Soccer 2021: What’s Been Happening?
by Rory Grant
Well, folks, the new school year is here, and with that is the return of The East Sider and the return of my articles. When I last left you, Euro 2020 was about to kick off and soccer fans were in a jubilant high, especially following the whole European Super League project. So I’m here to catch you up. Please note that I’ll be covering the entire Euro 2020 tournament in a separate article, so it will be briefly mentioned in this article.
Euro 2020: What Happened?
As the sunset in London’s Wembley Stadium, Italian fans were screaming with joy while the England crowd trudged off in dismay. Some fans, unfortunately, took out their anger in disgusting racist tirades against their own players like Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho, and Bukayo Saka.
But the Italians, they were partying late into the night. Italy, the dark horse of the tournament, had come out on top, beating England on penalties 3-2, following a 1-1 draw that forced the penalty shootout. The fans and players came up with a great chant, singing “It’s coming Rome! It’s coming Rome!” as a mockery of the famous England chant of “It’s coming home! It’s coming home!” Gianluigi Donnarumma showed why he deserved to be at a better club, and his heroics in the penalty shootout were key to Italy’s victory. So Euro 2020 ends with Italy holding the trophy.
(The Italian players hoisting the trophy as Euro 2020 comes to an end. Courtesy of UEFA.com)
The Summer Transfer Market: One Of The Most Memorable Of All Time!
Following Euro 2020, we were left with a bit of a soccer intermission, one that was almost properly filled by the excitement of the Summer Transfer Market.
The first thing we have to start with is the complete and utter collapse of F.C. Barcelona. Following the resignation of club president Josef Bartomeu, Barcelona’s finances came into the limelight. And let me be honest with you here, they were not great. With all the spending they had been doing, they had reached the Salary Cap allowed by LaLiga and the Spanish Football Federation, which meant they literally could not spend any more money on transfers.
While they were however able to sign strikers Memphis Depay and Sergio Aguero on free transfers (a free transfer is when the club trying to sign the player does not have to deal with negotiations with the club the player is currently at and is free to just negotiate a new contract with the player. This can be done when a player’s contract is expiring.) along with signing Luuk De Jong on loan from Sevilla, but because they couldn’t spend any more money, they could not re-sign Lionel Messi, arguably the greatest player to ever play for them. In this colossal debacle, Leo had to say goodbye to Barcelona and join up with former teammate Neymar at Paris St Germain (PSG for short). This has made PSG the most dominant team, with a scary attack on paper. Messi, Neymar, and Mbappe all on the same team is sure to make any opposing team think twice about any tactical decision.
(A possible 2021-22 lineup for PSG, photo courtesy of The18)
And to cap it all off, F.C. Barcelona had to not only let Miralem Pjanic go to Besiktas (Turkish club) on loan just to save some money, they also had to let top player Antoine Griezmann go on loan to rivals Atletico Madrid. This transfer is especially hilarious because not only are they only making 10 million euros from this loan deal, it comes with an option to permanently sign him for 40 million euros. Griezmann was bought by Barcelona in 2019 for 120 million euros FROM Athletico as an attempt to fill the hole left by Neymar. Barcelona is so broke, they now have to take a potential 80 million euro loss on this deal.
An ESPN quote summarizes it all: “Atletico not only get one of their best players back, but they get to weaken one of their title rivals at the same time. The champions already saw what Luis Suarez did in that regard and Griezmann makes it even worse. An incredible move for them.”. Club legend Xavi now has to take the reigns as manager and try to steer Barcelona back from a terrible 7th place in LaLiga.
Coming back to PSG, they had one of the greatest transfer windows ever. They filled up the few weak points in their team by signing not only Messi, but wonderkid full-back Nuno Mendes on loan (with an option to buy for 40 million euros), and paired him with another top fullback by signing Achraf Hakimi from Inter for 70 million euros, and then on top of that went and signed not only Gianluigi Donnarumma, but the legendary Real Madrid defender, Sergio Ramos, and Liverpool midfielder Gioginio Wijnaldum all on free transfers. Combine them with an already made super team, and PSG are truly going to be the ones to watch, especially when they are properly challenged in the Champions League, as Ligue 1 has proven to be of little difficulty, and 9 times out of 10, PSG would come out on top.
