This Season Was a Tale of Two Mercatos

The transfers during the two mercatos were very different from each other. Their outcome too. Why?

As if the weather had something to do with it, the summer mercato was euphoric during the preseason with some transfers more flashy than others; yet it was much ado about almost nothing. While the winter market was marked by transfers without much fanfare but with already palpable benefits and promises rather reasonable. As the 2021–2022 season comes to an end, we can clearly see this paradox by drawing up a small balance sheet of the major acquisitions made during these two mercatos.

It is necessary to remember that there are two transfer periods in the major European soccer leagues: the summer mercato (between June and August) and the winter mercato (in January). These two periods (pre-season and mid-season) offer the opportunity for clubs to stock up on talent and to make cyclical and/or structural adjustments to their workforce through new loans and purchases. Strangely enough, this year the two mercatos have been very different from each other: not only in the types of transfers made but also in the results of these transfers.

Although the performance of a player during a single season is not enough to evaluate his transfer, the first season often gives an idea of the next. Sometimes this short period is even the basis for a coach and a club’s management to decide whether a newcomer deserves an extension later on or not. Professional soccer is like that: the probation period is getting shorter and shorter, and so is the patience of the fans.

However, in order to make a (partial) assessment of a transfer from a soccer point of view, at least two parameters have to be considered. The degree of progress that the transfer has brought to both parties of the contract, not only the player but also the club, has to be taken into account. In other words, on the one hand, it is necessary to estimate how much the player has benefited from the transfer to become more successful, and more accomplished in his career; on the other hand, it is necessary to gauge to what extent the buying club has benefited from the transfer to achieve its own goals during the season.

Crazy Summer

It’s no secret that last summer’s transfer market was marked by transfers, some more glamorous than others.

Here are 15 outstanding transfers of the summer market (with the names of their clubs of origin and destination):

  • Lionel Messi (FC Barcelona — PSG)
  • Cristiano Ronaldo (Juventus — Manchester United)
  • Romelu Lukaku (Inter Milan — FC Chelsea)
  • Segio Agüero (Manchester City — FC Barcelona)
  • Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid — PSG)
  • Antoine Griezmann (FC Barcelona — Atletico Madrid)
  • Jack Grealisch (Aston Villa — Manchester City)
  • Jadon Sancho (Dortmund — Manchester United)
  • David Alaba (Bayern Munich — Real Madrid)
  • Raphael Varane (Real Madrid — Manchester United)
  • Gianluigi Donnarumma (AC Milan — PSG)
  • Jérôme Boateng (Bayern Munich — Olympique Lyon)
  • Eric Garcia (Manchester City — Barcelona)
  • Achraf Hakimi (Inter Milan — PSG)
  • Dayot Upamecano (RB Leipzig — Bayern Munich)

However, of all these sensational transfers, only the transfer of Alaba can be considered a success from a strictly footballing point of view. This transfer was certainly a winning move for Alaba. The latter not only became a La Liga winner but also took advantage of the larger audience of this Spanish league (compared to the Bundesliga) to gain notoriety. But also this transfer was a godsend for Real Madrid, which, after the departure of Sergio Ramos, needed an experienced and high-level central defender.

Romelu Lukaku

During this transfer market, some other recruitments have so far produced mixed results. These players have certainly been equal to themselves, but the shadow of a doubt still hangs over the validity of their transfer. Although these players are delivering the service expected of them, their club’s performance after their transfer has still declined. This raises the question of whether the transfers were smart tactical and managerial choices. This is the case with the transfers of Cristiano Ronaldo and Raphael Varane to Manchester United.

Other transfers simply flopped. The players have simply missed the season. This contributed to the regression of their destination club. Not only did these players perform below expectations, but the club also paid the price. This is the case of Romelu Lukaku, Gianluigi Donnarumma, Jerome Boateng, Jack Grealish, Dayot Upamecano and Antoine Griezmann.

A few other players transferred last summer have performed below their capacity. They have been average. Nevertheless, they have a good attitude on the field: you can see them working hard to become better. They seem to be going through an adaptation phase: between the beginning of the season and the end, we can discern a progression and learning curve. The adjustment of these newcomers is slow but they are on the right track. This is the case of Lionel Messi, Eric Garcia, Jadon Sancho and Achraf Hakimi.

That said, some transfers have been unlucky: they have been screwed up by physical problems. This is not the fault of the player or the club. Nevertheless, the balance remains sadly unfortunate for both parties. Thus, the integration of Sergio Ramos at PSG was disrupted by his muscular strains. Yet the Parisian club would have gained so much from his presence on the field and his leadership in the locker room. Similarly, Sergio Aguero, who arrived at Barça in July 2021, had to end his professional career, five months later, because of his heart problems.

