By Temisan Amoye
After a slow start due to the rescheduled 2020 European Championships, Copa America, CONCACAF Gold Cup amongst other distractions, the summer football transfer window has shifted into gear.
As football leagues resume across Europe with the English Premier League kicking off over the weekend, more signings are expected, with ‘spineless’ Arsenal linked with James Madison as they seek to solve their creative issues, Man City seeking a centre-forward to lead the line, seeing as Guardiola has trust issues with Gabriel Jesus, Arsenal being linked with relegated Sheffield United’s goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale to spur some competition for Bernd Leno. Newcastle have also not been left out, with Steve Bruce setting his sights on two more signings, after clinching Joe Willock from Arsenal in a 25m deal, but knowing owner Mike Ashley, the Magpies might be in for some disappointment, the kind Liverpool fans have been basking in with Ibrahima Konate the only likely signing for The Reds.
With the transfer window closing on the 31st of August, here are some of the exciting signings set to make their mark in the English game.
Patson Daka ( 22 years old, Striker, Zambia) – RB Salzburg to Leicester City
Named Austrian Bundesliga Player of The Season en route securing the title for RB Salzburg in the 2020-21 season, Zambian striker Patson Daka has earned a move to the Premier League, with Leicester City splashing £27m to sign the striker.
Despite being heavily linked with Liverpool and other top European clubs, the Foxes snatched Daka in what has been regarded as a transfer coup.
Blessed with pace, high work rate, and technique, Daka’s performance in Salzburg put to bed any anxiety caused by the departures of strikers Erling Haaland and Hwang Hee-Chan to the German Bundesliga.
Daka scored 24 goals with 8 assists in 31 appearances in the 2019-20 season and went one step further scoring 27 goals with 7 assists in 28 appearances in the 2020-21 season, earning him the PoTS award in Austria.
In addition to his lethal finishing and technical qualities, the 2017 CAF young Player of the Year has also been hailed for his incredible attitude.
Former RB Salzburg boss Gerhard Struber on Daka, “From the very first second, it was obvious Patson was a great talent, but he also had an incredible attitude.
“He wanted to learn our style of play, with high pressing and quick transition and worked tirelessly without the ball. When the other team is in possession, he fights like a defender. His desire to succeed and improve is phenomenal.”
With Jamie Vardy’s days looking numbered, Daka and fellow African Kelechi Iheanacho could go on to forge a productive partnership for the Foxes, as they displayed in their performance in the 3-3 draw against QPR in a pre-season friendly. With Daka scoring one and winning a penalty, which Iheanacho coolly slotted in.
Leicester boss Rodgers after the match hailed Daka saying, “As soon as he’s in that goalscoring position, he’s so calm and not even thinking, even though he’s right-footed, he just slots it away with his left foot.
You see that natural goalscoring instinct and then his speed to get to the ball for the penalty, I never thought he was going to get there, but he showed great pace. He won the penalty, so it was a good performance by him.
I think that’s what he is, he’s a goalscorer. I thought him and Kels combined very, very well. They were looking for each other and some of their play was exceptional. The goalscorers, I think when it hits the back of the net, it gives them confidence and gives them that energy.”
The arrival of Daka could be the final piece in the jigsaw as Leicester seeks to break into the Top 4, a feat which despite coming very close to achieving, the Foxes have bottled in the last two seasons.
Leon Bailey (24 years old, Winger, Jamaica) – Bayer Leverkusen to Aston Villa
Aston Villa has so far been arguably the winners of the PL transfer window alongside Leicester City. Despite selling star captain Jack Grealish for a British transfer record of £100m, the Villans have signed PL-tested creative attacker Emi Buendia from Norwich, tenacious striker Danny Ings from Southampton, but the signing of Jamaican winger Leon Bailey might just be the icing on the cake.
Blessed with blistering pace, dribbling, and an eye for goal, Bailey has the right tools to light up the Premier League
The Jamaican winger burst into the scene after starring for KRC Genk in the Belgian league, where he won the Young Player of the Season award in the 2015-16 season earning a 20m euros move to Bayer Leverkusen in 2017 despite being linked with a host of top clubs.
“Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Liverpool – a lot of clubs were interested,” Bailey told FourFourTwo back in 2018.
Bailey hit the ground running at Leverkusen in the 2017-18 season, but inconsistency meant he failed to replicate his early form, and the competition saw him dropped as a starter.
