up the Premier League in 2021.
He hasn’t come cheap, with the Blues forking out a club-record £71m fee for the 21-year-old, but Kai Havertz had become one of the most sought-after players in Europe over the last two years for good reason.
The German international is the complete modern No.10, showing in his four seasons as a regular starter for Bayer Leverkusen that he can combine the role’s traditional creative and scoring duties with athleticism, a dedication to his pressing duties and the intelligent off-the-ball movement of a seasoned forward.
Frank Lampard will also be able to call upon the gifts of fellow new arrivals Timo Werner, Hakim Ziyech, Ben Chilwell and Thiago Silva this season, but Havertz is undoubtedly the most exciting arrival in an extravagant summer of spending at Stamford Bridge.
Havertz to have to most assists in the Premier League – 14/1
Chelsea to be London's top Premier League side – 1/2
Chelsea to finish in the top four – 2/5, to win the Premier League – 9/1
There are two ways of looking at Newcastle’s £20m signing of Callum Wilson from Bournemouth. In one sense, that’s a hefty fee to pay for a 28-year-old with a history of knee problems who mustered only seven Premier League goals last season and couldn’t prevent his club from being relegated.
From another perspective, though, Jonjo Shelvey was Newcastle’s top league scorer last season with six goals. In the three seasons they’ve been back in the Premier League, Ayoze Perez’s modest 12-goal haul in 2018-19 is the best individual scoring season any Newcastle player has produced.
Newcastle are desperate for a reliable, experienced finisher. If Wilson is at his best, he is exactly that. His return of 14 Premier League goals from 30 games in 2018-19 is proof.
Wilson to score over 9.5 Premier League goals – Evens
Newcastle to finish in the top 10 – 7/2
Newcastle to win over 36.5 points – 11/20, under 36.5 points 13/10
It’s not yet clear how Ole Gunnar Solskjaer intends to use Donny van de Beek, or whether the Dutchman can fit into the same midfield at Paul Pogba and Bruno Fernandes. But what is obvious is that, having signed the 23-year-old Netherlands international from Ajax for £35m, Manchester United have done a shrewd bit of business.
Likened to Frank Lampard for the way he times runs into the box from midfield and dispatches chances with the reliable aplomb of a top-class striker, Van de Beek, a pre-pandemic Real Madrid target, proved his pedigree with a string of stellar performances in Ajax’s Champions League semi-final run the season before last.
With experience playing as a No.6, No.8 and No.10, Van de Beek has the versatility and quality to upgrade United’s options, and all for a fee which, in modern football terms, appears thoroughly reasonable.
Even football fans who don’t follow the Championship closely can’t have failed to notice Eberechi Eze over the last two seasons. The 22-year-old attacker became a regular viral hit on social media thanks to the sharing of short clips of his latest dribbling exploits with Queens Park Rangers.
Eze’s skills aren’t just for show, though. His attacking productivity for QPR last season – 14 goals and eight assists – caught the attention of a handful of Premier League clubs, and it was Crystal Palace who swooped, snapping him up in a £16m deal.
No one will be more pleased to welcome Eze to Selhurst Park than current Palace winger Wilfried Zaha. Eze’s presence might convince Palace to cash in on the Ivory Coast winger at long last; if not, the new signing will at least ease the creative burden Zaha has carried, adding another rapid and unpredictable weapon to Roy Hodgson’s attack.