We finished our tour through the summer transfer markets today with Samuel Marsden’s look at La Liga. Here’s a look back at the biggest deals from Spain last summer:
Alexis Sánchez (above)
Where, in 2013-14: Barcelona
Where, in 2014-15: Arsenal
Why: Three’s a crowd; four is untenable
How much: $58 million
Ardent fans of Sánchez had trouble reconciling Barcelona’s willingness to sell with their view of the player, but considering what Lionel Messi, Neymar, and Luis Suárez have done in his absence (and the trouble Pedro Rodríguez has had getting playing time), it’s no wonder Barcelona sought to cash in on Arsenal’s offer. For Arsenal’s part, Sánchez had an immediate impact, with Gooners soon asking the same question of Barcelona: how could you let such a talent go?
The Chilean’s actual production hasn’t lived up to that hype, but it’s come close. In 37 games between the Premier and Champions Leagues, Sánchez has scored 18 times. That’s not bad, but also not quite in line with his transfer fee, particularly considering the front-loaded nature of his season (he has only two goals in his last 12 Premier League games).
Though we’re living in a world where clubs toss around $58 million is if obliged to do so, that obligation also engenders expectations. When a player is hailed as a game-changer yet his club continues treading water, it’s reasonable to keep his impact in perspective.
Where, in 2013-14: Atlético Madrid
Where, in 2014-15: Chelsea
Why: The most Mourinho, most Chelsea player available
How much: $54.7 million
Perhaps there was a moment when the Brazilian-cum-Spaniard could have gone elsewhere, but given the lofty, Spanish title heights he was stepping up from, there were only so many clubs in play. Neither Real Madrid nor Barcelona were fits, Paris Saint-Germain has forwards to spare, while big spenders like Manchesters City and United would had to contend with the obvious: Between skill, attitude and fit, Diego Costa was perfect for Chelsea.
Like Sánchez, the results have been front loaded, but they’ve also been arguably better. In individual terms, Costa has 19 league goals in 24 appearances, though he failed to score in 508 Champions League minutes. On the club level, Costa has proved the most important addition to a team that had targeted the Premier League title. With four rounds left in the season, Chelsea has already met that goal.
Where, in 2013-14: Barcelona
Where, in 2014-15: Chelsea
Why: Addressing weaknesses from the top shelf
How much: $45 million
Though rumors had focused on Atlético’s Koke as the object of Mourinho’s fancy, June brought with it an unlikely connection, that to former Arsenal captain Cesc Fábregas. Amid whispers there was a division of opinion between the Chelsea manager and others on staff, Fábregas eventually returned to London, much to the chagrin of rival fans to the north.
Keeping with our theme, the move paid early dividends, with Fábregas’s ability to deliver long balls to Costa key to the team’s hot start. Through winter, though, Fábregas waned, and in some of Chelsea’s bigger disappointments (most notably, Champions League), the Spanish international’s drawn criticism. Lingering feelings that he’s neither resilient nor a big game player have resurfaced.
It makes for a mixed bag. Chelsea’s midfield has undoubtedly improved on its 2013-14 version, but for a club with the Blues’ resources, has it improved enough? More readily, for a team that continues to have Champions League ambitions, is it reasonable to expect to matchup with Barcelona, Real Madrid, and Bayern Munich with Fábregas as your key midfield force?
Where, in 2013-14: Real Sociedad
Where, in 2014-15: Atlético Madrid
Why: Time to diversify
How much: $41 million
Much like the purchase of Bayern’s Mario Mandžukić in the wake of Costa’s departure, Griezmann’s move to the Calderón just made sense. Sure it, along with the acquisitions of Alessio Cerci and Raúl Jiménez, threatened to move Atlético away from it’s dependence on a number nine, but the France international also seemed like a natural fit with the likes of Koke and Arda Turan. With Mandžukić busting ass in front of him? Griezmann would have all the support he needed.
The theory’s played out. Behind Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, Griezmann is La Liga’s leading goal scorer, his 22 goals leaving him within reach of the 27 Costa put up last season. Though it took a little time for Diego Simeone to figure out how to use his new star, he does in fact have a star – a bonafide focal point Atlético’s attack can build around during this summer’s window.
Ángel Di María
Where, in 2013-14: Real Madrid
Where, in 2014-15: Manchester United
Why: Because he was bright and shiny and United didn’t have much of an actual plan
How much: $102.6 million
Somewhere around March or April last year, it became fashionable to say Di María had quietly been Real Madrid’s most valuable player. It’s the type of clever analysis that usually undermines those more concerned with being clever than correct, but there was a grain of truth in it. Beneath the above-the-fold coverage of players like Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale, Di María had provided a valuable binding element. He truly was a major reason for El Real’s decima.
But at no point in his career has the Argentine been a $100 million player, yet in the over-compensating fear of Manchester United’s summer, that number became a reality. Along with that of Radamel Falcao, his move to Old Trafford exemplified the team’s “fill the dresser, then try it on” approach.
The fit has been predictably awkward. After a decent start, Di María’s performances waned, with fans of the club wondering whether the 27-year-old wanted to be in Manchester. Despite his 10 Premier League assists, Di María hasn’t started in five games, with links to Paris Saint-Germain hinting United may be willing to sell at a loss.
Where, in 2013-14: Sevilla
Where, in 2014-15: Barcelona
Why: The Luis Enrique era arrives
How much: $24.6 million
Rakitić’s was a strange buy for Barcelona, though not because the player wasn’t worthy. A stand-out season at Sevilla hinted he was ready for a bigger stage, but in a Barcelona team whose midfield had been dominated by La Masia products, Rakitić didn’t fit the mold. This looked like the midfield’s version of Jérémy Mathieu.
Instead, the signing has been closer to Luis Suárez, if not in price then influence. As Xavi Hernández has ceded his guaranteed spot and Andrés Iniesta begins to show his tread, Rakitić has helped the transition from a possession-centric approach to Luis Enrique’s more versatile view. While his six assists and 90.5 percent passing rate still trail Xavi’s number (eight, and 92.6 – yeesh), Rakitić’s buy has proven more than wishful thinking.
Whether that remains the case once Xavi is gone remains to be seen, but the former Basel and Schalke man has helped Barça through what’s now a transfer-less transition. And if Iniesta continues to show signs of age next season, the Croatian will again prove vital at Camp Nou.