The departure of Havertz and Volland created an opportunity for Bailey to stake his claim, which he did excellently.
The 24-year-old dropped the best performance of his Bundesliga career scoring nine goals and assisting his teammates eight times, completing the third most dribbles with 74, two key passes per game in the 2020-21 season for Leverkusen. With the Jamaican winger experiencing something of a rebirth.
The prospect of pairing Watkins, Ings, Buendia, and Bailey must have Villa fans drooling.
Villa boss Dean Smith speaking on Bailey said, “Leon is a hugely exciting young striker with great pace and creativity,”
“He has enjoyed a successful career at Leverkusen and we are now looking forward to watching him show his skills and talents for Aston Villa in the Premier League.”
Frank Onyeka ( 23 years old, Midfielder, Nigeria) -FC Midtjylland to Brentford FC
New boys Brentford FC have moved quickly in the transfer market signing Super Eagles defensive midfielder and pressing machine, Frank Onyeka from Danish sister club FC Midtjylland on a five-year deal in a bid to retain PL status come May 2022.
The former FC Ebedei youth player who transitioned from an attack-minded midfielder to a defensive one displayed his disrupting qualities in the 2020-21 UEFA Champions League group stage, where he attempted a higher volume of tackles (23) in those six games. 4.11 tackles per 90 and 2.68 tackles won per 90, only Jorginho averaged more. Onyeka’s feat is more commendable considering Midtjylland exited the UCL in the group stage, while Jorginho went all the way to the final.
Nicknamed ‘Frank the Tank’ by his coach in Denmark, there are question marks over his progressive play, averaging 2.48 progressive passes, 1.06 progressive carries per 90mins, but with age on his side, and a willingness to improve, there’s no reason why Onyeka cannot improve those numbers in the coming seasons.
Brentford gaffer Thomas Frank speaking on Onyeka said, “Frank plays as an eight in our system, he is very good at getting from box to box and will be valuable to us when we don’t have the ball. He has come from the Danish league and was one of the best midfield players in that league, we think he has the potential to develop further. All the coaches here are looking forward to working with Frank and pushing him to a higher level.”
Coming off the bench to make his Brentford debut in a pre-season friendly against Man United, Onyeka also came off the bench to open his goal account with the Bees, scoring the winner in a 2-1 friendly win over Valencia on Sunday.
The tough-tackling midfielder could be set to toe the path of fellow compatriot Wilfred Ndidi, who has established himself as one of the best defensive midfielders in Europe.
Boubakary Soumare (22 years old, Midfielder, France) – Lille LOSC to Leicester City
Beyond the archetypal strong french midfielder, Boubakary Soumare has all it takes in his arsenal to become the next French midfield superstar.
At the age of 18, Soumare opted against signing a professional contract at PSG, opting instead to sign for Lille, four seasons later, he leaves Ligue 1 as a Champion winning the title in the 2021-22 season.
Athletic, powerful, dynamic, and defensively aware, Soumare has been described as more than a midfield destroyer by French football expert Ian Holyman.
“I think they (Leicester City fans) should be pretty excited,” he said. “He’s not really a signing that’s come out of the left-field like someone like Riyad Mahrez for example who even I had struggled to hear of before he signed for Leicester and of course he’s gone on to do fabulous things with both Leicester and Man City, but Boubakary Soumaré has been on the radar of quite several big European clubs.
“There’s been a lot of talk about him moving well before now. He’s a powerful midfielder, he was at PSG as a youth actually took a bit of a leap of faith in his own abilities and decided not to sign his first professional contract with them when he turned 18 and moved to Lille which was a bold move at the time but it does tell you something about his character and he was quite right to have faith in his own abilities.” Holyman said.
Despite having low tackling numbers averaging 2.06 per game, his interception rate is decent averaging 1.82 per game. But his main strengths seem to be in his progressive play, where Soumare averaged 6.63 progressive passes and 5.97 progressive carries per 90 in the 2020-21 season with Lille. Showing the potential to be a dynamic ball-carrying midfielder in the mould of Paul Pogba, Frenkie De Jong, who can help transition from defence to attack swiftly.
With Tielemans likely to depart sometime, Soumare looks like a tailor-made replacement for the Belgian, as the French midfielder has all it takes to excel in the Premier League.
