The strange, COVID-fueled season is over. I'm not entirely sure we learned too much, but we did see some spectacular football at times.
The Premier League is top drawer and Manchester City proved that with limitless financial backing you can become invincible (or so they thought). Every single other top team had a down season so the competition will only enrage next term (Chelsea salvaged their somewhat disappointing campaign with a Champions League crown that most assumed would be heading to the blue quarter of Manchester for the first time). Liverpool, for one, should be immediate title contenders again with a healthy Virgil van Dijk and the addition of Ibrahima Konaté. Although they did lose Georginio Wijnaldum (more on that later) on a free. Manchester United should spend and reinvigorate, but likely will flounder whilst doing so. And Chelsea will be difficult to topple as Thomas Tuchel has a full offseason to tinker with how or if he wants to use the costly likes of Timo Werner and Kai Havertz. Roman Abramovich will also surely take a swing at prying Erling Haaland from Dortmund's cold, stingy hands. And whoever lands Harry Kane (City, surely, albeit at the expected obscene terms Tottenham will lay out) becomes an instant favorite.
Serie A dished up a break in the chain with Inter returning to dominance. A club so shoddily owned and run finally brought home a Scudetto again to end the Juventus dynasty. I think this Italian season will be more remembered for how disappointing Juve were more-so than how Inter rose to prominence. Yes, Romelu Lukaku had a good year in a slow moving league. But, the storyline is Juventus and how collectively they could not find a way to remain consistent. Cristiano Ronaldo shouldered too much weight, the old guard were just that and Federico Chiesa did not meet the sky high potential the world is waiting for in his debut season for i Bianconeri. With some quality investment and a jettisoning of surplus, they will be back with aplomb.
Germany was Germany. Bayern. #yawn
In Spain, we saw Atlético Madrid defy the odds and win La Liga. Atleti tried their best to gift the title to Barcelona and Real Madrid, but they had just enough in the end. Real Madrid attempted to snatch the trophy away behind a Ballon d'Or-worthy season from Karim Benzema, but there were too many mistakes on the whole. The team is creaking from the back line to the attackers. Isco and Marco Asensio have proven to be life-long busts. The fact that neither made a relatively average Spain squad only emphasizes my point. Eden Hazard is a shell of the glorious player we knew. Luka Modrić is 35. Sergio Ramos and Lucas Vázquez were injured for the crucial run-in and European knock-outs. I'm not sold on Vini Jr. as a reliable forward threat although he's still rather young at 20 and Éder Militão in the back seems...quite ordinary.
Over in Catalonia, Barcelona collapsed and find themselves deep in the clutches of a requisite rebuild. The mismanagement of that club's finances should be a warning sign for every non-Middle Eastern-owned team that all are eligible for a fiery reckoning. The Lionel Messi dilemma needs to be sorted (he should stay, but should also renegotiate his 9 figure salary down), big non-performing names with price tags should be sold and the midfield has to be re-jigged. Barça have already done well this summer with free agents. Or, at least have the potential to do so. Defender Eric García from Manchester City seems to be en route. He's young with bags of potential as a solid mainstay in the back 2. Memphis Depay is close. He will have the chip on his shoulder of wanting to excel on the grandest of stages after faltering for Manchester United. Sergio Agüero signed the day after losing the Champions League final. He, I am sure, saw how Luis Suárez shone up front for Atleti and will be looking to prove to doubters (and mainly Man City) that he isn't finished. And then there's Wijnaldum.
Gini Wijnaldum to Barcelona has been the worst-kept secret in football for a year. At 30 years old, Gini has the experience and creativity and quality on the ball to steady this midfield. He can lounge as the anchor of a 3 with his Dutch compatriot Frenkie de Jong off to his left. He can work box to box and sit behind another Dutch teammate in Memphis (who is perfect for a front 3 with Agüero and Messi). Wijnaldum gives you that bit of energy and pizazz that you are certainly not getting with Sergio Busquets and that the Catalans certainly did not get from Miralem Pjanić. Busquets and Gini can play together. The Bosnian, on the other hand, must be yearning to leave. That's four huge signings to revamp this sleepy Barcelona giant. And when it all looked set to happen for Gini after the season and the medicals were done, in swooped Paris Saint-Germain.
If you thought PSG gave a fuck about appearances, you have been sorely mistaken. The Qataris saw an opportunity to not only shore up their own meandering midfield (Idrissa Gueye and Ander Herrera both soon 32), but also raise a huge natural-gas-shaped middle finger to their Champions League rivals. PSG offered Gini double what Barcelona was paying him and that was all it took. Wijnaldum was knee deep in paella and Priorat, but got dragged out by the Parisians. He will now be heading to the French capital where he will orchestrate a midfield (presumably alongside Italian starlet Marco Verratti) trying to link play to Neymar and Kylian Mbappé in front of him. Losing Ligue 1 to Lille was embarrassing. It should never happen in this day and age where PSG have enough money to buy the world. But it did and the football sphere knew there would be genuine repercussions. Neymar and Mbappé are now likely to stay. And reinforcements will arrive (superstar keep Gianluigi Donnarumma from Milan en route as well...although he may be loaned out for a season as Keylor Navas is still alive).
And that's the game nowadays. In a post-pandemic, post-Super League universe, anything well and truly can happen. No transfer is locked in until the player has handcuffed himself to a desk, pen in hand, and the obligatory social media announcement post has gone live. Until then, with the likes of PSG and Manchester City (and let's be honest, Chelsea) lurking about, no player is safe from their slimy paws. And honestly, that's just the way it is. If the team you support had their means, you wouldn't bat an eye at any of these procedures. Fans want the best players and these are the tactics necessary. It's detrimental to the allure of the sport, but it is the reality of where we find ourselves. The rich will never get left behind.
So, now we get to breathe for a few days until the entire continent of Europe attempts to thwart France in the Euros. The football never stops. And won't anytime soon with everybody hunting cash. USA just beat Mexico to claim a CONCACAF trophy I wasn't even aware existed. Copa América is for some reason forging ahead despite Argentina and Colombia being stripped of hosting duties. That tournament will now be held in COVID-ravaged Brazil. Because, why not?
The only truth is that money creates the art. You can ask Gini Wijnaldum how that goes. He turned down an opportunity to play with Messi to get knocked out of the Champions League with PSG. But in nicer clothes. It isn't for me to say whether he's right or wrong. It's just what the norm is now and we should all get used to it.
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