Purse strings remained tight in LaLiga this season as income streams make a steady return, the net spend for the league reaching a meagre €65 million.
The relation between price and product isn’t always an exact science however – two of the signings on this list arrived at their clubs for free. Even if the accountants imposed an austere atmosphere on the transfer window in Spain, flair is never far away in LaLiga…
Memphis Depay (Barcelona)
If any club in the world is painfully aware that talent is not enough in order to succeed, it is Barcelona. Having bought three players who broke the €100 million barrier, all of which to a greater or lesser extent in order to mitigate the loss of Neymar Jr., there is a vulgar irony to the idea that the player most likely to do so arrived for free.
Where Memphis differs from these transfer disasters is personality. The Dutchman is laden with charisma. However the signing to which Memphis can be more closely compared is not Neymar but Ronaldinho. The former arrives at a different stage of his career and plays differently, yet like Ronaldinho in his day, he could be the great liberator of Barcelona. Unpredictable, daring and maybe most importantly, entertaining, his presence can empower others to be bold. Barcelona may not win as often, but the prospect of magic can return some enthusiasm to both players and fans.
Arriving at the peak of his powers and previously having learnt that talent alone is not enough at Manchester United, Memphis is quickly becoming the face of a Barcelona desperate for a new outlook. Famously, he celebrates by putting his fingers in his ears – unlike others, Memphis seems unlikely to be devoured by the noise in Barcelona.
Rodrigo de Paul (Atlético Madrid)
Often, when a South American is compared to the footballers of old, they tend to be mesmerising dribblers or have dancing feet. In Rodrigo de Paul, Atlético Madrid have a midfielder of old; not anchored to a particular role or a position, capable of doing all that is asked of him between the two boxes.
Perfectly at home in an attritional Argentina side, De Paul has the bite and dirty desire to win that will make him equally comfortable playing for Diego Simeone. The 2021 Copa América was Argentina’s first trophy in 28 years. Given the numerous exceptional footballers who have been unable to manage that feat, it’s no small detail that de Paul was the difference in the final.
Therein lies the beauty of this signing – De Paul fits the very specific Atleti person specification and still has the technique that would have Pep Guardiola glazing over. The passing range which beat Brazil has already proven deadly for the reigning champions; his forwards must feel as if they have arrived after their summer holidays to find new upgraded technology has been installed. Grizzle and grace in equal measures, strap yourself in for action.
Kang-In Lee (Mallorca)
One of the factors that led to beloved former manager Marcelino being sacked by the Valencia board was that the South-Korean prodigy Kang-In was not receiving sufficient playing time. The curious part is that since then, he has never become an established regular and that talent, once so dear to the ownership, has been allowed to leave for free.
Squat and not blessed with threatening pace, he fits the mould of the quintessential Iberian attacking midfielder. Periodically teasing fans with glimpses of brilliance, there is no doubt that with consistency and discipline he can reach the upper echelons of the game. What puts him ahead of other more rounded prospects? Kang-In has that rare ability to produce ‘the moment’ – when defences are banked and time is running out, he can provide the decisive slit in the opposition. Whether that be wriggling out of an impossible corner or weighting a reverse ball to perfection, it’s a special aptitude.
Questions over his attitude and perhaps maturity will be put to the test now as he joins Real Mallorca. On the island, he will have the chance to play regularly and develop into the piece around which the team revolves. With only his own obstacles in the way, the potential explosion could be a captivating watch.
Eduardo Camavinga (Real Madrid)
— Real Madrid C.F. (@realmadrid) September 10, 2021
As Luka Modric and Toni Kroos battle the ravages of age, Real Madrid have been on the lookout for a midfielder who can take on their mantle and compete with those of the petro-clubs. In Eduardo Camavinga, Los Blancos have someone who has already done exactly that. In August 2019 at the age of 16 he produced an assist for the game winner against Paris Saint-Germain which announced him to the world in a big way.
It doesn’t take an expert to see why Real Madrid spent €30 million on an 18-year-old in the last year of his contract. In perpetual motion across the pitch, Camavinga mixes technique with a burning desire to make an impact. Never passive, he has plenty of bite and removes the ball from the opposition with ease.
On it, he has lightning feet. Unusually for a modern passing midfielder, he has no issues going past a man and opening up the game with direct running. Still a well-versed team in the counter-attack, it’s not hard to visualise the French international eating up ground for Real Madrid this year.
Hitting a few more speed bumps last season than in his first, Camavinga will have the unenviable task of loosening the current midfield’s sinewy grip on playing time. His greatest advantage over other young talents that haven’t bloomed in white is that Camavinga is no shrinking violet either: he himself highlighted his aggression as one of his best attributes during his presentation.
Arnaut Danjuma (Villarreal)
Whipping a winner high into the net, away at the reigning champions, in just your second appearance is not a bad way to introduce yourself to the fans. That honour was denied to Arnaut Danjuma by a ridiculous Aïssa Mandi own goal in the 96th minute, but it should take nothing away from Danjuma’s sharp shooting.
Joining from Bournemouth for a fee of €25 million, he usurps Paco Alcácer as Villarreal’s record signing. Scoring on 15 occasions and assisting on 7 more last season, the Dutch winger brings pace and power to a Villarreal attack that has looked a little lethargic at points. Despite the wizardry of Gerard Moreno, there was a certain stuffiness that came with Moreno being the only reliable source of goals. Danjuma can be the antidote to that.
Beyond his obvious agility, he adds silken touches and an effortless gliding motion as he leaves defenders in his wake. One of the things that stands out about Danjuma is just how many of his goals are supremely aesthetic. Fading corner-shots, powerful thumps and lazy rolls, he’s simply very easy on the eye. He may need some time to adapt to Unai Emery’s strict rules when defending, but Villarreal have an elegant player hungry to make his mark.