However it must be noted that PSG has not performed enough in the Champions League, since reaching the final in the 19/20 season and losing to Bayern Munich, they were eliminated in the semifinals by Manchester City in the semifinals of the 20/21 season. This year, they are off to a strong start in the Champions League, having met expectations and qualified for the round of 16, but in Ligue 1 however, they aren’t exactly meeting expectations. Yes, they are top of the league and are winning it but they aren’t winning it by much. With the superteam they have built, they are expected to cream the opposition, not scrape 1-0 wins by scoring in the 85th minute, teams that they should be beating 5-0 or 6-0, they are barely beating 2-1 or 2-0. Lionel Messi hasn’t exactly had the best start, as he has been plagued by minor injuries which has kept him from scoring in Ligue 1 this season, but he has been productive in the Champions League, scoring 3 goals in 3 games. Overall, PSG is doing well, but they need to be doing more, especially with the team they have.
Real Madrid has had a decent start to the season but seems to be consistently behind Atletico Madrid Over the summer Madrid was fairly quiet, with only one or two truly big signings. They lost defenders Raphael Varane to Manchester United (for a fee of 34 million pounds) and Sergio Ramos to PSG(free transfer), along with Martin Odegard to Arsenal (40 million euros) but replaced them with Bayern defender David Alaba (free transfer). However, they did manage to sign Rennes wonderkid Eduardo Camavinga for an incredible price of 30 million euros. This is a great deal for them because they not only have a wonderkid on their hands, he gets to learn and get the experience of 3 of the greatest midfielders of this era in Toni Kroos, Luka Modric, and Casemiro. I’m excited to see what he will do in Madrid. Overall Madrid has been solid since the end of the Zinedine Zidane era and Carlo Ancelotti has Madrid in a good place, definitely the opposite of Barcelona.
(Real Madrid’s Lineup for the 2021-22 El Clasico vs Barcelona, which they swiftly won 2-1. Photo Courtesy of Marca)
On the other side of Madrid, we have Atletico Madrid. The champions got a hell of a deal getting Griezmann back on loan and Diego Simeone has a top-class squad to work with and keep Atletico in title contention again this year. They lost Saul who left on loan to Chelsea but got a top-class player in Rodrigo De Paul from Udinese (Italian club) to replace him. Otherwise, the team hasn’t changed much but it’s not like Simeone needed the formula mixed up. Atletico have again made themselves a team to watch.
Traveling over to Germany now, where we will look at the Bundesliga, and the first club we have to start with are the champions, Bayern. They had a few holes to fill, and RB Leipzig was the answer to all their problems. First, they went and signed Julian Naglesmann to replace leaving manager Hansi Flick, next they signed Dayot Upamecano to replace David Alaba, and finally, they stocked up on midfielders by signing a quality player in Marcel Sabitzer to bolster the rankings. Overall, a solid summer as they are stocking up to make another title run and win the Bundesliga yet again, this time under Nagelsmann.
Over in Dortmund, and the yellow and black have produced and sold yet another amazing talent, this time finally selling Jadon Sancho to Manchester United, (they bought him from Man City for 8.7 million euros in 2017, and now sold him for 87.4 million euros) and bought another young talent on the cheap, securing 17-year-old Soumalia Coulibaly on a free transfer from the PSG academy. They still have Erling Haaland so another title run is definitely in the books, they should at least challenge Bayern again. Will the Bundesliga yet again be Bayern vs Dortmund, or will see a surprise candidate pop up out of nowhere?
(A photo capturing the essence of the Bundesliga, and the rivalry between Dortmund and Bayern, Haaland and Lewandowski. Photo by Bundesliga).
Thanks for reading this half of the article! It’s so large a topic it deserves a Part 2! Tune in next time for Part 2 of Soccer 2021, What’s Been Happening? The leagues are kicking off and it’s sure to be an exciting season, one that I’ll do my best to keep you updated about!