The transfer window across Europe’s top leagues is in full swing and already there have been some huge moves made. But while the likes of Real Madrid, Arsenal and Liverpool have spent over €100 million ($111.6m) to sign world-class players already, there have been a few bargain deals too.
Here, we look at six of the best value-for-money transfers so far, as well as six players clubs could pick up for a minimal fee.
*All fees are estimated, with Transfermarkt valuations used.
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Mateo Kovacic, 28, CM, Manchester City, €30m
In today’s inflated transfer market, picking up a four-time Champions League winner with nearly 100 caps for Croatia at €30m, before he has turned 30, is an incredible deal. Despite never being an undisputed regular at Inter Milan or Real Madrid, Kovacic won the faith of whoever happened to be in charge at Chelsea and should prove equally useful for Pep Guardiola (who tends to play with two No. 8s, which suits Kovacic perfectly.)
Even if Manchester City sign another midfielder before the end of the window, Kovacic’s ability to cover several roles in the centre of the pitch, his admirable defensive work rate and his direct passing should help make up for the loss of Ilkay Gundogan.
Arda Guler, 18, AM, Real Madrid, €17.5m
Real Madrid reportedly beat rivals from an array of elite destinations (including Barcelona) to capture the exceptionally talented Turkey international midfielder from Fenerbahce. Without his €17.5m release clause, Guler would undoubtedly have commanded a significantly higher fee, and Madrid have got themselves a bargain.
Seen by many as a generational talent, the teenager boasts remarkable dribbling skills (more than four successful dribbles per 90 minutes), as he is able to dance past opponents with a low centre of gravity and quick first move. Whether cutting in from the right or roaming in central areas, the creative and elusive playmaker also possesses a wonderful left foot.
Lee Kang-In, 22, AM, Paris Saint-Germain, €22m
A €22m signing from Mallorca, the South Korea international is an interesting get for a club that have previously appeared more concerned with big-name status than potential. Having shown a lot of teenage promise at Valencia, Lee enjoyed his proper breakout last season and was a major contributor in Mallorca’s top-half finish in LaLiga with six goals and seven assists.
Left-footed, extremely positive in his play and always looking for forward options (4.5 progressive passes per 90 minutes), he can fit into any attacking midfield role, and PSG will benefit from his versatility.
Enzo Le Fee, 23, CM, Rennes, €20m
Le Fee was heavily tipped to move to abroad this summer, but Rennes managed to keep the multipurpose midfielder in Ligue 1 by signing him from Lorient. As one of the most efficient players in France last season, Le Fee’s skill on the ball (he often plays constructive, nicely weighted passes) and excellent command of his body allow him to protect possession well and turn swiftly in all directions.
Versatile and tactically intelligent, the France U21 midfielder tackles and recovers the ball too, while he finds positions to do damage in the final third. He is arguably best deployed as a No. 8, but he can play wide and in a double pivot role too.
Benjamin Sesko, 20, CF, RB Leipzig, €24m
A transfer was initially agreed last summer, but the 6-foot-4 Slovenia international has now taken the well-trodden path from FC Salzburg to the Red Bull group’s biggest club in Leipzig. Having polished his game in Austria, his link-up play has improved, and he bagged 29 goals in 79 games.
Long considered one of the most exciting centre-forwards of his age group, the 20-year-old features a strong aerial game, as well as high speed and acceleration for his size. A fine finisher, he also times his runs well and often gets on the end of crosses or cut-backs. Although his touch and technique still need work, Sesko could make an immediate impact in the demanding environment of the German Bundesliga.
Alexis Mac Allister, 24, CM, Liverpool, €40m
Before the 2022 World Cup, the €40m that Brighton received from Liverpool for the midfielder’s signature would have been considered a decent amount. But after a month in which Mac Allister helped Argentina to the trophy with a series of stellar performances, it seems on the cheap side. Still, it was a result of a release clause (somewhat uncommon in the Premier League) that was added when he put pen to paper on a new contract in October.
