LONDON (Reuters) – No one doubted that English clubs would break their own $1.56 billion transfer-spending record; all that was disputed was by how much.
As fees became ever more inflated, the what-ifs provided an intriguing backdrop to the unfolding drama.
Romelu Lukaku ended up at Manchester United for $99.18 million, a move that pushed Jose Mourinho’s alternative targets Alexandre Lacazette and Alvaro Morata towards Arsenal and Chelsea respectively.
Benjamin Mendy had also seemed destined for Stamford Bridge before Manchester City nabbed him for $71 million while Mo Salah, who Chelsea once sold, became Liverpool’s record $62 million signing.
It is too early to say who has got the best of the most frenetic transfer market, but few of the buys come with a proven record. Instead, many look like hugely expensive punts.
Morata spent most of last season warming the bench at Real Madrid and is reported to have confidence issues. Mendy’s reputation is based on one excellent year at Monaco.
City’s other new full-back, Karl Walker, was rated second-best to Kieran Trippier at Tottenham Hotspur.
City manager Pep Guardiola’s decision to spend more than 260 million on five players may be the most astonishing piece of business, but money has been lavished everywhere: Everton and promoted Huddersfield Town both brought in nine new players and most clubs either broke their own transfer records or spent much of the summer trying to do so.
Brighton & Hove Albion even did it three times, first signing Australian keeper Mathew Ryan, then Dutch midfielder Davy Propper and finally Colombian Jose Izquierdo from Club Brugge.
Nothing epitomises summer short-termism more than West Ham’s decision to spend a reported $61 million on four players with a collective age of 119 years.
The most expensive of those, Marko Arnautovic, arrives on a five-year contract from Stoke City for $24 million after scoring an underwhelming 22 goals in 125 games. Former Manchester United striker Javier Hernandez returns to the Premier League after spells in Spain and Germany.
At Liverpool, Salah is also embarking on his second spell in England and has impressed with four goals in pre-season friendlies.
Lacazette comes to Arsenal with a big reputation after netting more than 20 league goals in each of the past three seasons with French side Lyon.
Comparisons have been drawn to Thierry Henry, but even Arsenal’s prolific striker took time to adjust to English physicality, failing to score in his first eight games after his arrival from Juventus. Lacazette acknowledges the Premier League will be a big step up.
Arsenal’s other newcomer, 24-year-old Bosnian defender Sead Kolasinac, cost nothing after seeing out his contract at Schalke, where he was voted into the Bundeliga team of the season in 2016-17.
Fourteen of the league’s managers are now foreign and the appointment of Portuguese-speaking coach Marco Silva at Watford was a major draw for Brazilian under 20 forward Richarlison, who has joined for $15 million from Fluminense.
Other eye-catching newcomers include former Juventus midfielder Mario Lemina, who played in last season’s Champions League final against Real Madrid, and Dutch defender Jairo Riedewald, who joins Crystal Palace.
Swansea’s purchase of Roque Mesa for $14 million looks a bargain for a player whose slick passing stood out for Las Palmas last season. Meanwhile, Stoke City’s Jean-Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting arrives from Schalke with, if nothing else, the longest name in the league.
Spending by the league’s 20 clubs has already passed the 1 billion pound mark, with the usually hectic final few days before deadline day on August 31 set to send that figure higher.
For context, the Sportingintelligence website reported that Watford’s $64 million summer spending is more than four times that of every Scottish club combined.