Football Features

Hit or miss? The clubs who tried to win the transfer market by reinvesting money from high-profile departures

By Steve Jennings

Published: 14:15, 25 August 2020

Every year, several clubs receive offers for a star player that are simply impossible to turn down.

Even the world’s biggest outfits are sometimes forced to accept massive bids, knowing the money can be used to reinvest in the squad.

For Chelsea, the 2020 transfer window is being used to bolster the squad thanks to funds received from the sales of Eden Hazard and Alvaro Morata the year prior – over £150m. They have already signed Hakim Ziyech and Timo Werner, but are also being linked with Kai Havertz and Ben Chilwell among other free transfers.

Of course, judgment will be reserved to see whether those players are successful signings, but their potential impact is very exciting.

That said, many clubs have been in the same boat before. The likes of Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur and even Barcelona have spent big to replace star performers in recent years, only for the replacements to flop.

There is, however, another side to that coin; many clubs have reinvested money from high-profile departures wisely.

We’ve taken a look at the some of those who have tried to win the transfer market by reinvesting, determining whether the business in question was a hit or a miss.

Liverpool 2018/19

Sold: Philippe Coutinho (£142m)
Significant arrivals: Alisson, Fabinho, Xherdan Shaqiri
Hit or miss? HIT

Since Philippe Coutinho left for Barcelona in January 2018, Liverpool have progressed to two Champions League finals, winning won and finally got their hands on the Premier League trophy. Cynics might suggest keeping Coutinho could have given them an extra edge, but Liverpool may not have been able to afford his replacements.

Virgil van Dijk arrived in the same transfer window Coutinho left in, but Liverpool had already tried to sign the Dutchman the previous summer and so may not have taken the Coutinho fee into consideration. That money actually went on Brazilian duo Alisson, one of the driving forces behind Liverpool’s campaign, and Fabinho, who gradually became a vital component.

The rest went on Xherdan Shaqiri, who has struggled despite an impressive start.

Atletico Madrid 2011/12

Sold: Sergio Aguero and David de Gea (£57m)
Significant arrivals: Radamel Falcao, Arda Turan, Gabi, Tiago
Hit or miss? HIT

Atletico Madrid have lost some incredible players over the years, but the fees they receive allow them to re-build their squad on every occasion. In the summer of 2011, they lost a vital player at either end of the pitch: brilliant young goalkeeper David de Gea and top goalscorer Sergio Aguero.

Both have gone on to be huge successes in Manchester, but Atletico have hardly missed them. Aguero’s direct replacement, Radamel Falcao, scored a boatload of goals and helped his side win the Copa del Rey and the Europa League before leaving for Monaco after just two years. The rest – Arda Turan, Gabi and Tiago – played key roles in Atletico’s surprise 2013/14 La Liga title win.

Atletico Madrid 2014/15

Sold: Diego Costa and Filipe Luis (£48m)
Significant arrivals: Antoine Griezmann, Mario Mandzukic, Jan Oblak
Hit or miss? HIT

Three years after the exits of Aguero and De Gea, Atletico were the La Liga champions – but they still faced the prospect of losing their best players as a result of their unexpected success. Diego Costa and Filipe Luis both departed for Chelsea, and Atletico acted quickly to bring in a new group of stars.

Antoine Griezmann was the headline act. The Frenchman moved on last summer but was an undeniable success for Atletico despite their failure to retain the La Liga title. Meanwhile, Jan Oblak has emerged as one of the world’s leading goalkeepers over his six years at the club.

Mario Mandzukic only spent a year with Atletico, but his 20 goals across all competitions – when combined with Griezmann’s 25 – more than made up for Diego Costa’s exit.

Napoli 2013/14

Sold: Edinson Cavani (£55m)
Significant arrivals: Gonzalo Higuain, Raul Albiol, Jose Callejon, Dries Mertens
Hit or miss? HIT

Some of the players who have come to define Napoli over the last few years arrived as a result of Edinson Cavani’s big-money transfer to Paris Saint-Germain in 2013. Gonzalo Higuain scored 91 goals in three seasons for the club before moving on himself for a huge fee.

Raul Albiol and Jose Callejon followed Higuain to Napoli from Real Madrid and the latter remains at the Serie A club, as does Dries Mertens. The Belgian was converted from a winger to a centre-forward in Italy and continues to bang in the goals, becoming the club’s all-time record goalscorer, usurping Marek Hamsik. Jorginho also arrived midway through the campaign.

Juventus 2016/17

Sold: Paul Pogba (£90m)
Significant arrivals: Gonzalo Higuain, Miralem Pjanic, Dani Alves
Hit or miss? HIT

Juventus are usually the club doing the poaching, but when Manchester United came in with a £89.3m offer for Paul Pogba in 2016, the Italian champions couldn’t refuse a sale. Higuain was brought in from Napoli – Juventus’ biggest outlay that summer – and the Serie A titles kept on coming despite Pogba’s absence.

