The Real Madrid boss wanted to bring his fellow Frenchman to the Santiago Bernabeu but the deal never materialised, much to the disappointment of both
The European transfer window has finally closed, after a summer full of massive deals, protracted talks and sudden u-turns.
Below, Goal looks at the biggest winners and losers of a hectic few months…
WINNER: ANTONIO CONTE
Antonio Conte and Beppe Marotta combined to great effect to put Juventus back on their perch after Calciopoli. Now, they are teaming up again to knock them off it. The early signs are promising.
Inter have made a perfect start to the Serie A season, routing Lecce at home before battling to victory to Cagliari on Sunday, and their summer business has played a pivotal role.
Conte wanted to add another centre-back so he could employ his preferred 3-5-2 formation, so the peerless Diego Godin was snapped up on a free transfer from Atletico Madrid. He wanted to rejuvenate the midfield, so Nicolo Barella and Stefano Sensi were acquired from Cagliari and Sassuolo, respectively.
Most importantly of all, Conte wanted a strong No.9 to lead the line, so Romelu Lukaku was signed from Manchester United. Conte already believes that the Belgian will prove a bargain at €65m.
How loan signing Alexis Sanchez fares remains to be seen, given the Chilean had an even worse time of it than Lukaku at Old Trafford, but he offers another option in attack, which, again, was exactly what Conte wanted.
For the first time in many years, Inter have both a squad and a coach capable of sustaining a title challenge.
Conte has already changed the atmosphere around the club and the sense of togetherness will only improve now that former club captain Mauro Icardi has finally been offloaded, with the unwanted Argentine joining Paris Saint-Germain on loan on deadline day.
Conte’s Inter are already looking like Conte’s Juve. The Old Lady will be shifting uncomfortably on her perch right now.
WINNERS: ATLETICO MADRID
During the summer, Atletico Madrid lost Diego Godin, Antoine Griezmann, Rodri, Lucas Hernandez, Juanfran and Filipe Luis.
That is one hell of a mix of experience and talent.
And yet here we are talking about them as one of the major winners of the transfer window – why?
Because they have replaced those proven performers excellently. Indeed, the results prove as much.
Atletico are top of La Liga, having won their opening three fixtures, and are already four and five points clear of Real Madrid and Barcelona, respectively.
Eyebrows were raised when Atletico paid Tottenham €22m (£20m/$24m) for Kieran Trippier but the much-maligned Englishman, who was coming off the back of a dire season in the Premier League, has settled in quickly at the Wanda Metropolitano.
Mario Hermoso has slotted in seamlessly alongside Jose Gimenez at the back, while Real could come to regret selling Marcos Llorente to their city rivals.
However, the pick of Atleti’s summer signings is undoubtedly Joao Felix.
The fee may have been historically colossal for a teenager – €126m (£115m/$138m) – but he will be deemed worth every cent if he can maintain his scintillating early-season form and help the Rojiblancos win a first title since 2014.
LOSERS: POGBA & ZIDANE
Zinedine Zidane agreed to step back on board the sinking ship that was Real Madrid last season partly because he was given assurances that he would be given a huge say in the salvage operation.
Essentially, that meant club president Florentino Perez signing the players that Zidane wanted. It hadn’t always worked like that during the Frenchman’s first spell in charge – in spite of the fact that Zidane led Madrid to three consecutive Champions Leagues.
Eden Hazard was the primary target and, 10 years after first recommending the Belgian to Perez, the winger arrived at the Santiago Bernabeu for €100m (£91m/$110m), from Chelsea.
Several other players were also acquired – Eder Militao, Rodrygo, Luka Jovic and Ferland Mendy – for more than €300m (£273m/$330m) overall but Zidane still felt, rightly, that Madrid were lacking a young, dynamic and imposing presence in midfield.
Paul Pogba ticked all the boxes. What’s more, he wanted to come, having decided he wanted to seek a new “challenge” away from Manchester United, perhaps after realising that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side are light years away from challenging for the Premier League – let alone the Champions League.
Only, Madrid were unable to make it happen, namely because of their inability to offload the valuable assets deemed surplus to requirements by Zidane: Gareth Bale and James Rodriguez.