Basically, for one reason or another, the main transfers of the summer mercato have so far failed to live up to their promises. Although the level of disappointment and the players’ share of responsibility are not always the same, the evaluation of their performance during this season shows that these transfers have been more euphoric than rational, more unlucky than blessed.

Wise winter

However, five months later, the winter market changed this dynamic. As if the clubs had wanted to appease their summer excess, most of their January acquisitions have been sensible choices. And on the whole, these recruitments have been successful so far.

Luis Díaz after scoring his first goal for Liverpool against Norwich (February 19, 2022)

Here are 15 notable transfers from the winter mercato:

  • Dušan Vlahović (Fiorentina — Juventus)
  • Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Arsenal — Barcelona)
  • Luis Díaz (FC Porto — Liverpool)
  • Ferran Torres García (Manchester City — Barcelona)
  • Julian Álvarez (River Plate — Manchester City)
  • Bruno Guimarães (Olympique Lyon — Newcastle United)
  • Kieran Trippier (Atletico Madrid — Newcastle United)
  • Dele Alli (Tottenham Hotspur — Everton)
  • Rodrigo Bentancur (Juventus — Tottenham Hotspur)
  • Chris Wood (Burnley — Newcastle United)
  • Lucas Digne (Everton — Aston Villa)
  • Vitaliy Mykolenko (Dynamo Kiev — Everton)
  • Yuri Alberto (International — Zenith Saint Petersburg)
  • Romain Faivre (Brest- Olympique Lyon)
  • Jonathan Ikoné (LOSC Lille — Fiorentina)

Almost all the winter transfers were conscientious adjustments. Unlike the preseason transfers, there is no intention of the acquiring club to create a buzz or to capitalize on the glamour of a soccer player to gain subscribers on social networks or to sell more jerseys to their fans.

The objective of most of these transfers seems to have been simply to build a team over time. The important thing, then, is not only the immediate results (over a season) but also those expected in the medium term (from the second season). Newcastle’s acquisitions can be seen in this light. After its acquisition, last October by a consortium including a Saudi Arabian investment fund, the English club has become a new rich. But instead of making euphoric purchases, as the upstarts often do, the club’s management preferred to make more strategic acquisitions.

Some of the other winter transfers were aimed at repairing the current flaws of the acquiring clubs. It is like repair and maintenance transfers. The objective, as was the case with the transfers of FC Barcelona, was to make situational adjustments. This has paid off. For example, Aubameyang has brought extraordinary consistency in the attack when the club needed it most. For his part, Ferran Torres has also been decisive on several occasions.

The Catalan team took advantage of these performances to regain confidence in themselves and their fans (including inflicting a memorable 4–0 on Real Madrid in the last classico). This allowed them to secure a qualifying place for next year’s Champions League.

During this winter mercato, another type of transfer aimed at recruiting young talents full of potential. This is the case of Vlahovic (22), Luis Diaz (25) and Julían Álvarez (22). If for the first two, the benefits of their transfers were immediate, we are eager to see how in the coming seasons the other young recruits of this mercato will succeed in establishing themselves in their new club.

Moreover, some transfers were second chance transfers. Experienced players had the opportunity to get healthy again by changing clubs. This has benefited their destination team. This is how Aston Villa started to take advantage of the offensive abilities of their new recruit Lucas Digne. While the coach of Tottenham Hotspur, Antonio Conte has not had to complain about the adaptation of Bentancur to the squad.

Only the transfer of Dele Alli can be qualified as a failure. The former Tottenham Hotspur player has not been able to seize this new opportunity offered by Everton to put his career back on track. Moreover, the new coach of the club, Frank Lampard does not seem to be interested in the services of the player for the new season.

Apart from Alli, the winter market has been positive so far according to the two parameters considered here to evaluate transfers: the progress of players and that of the destination clubs. It is true that it may be premature to evaluate these transfers, which took place only four months ago. But this does not prevent a preliminary evaluation. As with the preseason recruitments, the last few months have allowed us to observe some telling trends in terms of their performance.

The 2021–2022 season has been a story of two mercatos. A mercato of madness and a mercato of reason. A mercato of euphoria and a mercato of correction. A mercato of poker and a mercato of adjustment. The 2022–2023 season is shaping up to be explosive, with the transfer of Erling Haaland to Manchester City this summer and the potential arrival of Robert Lewandowski at FC Barcelona. Are these transfers of reason or madness?

Who knows? We can only hope that, during this mercato, reason combines with the hot passion of the summer.

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