Miralem Pjanic contributed in that regard, as did Dani Alves. Pjanic brought more control to the midfield as well as flair from set-pieces, while Alves added a degree of experience that helped Juventus win the double.

Inter Milan 2009/10

Sold: Zlatan Ibrahimovic (£57m)
Significant arrivals: Samuel Eto’o, Diego Milito, Wesley Sneijder, Thiago Motta, Lucio
Hit or miss? HIT

It’s worth noting that Samuel Eto’o moved to Inter from Barcelona as part of the Zlatan Ibrahimovic deal, with reports at the time suggesting Eto’o’s £20m valuation meant the Ibrahimovic’s transfer was worth £57m overall. Regardless, Inter got the far better deal here.

Ibrahimovic didn’t settle at Barcelona, while Eto’o formed an impressive strike partnership with fellow new boy Diego Milito at the San Siro. Under Jose Mourinho’s management, Inter went on to win the treble, with Milito scoring twice in the Champions League final against Bayern Munich.

Lucio, Thiago Motta and Wesley Sneijder also arrived that summer, making up a quite brilliant Inter team.

Tottenham 2013/14

Sold: Gareth Bale (£86m)
Significant arrivals: Christian Eriksen, Erik Lamela, Paulinho, Nacer Chadli, Vlad Chiriches, Etienne Capoue, Roberto Soldado
Hit or miss? MISS

If just the first name on the list of significant arrivals was included, this could easily be designated a hit. Spurs sold Gareth Bale to Real Madrid for huge money and brought in Christian Eriksen on the cheap. Today, Madrid are reportedly attempting to buy Eriksen and sell Bale, suggesting Tottenham got the better long-term deal.

That said, Eriksen couldn’t replace Bale’s goals for Spurs; that was down to Roberto Soldado, one of the biggest flops in the club’s history. Erik Lamela looked completely out of his depth at first (although he has since become a useful squad player), and the other five of the ‘Magnificent Seven’ didn’t fare much better.

Chadli performed well for a couple of years under Mauricio Pochettino, but Paulinho was a huge disappointment.

Barcelona 2017/18

Sold: Neymar (£200m)
Significant arrivals: Ousmane Dembele, Paulinho, Nelson Semedo, Gerard Deulofeu
Hit or miss? MISS

Barcelona were desperate to make up for losing Neymar immediately. Their attempts to take Coutinho from Liverpool initially failed, so the Catalan giants bought Ousmane Dembele from Borussia Dortmund, re-signed Gerard Deulofeu and struck a deal for Tottenham flop Paulinho.

Of course, Dembele still has the potential to be a leading player, and the arrival of Nelson Semedo – a useful, talented right-back – softened the blow a little. But this was still a failure of a window for Barcelona, who signed Coutinho a few months later only for the Brazilian to fail to live up to expectations at the Nou Camp.

Liverpool 2014/15

Sold: Luis Suarez (£75m)
Significant arrivals: Adam Lallana, Dejan Lovren, Lazar Markovic, Mario Balotelli, Alberto Moreno, Divock Origi, Emre Can, Rickie Lambert
Hit or miss? MISS

Instead of signing a direct replacement for Luis Suarez, Liverpool opted for three strikers to collectively make up for the goals lost. Divock Origi was loaned back to Lille, leaving Liverpool with Rickie Lambert and Mario Balotelli to challenge Daniel Sturridge for a starting berth. It’s safe to say things didn’t go to plan.

Lambert and Balotelli scored only seven goals between them and neither player were at the club two years on. The other signings had varying degrees of success, with Adam Lallana and Dejan Lovren recently calling time on their Reds careers with Premier League and Champions League winners’ medals. Emre Can shone sporadically and eventually joined Juventus on a free transfer, while Alberto Moreno also left quietly.

Manchester United 2009/10

Sold: Cristiano Ronaldo (£80m)
Significant arrivals: Antonio Valencia, Mame Biram Diouf, Gabriel Obertan, Michael Owen
Hit or miss? MISS

Manchester United truly tried to play the system in the summer of 2009. Instead of spending all of the Cristiano Ronaldo money at once, they used about £20m of it to bolster certain areas of the squad. In hindsight, that wasn’t such a great idea.

Antonio Valencia proved to be a fine servant to the club, but Mame Biram Diouf and Gabriel Obertan were nowhere near good enough, while Owen did little more than expected from a free transfer. United did end up winning the League Cup and only missed out on the title by a point to Chelsea, but it could have been a much more successful season had they replaced Ronaldo properly.