CAPE TOWN - NOW that the European summer transfer window has eventually slammed shut and players jetted around the globe to their respective native lands for international duty as Qatar 2022 World Cup qualifiers commence, we take the opportunity to collect our breath and reminisce on one of the more memorable transfer windows in recent times.
It truly has been a market to remember for some of Europe’s leading football clubs as they have left no stone unturned to secure the signatures of some of the game’s biggest names in recent weeks.
No transfers have sat tongues wagging more than the moves of the two men who have sat pretty at the pinnacle of the world game as not only the two finest players of their generations, but the two greatest footballers ever to set foot on a pitch.
The festival of unimaginable transfers kicked off with Lionel Messi officially putting pen to paper for Paris Saint-Germain on August 10 in what was the singular most important moment in the 45 year old history of the Parisian giants.
Although his debut as a second half substitute for the French giants, last weekend in a 2-1 victory away at Stade Reims, did not produce the expected fireworks, nothing should be read into that cameo appearance.
The reality is that the 34 year old Argentine magician’s arrival in the French capital, on a free transfer, heralds what should be yet another trophy laden era which makes continental success an even more distinct possibility for the French outfit.
Messi’s signing on a two year deal signals Les Parisiens' boldness in their long quest to get their hands on the Holy Grail of European football, the coveted “Cup with the Big Ears”, the UEFA Champions League.
Following a hugely decorated 17 year long senior career with FC Barcelona, in which his ridiculous 672 goals in 778 outings for the Blaugrana yielded an incredible haul of 35 major trophies, he lands in the City of Lights with PSG also looking to wrestle their dominance of the French top flight from defending champions Lille OSC.
The Parisians have pulled off some incredible player acquisitions since the 2011-2012 takeover of the insanely wealthy Qatar Investment Authority.
Their most notable transfers include pulling off the double signing of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva from AC Milan ahead of the 2012/2013 season despite the pair having been vital cogs in the Rossoneri's charge to the Italian Serie A title in the 2010/2011 season, thus ending an agonising wait for a first Scudetto since the 2003/2004 season.
Numerous other megastars have since followed the path trodden by the legendary Swedish and Brazilian internationals to PSG's Parc des Princes home.
They range from the 2013 purchase from Napoli of Uruguayan hitman Edinson Cavani, who left Paris as the club’s leading scorer in history in 2020 with 200 strikes, making David Luiz the then most expensive defender in history.
They splurged €49.5 million to lure him away from Chelsea to the August 2018 €145 million signing of then wonderkid Kylian Mbappe from AS Monaco.
Along the way world renowned superstars including Messi’s Argentine compatriots Javier Pastore, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Giovanni Lo Celso, who have all since left PSG, to current stalwarts of the team Leandro Paredes, Angel Di Maria and Mauro Icardi have found the allure of the glitz and glam of the French capital too much to ignore.
Perhaps the biggest signing in PSG’s history, until Messi's arrival, was the flamboyant Brazilian Neymar whose August 2017 world record €222 million transfer from FC Barcelona showcased PSG club president Nasser Al-Khelaifi’s intent on not only safeguarding domestic dominance but elevation to the status of continental superpower.
However, all of those mega deals have been eclipsed by the arrival of the man dubbed the Atomic Flea and it has all been done without a penny of PSG’s considerable war-chest being transferred to the financially troubled Catalan giants with whom Messi has unbelievably ended a 21 year long association.
Not so long ago Messi and Neymar formed part of the devastatingly brilliant MSN (Messi, Suarez, Neymar) attacking trio at FC Barcelona, whose finest hour proved to be victory against Italian giants Juventus in the 2014/2015 Champions League Final in Berlin’s Olympiastadion to seal a memorable treble under Luis Enrique.
Under the tutelage of Messi’s compatriot Mauricio Pochettino, who has surprisingly remained in his role as head coach despite last season’s failures, PSG now have the biggest opportunity in their history to finally land the quadruple of French League Cup, French Cup, French Ligue 1 and Uefa Champions League titles in a single campaign that has been the obsession of all associated with the Red and Blues since the Qatari takeover.
Alongside Mbappe, the erstwhile Barcelona duo of Messi and Neymar now have the chance to form yet another deadly attacking triumvirate for the French giants and it is only success in Europe’s most prestigious club competition, the Champions League, that will be the yardstick upon which they are judged.
The 10th of August 2021 marks the rebirth of Paris Saint Germain as a sporting institution with the signing the “Atomic Flea” and until they win the Uefa Champions League, signing Messi will rank as their biggest honour yet.
Messi’s biggest rival Cristiano Ronaldo was not to be beaten to the headlines by the Argentine and was also on the move this summer, virtually breaking the internet when Manchester United announced his return to the club 12 years after he left for Real Madrid aged 24 having helped the club to nine major honours.
The now 36 year old and having added 20 more major titles at club level with both Real Madrid and Juventus, including four Champions Leagues won with Los Blancos and a pair of Scudetti with the Old Lady of Italian Football, he returns to a distinctly different United to that which he exited 12 years ago.
He now finds himself returning to a club that has fallen behind cross-town rivals Manchester City, sworn enemies Liverpool and Champions League holders Chelsea as the dominant outfits in the English game.
In the same way that United had proverbially knocked Liverpool off their perch as English football’s dominant force of the 1970s and 1980s courtesy of a dominant era under the wily old Sir Alex Ferguson, the Red Devils have themselves been unceremoniously usurped as the English game’s most feared outfit.
The post Ferguson era has been characterised by long barren spells with only an FA Cup triumph under Louis van Gaal in May 2016, a League Cup triumph under Jose Mourinho in February 2017 and a victory in the Europa League under the Portuguese tactician in May 2017 – the only trophies of relative significance making their way to Old Trafford since Fergie’s 2013 retirement.
Under Ole Gunnar Solksjaer the Red Devils have flattered to deceive, reaching five cup semi-finals and losing four, since he took over from Jose Mourinho in December 2018.
Ronaldo now has the unenviable task of awakening the record 20 times English champions from their slumber and dragging them back to their glory days.
Although the captain’s armband belongs to Harry Maguire, there is no doubt that the Madeira-born five time Ballon d’Or winner will be United’s most senior leader and his immediate task will be to score enough goals to land United’s first Premier League title since 2013.
His fitness has hardly ever been an issue and thus will be expected to be firing on all cylinders in leading United’s attack.
He will be flanked by Jadon Sancho and Mason Greenwood whilst also be serviced by his compatriot Bruno Fernandes and the French pass master Paul Pogba as United also embark on a quest for a first Champions League gong since that glorious late May 2008 night in the driving Moscow rain against Chelsea.