Zidane did his best to push Bale out the door but he was undermined by Perez, who blocked the Welshman’s move to China because of his concern over a lack of cover out wide after Marco Asensio suffered a potentially season-ending injury before the 2019-20 campaign had even got under way. Hazard’s minor knock also played a part.
The net result is that Pogba has been left stewing at United, with a fanbase that has long since grown weary of his perceived lack of commitment, on and off the field. And he only has himself to blame after going public with his desire to depart.
Zidane, meanwhile, is also facing supporter unrest. He has been unlucky with injuries but not one of Real’s summer signings has truly got going with the club. There appears to be a lack of faith in the new arrivals, Jovic in particular, despite a good performance against Villarreal over the weekend.
Consequently, for the first time in Zidane’s Real coaching career, there are doubts among the supporters over whether he is the right man for the rebuilding job.
His inability to lift the team at the tail end of last season was attributed to the fact that his two successors, Julen Lopetegui and Santi Solari, had both flopped. Zidane had, essentially, inherited someone else’s mess.
Now, though, having been given a greater influence in the club’s transfer strategy, he is in a mess partly of his own making.
Juventus deserve immense credit for beating Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain to the signing of Matthijs de Ligt, arguably the most coveted young player in Europe this summer.
Furthermore, while there are doubts over Adrien Rabiot (temperament) and Aaron Ramsey (fitness), both have the talent to add their names to Juve’s lengthy list of shrewd free transfers.
However, even accounting for Danilo’s surprise goal against Napoli on Saturday, Juve’s €37m (£34m/$41m) valuation of a Manchester City reserve was ridiculous, as was the decision to allow the promising Moise Kean to join Everton while there was still uncertainty surrounding the make-up of the Bianconeri attack.
The idea was obviously to sign another No.9, ideally Lukaku, or at least Mauro Icardi. However, Paulo Dybala refused to move to Old Trafford as part of the proposed Lukaku deal, while Icardi ended up going to PSG.
Consequently, Sarri has been left with Gonzalo Higuain, 31, Mario Mandzukic, 33, and Cristiano Ronaldo, 34, as his centre-forward options this season, while Dybala is likely to spend most of his time on the bench.
It means that Juve’s attack is overstocked and they will have to leave some high-profile players out of their Champions League squad. It is, as Sarri himself admitted, an “embarrassing” situation.
De Ligt is a fine acquisition but has been offset by the loss of Giorgio Chiellini to a potentially season-ending injury.
As it stands, this Bianconeri squad looks weaker rather than stronger than last season’s and questions will be asked of sporting director Fabio Paratici if Juve fail to end their now 23-year European Cup drought.
LOSER: JOSEP MARIA BARTOMEU
Towards the tail end of Barcelona’s failed bid to re-sign Neymar from Barcelona, L’Equipe claimed that the Blaugrana didn’t actually want to succeed. According to the French paper, the pursuit was merely an attempt to appease club captain Lionel Messi, who was keen to have his good friend and fellow forward back at Camp Nou.
Certainly, a lot of Barca’s moves made little sense. If Neymar was the goal all along, why, then, did they bring in another forward, Antoine Griezmann, for €120m (£109m/$132m) early on in the window? From that moment on, it was always going to be an uphill task raising sufficient funds to bring Neymar back to Camp Nou.
Then, when Paris Saint-Germain expressed a willingness to a player-plus-cash deal, Barca offered players without even bothering to check if they would be willing to move to the Parc des Princes. If it wasn’t a deliberate attempt to sabotage the deal, it was an amateurish oversight.
Ivan Rakitic eventually agreed to go but Ousmane Dembele’s refusal to depart blocked the transfer.
Furthermore, one could understand why the Frenchman would have been confused and upset by Bartomeu trying to use him as a makeweight. After all, the club president had claimed Dembele was a better player than Neymar just five months ago!
Even if the whole affair was an elaborate ruse on Bartomeu’s part, the collapse of the transfer has made the president look ridiculous. And a man in Bartomeu’s position can’t be made to look ridiculous. It weakens his authority in the eyes of the players, the board and the club members, and, consequently, seriously jeopardises his hopes of re-election.
Indeed, the cules are bewildered by the apparent lack of any coherent recruitment plan, several key members of the dressing room are now upset that their friend isn’t coming home, while others are rightly annoyed at being used as bargaining chips in a reckless gamble that backfired badly – and could yet end up costing Bartomeu his job.
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