According to Forbes, teams from Europe’s top five leagues spent an astonishing $6 billion on players in the summer 2019 transfer window. That’s an average of over $61 million per club.
However, not all of that money was spent wisely, as some of the biggest European deals have failed to show a return on investment. Here are the top five flops of the season so far, starting with the summer’s most expensive deal.
João Félix (Atletico Madrid)
Before 2019-20 kicked off, the most hotly anticipated move was undoubtedly Joao Félix to Atletico Madrid for a club-record $137 million. The then-teenager became the third most expensive transfer in history and took Atleti’s No. 7 shirt from the departing Antoine Griezmann.
The hype around the Portuguese youngster was palpable, but justified. With Benfica he had won the 2019 Golden Boy award, he was already playing alongside Cristiano Ronaldo in the national team, and he appeared ready to shine on the very biggest stage.
Félix’s life in Spain started very well, with four preseason goals and an electrifying display in the opening La Liga match of the season against Getafe:
However, the youngster has since failed to justify his hefty price tag.
The 20-year-old has managed just four goals in all competitions this season. By comparison, Griezmann had 16 goals at this point last season.
He appears to be struggling with the physical rigors of La Liga — he sat out the recent Madrid Derby defeat at the Bernabeu with an injury — and is not being given ample opportunity to shine in a struggling Atleti side. Diego Simeone’s men have managed only one win in their last six matches and were recently dumped out of the Spanish Cup by a second-tier side.
“Joao Félix is a fine player, but he's at the wrong club,” said former Dutch forward Rafael Van der Vaart. “When they signed the Portuguese striker I felt that Simeone would try and embark on a different brand of playing, but that's far from the case.”
Atletico Madrid’s uninspiring form and Simeone’s system are doing Félix no favors, but the club nearly doubled their transfer record to bring him on board, and he has not delivered on his potential.
Matthijs de Ligt (Juventus)
After leading Ajax deep into the Champions League last season as their youngest-ever captain, Matthijs de Ligt earned a $82 million move to Juventus over the summer.
The Old Lady have built their modern success on strong center back pairings, and they battled the likes of Manchester City to win his signature and uphold their strong defensive heritage.
De Ligt led Ajax to the Champions League semifinals and a league and cup double, all while playing a key part in the Netherlands team that went to last year’s UEFA Nations League final.
Like Félix, the 20-year-old is a former UEFA Golden Boy award winner. But like Félix, he has also endured a rough start at his new club.
After a series of high-profile mistakes in the opening stages of the season, de Ligt struggled to earn a place in Maurizio Sarri’s team. Turkish center back Merih Demiral, signed for a quarter of de Ligt’s transfer fee last summer, has taken the limelight and often kept the third-most expensive defender of all time on the sidelines.
He has made only 16 league starts for Juve this season and had already been linked with a loan move back to Ajax. At Euro 2020, meanwhile, the in-form Stefan De Vrij is threatening to take his position partnering Virgil van Dijk in defense.
However, it may be a little premature to call de Ligt a flop, as his form has picked up dramatically in recent weeks. An injury that put Demiral out of action last month has allowed de Ligt to flourish in partnership with veteran defender Leonardo Bonucci.
So, “a disappointingly slow start” may be a better way to look at his young Juventus career, instead of labelling him a “flop.”
“I heard reports he was struggling with Juve, but I see Matthijs only growing," said his agent Mino Raiola, echoing the feeling that the young Dutchman can overcome his unsettled start to life in Turin.
Nicolas Pépé (Arsenal)
Arsenal fans were delighted when the club managed to secure the services of Nicolas Pépé for a cool $97 million in August.
Suffice to say, the Gunners’ faithful haven't had an awful lot to cheer about since then, not least the contributions of the Ivory Coast winger.
The 24-year-old has impressed when it comes to dribbling and taking players on, but with only three goals and two assists from 21 Premier League games this term, Pépé has not justified his price tag.
The former Lille forward was an unused substitute in the Gunners’ most recent league match and has struggled to establish a first team spot ahead of Alexandre Lacazette, Pierre Emerick Aubameyang and Gabriel Martinelli, who has made Pépé’s preferred spot on the right wing his own.
Granted, the circumstances of Pépé’s arrival have not been ideal: Arsenal made their worst start in nearly 37 years this season, there are problems all over the field and they have had three managers in this campaign. But the fact that none of those three managers put his name first on the team sheet is a concern.
João Cancelo (Manchester City)
Instead of replacing the departing Vincent Kompany — and strengthening a shallow pool of center backs — Pep Guardiola went out and bought more fullbacks. (Because if there’s one thing Pep likes to do, it’s buying fullbacks.)
In addition to bringing back Angeliño, who has already been sent back out on loan, City helped cover $78 million worth of de Ligt’s fee at Juventus by taking João Cancelo.
The 25-year-old has made little progress in attempting to unseat Kyle Walker from the right-back position, with only seven Premier League starts in this campaign.
Meanwhile, the failure to buy a center back proved costly when Aymeric Laporte was injured and 35-year-old midfielder Fernandinho had to drop back into his place for most of the season. With the Brazilian away from the defensive midfield position in which he has excelled, City have looked questionable when out of possession.
Cancelo hasn’t exactly been terrible, but the Portuguese has been unnecessary, and indicative of the missteps the club has made this season.
Philippe Coutinho (Bayern Munich)
If you watched Bayern Munich’s draw with RB Leipzig closely enough this past weekend, you could actually see Phillipe Coutinho’s value dropping.
After failing to make an impact with Barcelona last season following a $174 million transfer from Liverpool, the Brazilian made a loan move to Bavaria over the summer. Bayern paid an $9 million loan fee and are covering his wages, but has struggled to live up to his imperious Premier League form in Germany.
In a substitute appearance against Leipzig, the 27-year-old took only 18 touches and lost possession seven times. He made no key passes and lost both his duels.
Coutinho has continually struggled to be a part of Hansi Flick’s plans and has fallen behind Leon Goretzka and Ivan Perisic in the pecking order.
It seems highly unlikely that Bayern will make his move permanent, and although several Premier clubs have been linked to a move for his services, he is not in good enough form to justify a high transfer fee, nor the payment of his considerable wages on another loan deal.
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