With great technical skill on the ball, Mac Allister’s passing range is good and he can dictate the tempo of the game with his quick and incisive movement. He is an attacking force and has the vision and awareness to create space for teammates. Not the most physical in midfield, he does have a great work ethic, and Jurgen Klopp should get a lot out of him in the press.
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Zeki Amdouni, 22, FW, FC Basel, €10m
FC Basel might have pulled off the deal of the summer by exercising the €4m permanent option to land the Lausanne forward after his loan expired. Amdouni’s performances for club and country (five goals in five appearances) over the past six months have been so sensational that bigger clubs are already eyeing up the Switzerland international.
If his combination of outstanding technical ability, intuitive creativity, high-speed dribbles and turns, well-developed physique, and ambidexterity weren’t enough, Amdouni is also deceptively dominating in the air, and there’s aggression to his game too. Full of flair and vivacity, he tends to thrive when he enters the final third and is a threat in a central or wide role up front.
Mohamed Kaba, 21, CM, FC Valenciennes, €3m
Although unproven at the highest level of French football, Kaba’s performances over the past season and clear interpretation of the No. 6 role indicate that he has already outgrown Ligue 2. Physically dominant in the middle of the pitch, he covers a lot of ground, intercepts efficiently (2.2 interceptions per 90 minutes) and is not afraid of contact (8-plus duels won per 90 minutes.)
The Frenchman is also delightfully tidy on the ball and can progress out of crowded areas without losing possession. He can also switch the direction of play with either foot and keeps his head up to feed teammates with line-breaking passes. Unfussy, and with a magnificent work ethic, Kaba provides a reliable presence deep in midfield and is ready to make the step up.
Arthur Vermeeren, 18, CM, Royal Antwerp, €17m
One of the revelations of the year in Belgian football, the 18-year-old marked his debut season at senior level by becoming an essential part of Antwerp’s league-winning side. Habitually deployed as a defensive midfielder in a double pivot, he exudes confidence beyond his years and is excellent at recovering the ball, getting around the pitch and providing an outlet for passing.
Always active, with a high level of consistency and good passing range of his own, the Belgium U19 international is certain to be on the shortlist of most European giants. Although another season or two in Belgium wouldn’t hurt the teenager’s development, he is certainly one to watch.
Alan Varela, 22, DM, Boca Juniors, €9m
A product of the prestigious Boca Juniors academy, Varela has only recently broken into the first team but has made a big impression. At 5-foot-8, he does not have the towering physical presence of some players in the defensive midfield role, but his stamina, awareness and positioning allow him to get the best of opponents with guile instead of power.
He’s actually a committed tackler too, which helps, and is comfortable on the ball, taking his time to pick the right pass. Not fancy with his distribution, he keeps possession well and makes sure things are ticking over in midfield without being overly elaborate. If teams are looking for an aggressive and industrious midfielder with a touch of finesse, they could do a lot worse.
Keito Nakamura, 22, AM, LASK, €8m
The Japan winger has attracted plenty of interest on the back of a superb season in Austria with LASK. He scored his first goal in his second senior appearance for the national team last month, and his ability to finish as well as create (14 goals, seven assists for LASK last season) makes for a modern, fairly complete wide playmaker.
Although not the quickest, Nakamura’s off-the-ball movement sees him make timely runs into the box for chances, which he’ll usually finish off calmly. Technically gifted and blessed with a subtle touch, he carries the ball forward well and is excellent at finding a teammate with a pass in behind the defensive line.
Gianluca Prestianni, 17, FW, Velez Sarsfield, €5m
With Julian Alvarez (Man City) and Julio Enciso (Brighton) proving that making a direct leap from the South American leagues to the Premier League is possible, the Velez Sarsfield winger represents another exciting prospect.
Although still six months from his 18th birthday (which excludes a move overseas this summer, although a deal can still be agreed), Prestianni’s explosive acceleration in wide areas, high-speed dribbling and quick body movement all score highly on the checklist of attributes desired by top European clubs.