The transfer window always turns up a few surprises.
Amid all the great signings and bad signings are those that defy expectation. Sometimes it’s a player who looked destined for greatness but ended up arriving at anything but (not always his own fault, e.g. Dani Ceballos was a great signing for Real Madrid but has only played 162 minutes so far this season).
Sometimes it’s a player who no one thought would be great, whose expectations were modest at best but who ended up actually being quite brilliant. Obviously there’s still a lot of the season to go, but even after 10 games we can see quite a few shocks in this vein. Players who have been unexpectedly great.
So here are the top 10 most surprisingly good transfers of the summer:
10. Jesus Navas
Manchester City to Sevilla
When Pep Guardiola discarded Jesus Navas in the summer, everyone expected his career to spiral downward pretty fast. After all, he had looked a spent force in Manchester for the last couple of years and divorced from Guardiola’s genius, how could he thrive?
Well, he could return to his former club, the club of his life, Sevilla. They say you should never go back, but Navas has been superb for his hometown side. The winger has created nine chances for Sevilla this season, only two players in the squad have more. He’s also won seven take-ons at a 58% success rate.
9. Nemanja Matic
Chelsea to Manchester United
José Mourinho earmarked four positions for reinforcement and four players to fill those roles. One of them was Nemanja Matic at defensive midfield. The Portuguese coached the Serbian back in his Chelsea days, but their relationship wasn’t perfect, and moreover Matic had just come off a middling 2016/17 for Champions Chelsea, who had seemingly replaced him with Tiemoue Bakayoko.
Imagine everyone’s surprise, then, when Matic rocked up in United red and looked better than he ever has done. Wearing the No.31 shirt, Matic strides around the pitch looking like a lanky Bastian Schweinsteiger. A defensive colossus and supreme shield for his back-line. Almost overnight he became the best defensive midfielder in the country, which is well above what everyone expected.
8. Maximilian Philipp
Freiburg to Borussia Dortmund
Dortmund sold Ousmane Dembélé to Barcelona very much against their will. The young Frenchman forced the deal through and many feared for Dortmund’s immediate future without him. Turns out those fears were misplaced, as young Maximilian Philipp, signed for little fanfare from Freiburg, has been a rollicking replacement. The young German has created 12 chances, won 12 take-ons and scored five goals – becoming a key member of a Dortmund attack that has fired them to second in the Bundesliga.
7. Sead Kolasinac
Schalke to Arsenal
Arsenal fans make a meme of pretty much every signing the club makes that isn’t world-class (and sömetimes even thöse players dön’t escape the nönsense) so when they began fawning over Sead Kolasinac, a free transfer from a middling German side, some may have expected another Emmanuel Frimpong or “Lord” Nicklas Bendtner.
What they got, however, was a moving brick wall. Oh sure, Kolasinac more than justifies all the memes and jokes about his size and power, but what’s scary is he actually lives up to the hype Arsenal fans bestowed upon him. Kolasinac has been phenomenal for the Gunners, both in defence and attack. His low price and high performance makes him a genuine candidate for signing of the season.
6. Geoffrey Kondogbia
Inter to Valencia
Kondogbia used to be one of the most prized prospects in world football. But he somehow fell short of that reputation despite winning the Europa League with Sevilla in 2014. Very few expected that he would deliver what Valencia needed when they signed him from Inter, but hey, that’s exactly what he did.
Kondogbia’s 23 tackles won leads all Los Che players and he has emerged as such a force in midfield, complementing playmaker Dani Parejo so well that Valencia are now second in the league table and ahead of Real Madrid, against whom Kondogbia scored one of his two goals.
Real Madrid to Lyon
Real Madrid offloaded several players in the summer, and one of them was Dominican forward Mariano to Lyon. He wasn’t expected to have a great impact on things, the fee was less than €10m and Los Blancos didn’t even bother to include a buyback clause. But Mariano has set Ligue 1 alight, blasting in an incredible eight goals in 10 games, the third most in the division (yes, more than Neymar) as Lyon climbed the table up to third place. He has been breathtakingly good and absolutely no one saw it coming,
Fluminense to Watford
When a Brazilian youngster joins an elite European side, you assume they’ve unearthed a gem. When they join the likes of Watford you probably raise your eyebrows in skepticism. Well, maybe that needs to change. No one thought much of Richarlison at the start of the season, but he’s been electric for Marco Silva.
No Watford player has created more chances than his 13, nor more assists than his two. More impressively, all three of his goals have come after 70 minutes – two of them coming in stoppage time. One to win the game against Swansea, another to complete a two goal comeback and earn a 2-2 draw with West Brom. What’s more, he’s only 20 years old! If Watford can hold onto him beyond this summer they will have done very well.
3. Simone Zaza
Juventus to Valencia
Last season, Zaza was on loan with Valencia. He scored six times in 20 games and generally looked like an average striker. Los Che had a compulsory purchase clause this summer and so had to execute it. No one expected much, but under Marcelino’s tutelage, Zaza has exploded onto the scene.
The Italian has scored nine times in La Liga this season, a figure only Leo Messi can better. That total is a whopping third of Valencia’s goals, too. He’s taken the responsibility of firing Valencia back into relevance and done wonderfully; Los Che have won every game he’s scored in.
2. Gonçalo Guedes
PSG to Valencia
Guedes is only 20 and had to be shipped out from PSG after they signed Neymar. He ended up at Valencia thanks to his agent’s connections and expectations were low. It’s not that he wasn’t talent, it’s just that he had spent six months on the sidelines at PSG and would need time.
Or so we thought. Guedes has instead been the revelation of the season in La Liga, the whirring dynamo of penetration and creativity that has, more than any other player, been responsible for Valencia’s dramatic return to greatness. He has scored three goals, created 16 chances (his five assists is more than any of his team-mates) and what’s more he’s won 19 take-ons at an astonishing 83% success rate.
If this were about rating signings based on pure quality, Guedes would unquestionably be No.1 – but the air of unexpected has to come into play here. And while no one could have seen him being this good, his talent was never in question.
Guangzhou Evergrande to Barcelona
Paulinho, however, is a player who has received nothing but criticism from the day he joined Spurs in 2013. The Brazilian’s rugged box-to-box style should have been a perfect fit for the Premier League, but somehow he never settled. His reputation took a nosedive when he joined Chinese Super League side Guangzhou Evergrande. Paulinho actually did well in China, but everyone had written him off even though his comeback with the Brazilian national team gave hint that there was life left in him.
But then he signed for Barcelona, and all hell broke loose. He was utterly reviled by fans, as much for the player he wasn’t as the player he was. His qualities were forgotten and everyone assumed he would be a flop of André Gomes-esque proportions. But then… he wasn’t.
In just his second appearance for the club he scored a late winner against Getafe, and from there he took off. Turns out Paulinho was class and his dynamic movement off the ball, insistence to drive forward and finishing ability were exactly what Ernesto Valverde’s Barcelona needed. Paulinho has scored three goals from 12 shots this season, giving him a conversion rate of 25%. And perhaps even more impressively, he’s already developed a great understanding with team talisman Leo Messi, being a good foil for the Argentine in ways no one could have foreseen.