Emi Buendia (24 years old, Midfielder, Argentina)- Norwich City to Aston Villa
Despite being linked heavily with Arsenal, Argentine playmaker Emiliano Buendia was snapped up by ambitious Aston Villa early in the transfer window for a whopping 38m pounds fee.
Wasting little time to settle Buendia showed a glimpse of the possibilities when he laid two assists on his Villa debut in a pre-season friendly against lower division Walsall.
Buendia is no newcomer to the Premier League, a standout performer for Norwich during the 2019-20 season despite being relegated. Creating 83 chances (4th in the league), 9 big chances created, seven assists, with 90 accurate long balls indicating a massive offensive threat, while also being responsible defensively, winning 267 duels, 187 recoveries.
Relegation to the Championship saw Buendia become even more pivotal for the Canaries, as he recorded 15 goals, 16 assists, creating 62 chances (most in Europe) 122 key passes, 93 tackles with 63 dribbles in 39 appearances, helping Norwich regain immediate promotion back to the Premier League, being named the Skybet Player of the Season.
Buendia can hold his own defensively despite being offensive-minded, holding off players thanks to his stocky stature and low center of gravity, retaining possession, and winning tackles.
Buendia has consistently been one of the most creative forces in Europe over the last two seasons, eliciting excitement among Villans fans despite losing Grealish.
With Grealish departing to Man City, Buendia stands to be the creative outlet alongside Bailey, as the Villans look to improve on their 2020-21 season where they finished 11th on the log.
The prospect of Bailey, Buendia, Ings, and Watkins combining, I imagine has Villa fans and boss, Dean Smith relishing the start of the 2021-22 season.
“Emiliano has just completed an outstanding season in a championship-winning Norwich side with 31 combined goals and assists and was named player of the season across the league. Dean Smith said after confirmation of Buendia’s signing.
“He is equally capable as a wide attacker or as a number 10 and is a great addition to our attacking options.
“We are delighted to have made such an exciting signing so early in the summer and look forward to Emi joining up with us for a full pre-season.”
Jadon Sancho ( 21 years old, Attacker, England) – Borussia Dortmund to Manchester United
Need I say much about ridiculously talented Jadon Sancho? The fleet-footed livewire left Man City as a relatively unknown youth player at 17 into uncharted territory with Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga.
As they say, the rest is history.
Capable of playing anywhere behind the striker, Sancho lit up the Bundesliga with his pace, trickery, creativity, and knack for scoring, forging a blistering alliance with Norwegian powerhouse Erling Haaland.
Scoring one goal and assisting four times in twelve appearances in the 2017-18 season, Sancho exploded the following season, hitting double figures with 12 goals and 18 assists in 34 appearances. Normal service resumed in the 2019-20 season for former Watford youth player, hitting 17 goals and 17 assists in 32 appearances, earning a place in the Bundesliga ToTS.
Waxing lyrical about Sancho before a Champions League clash with Spurs in 2019, Dortmund Sporting Director, Marc Zorc said. “I’m not surprised about his performances, I’m surprised how fast he managed to get on this senior-level because, before, he only played in youth teams.”
“And also his stability in performing well. During last autumn he nearly played each game and always at a high level. For this age, he can still play in our Under-19 team!
Despite a subdued 2020-21 season by Sancho’s standards, the flying attacker made a switch back to Manchester where he is expected to fill the right-wing void in the Red Devils.
Sancho’s arrival could be the spark Man United needs to mount a serious Premier League and European challenge as the Red Devils have failed to win the league and the Champions League since club legend Fergie departed in 2013. In that period the Red Devils have seen Man City, Chelsea, and perennial rivals Liverpool win the league and Champions League among themselves.
Sancho will definitely ease the pressure on Bruno Fernandes, who has had to shoulder the burden of playmaking and scoring over the past two seasons and could help boost the output of United’s attackers.
Rashford when asked about the idea of playing alongside Sancho in 2020, replied saying, “It would be good, Sancho’s a great player and he’s like a new generation player,”
“It’s definitely exciting to watch him become the player he’s becoming. Hopefully, we can play together, that would be good. He plays off the cuff, he’s creative and imaginative, these are the things you need to be world-class.”
Progressive Pass: A forward pass that attempts to advance a team significantly closer to the opponent’s goal.
Key passes: A key pass is a teammate’s final pass, which leads to an attempt at goal that does not end in a goal.
ToTs: Team of The Season.
PoTS: Player of The Season.