With the last days of summer upon us, so begins the great migration. A mass exodus from the training grounds of the Premier League elite, heading south for warmer climes and greater activity.
For months the biggest clubs in the Premier League have been trying to trim down squads that have grown ever more bloated over recent years, largely to no avail. Years earlier they had invested tens of millions in salaries and wages. They wanted to start making that back.
Unfortunately for the likes of Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool, this summer has offered a thudding reminder that their financial force brings with it some inconveniences. All those sides can pay the sort of wages that will lure almost any player away from Monaco, Schalke or Lille but once they have no need for them, it's hard to find anyone else who can match the riches you once offered.
Chelsea manage to turn a profit
That goes some way to explaining why Thomas Tuchel began the season with a first team squad of 42 players to call upon. Preseason fixtures for Chelsea had something of a Nick at Nite feel to them; reruns of those big name transfers from years gone by. Is that Tiemoue Bakayoko, I thought he was at Napoli still? Whatever did happen to Lucas Piazon? I hope Matt Miazga's keeping busy.
It has become something of a summer tradition at Chelsea that the final days of the window end in a flurry of contract extensions for players who must know that their chances of ever making it at Stamford Bridge are vanishingly small. Michy Batshuayi, now on loan at Besiktas, is contracted to the European champions until 2023. Since the start of 2018 he has made just five starts for his parent club, all of which came in the 'transfer embargo' season where they were unable to register any new signings.
Yet not all of the famed 'loan army' are hanging around on Chelsea's books forever. Davide Zappacosta's move to Atalanta should earn the selling club around $12 million. That does not come close to recouping the cost they paid to give Antonio Conte the backup right wing back he wanted but it might yet serve to fund an 11th hour loan move for Saul Niguez or perhaps merely swell the coffers. Remarkably, in a summer where they smashed their transfer record to bring Romelu Lukaku back to west London, the European champions have so far made a profit in the window of $15 million.
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Arsenal pay players to go away
The same was not true in north London with Arsenal the most lavish spenders of the Premier League so far this summer. As CBS Sports first revealed he would in April, owner Stan Kroenke offered Mikel Arteta the financial backing to add to a squad that had finished eighth in successive seasons. Whether they have spent nearly $200 million shrewdly is a matter of growing debate after losses in their first two Premier League games.
Arteta noted after the second of those defeats, 2-0 at home to Chelsea, that he was without nine first team players. All the more notable, then, that he was still able to name a matchday squad of 20 without having to turn to the academy to make up the numbers. Like Chelsea, they had also been looking for more appealing deals earlier in the window but perhaps unsurprisingly the fringe players in the worst performing Arsenal squad of a generation found few takers until late on in deals that the Gunners might not have relished several weeks ago.
Sources have told CBS Sports that there has been rapid progress in negotiations with Corinthians for the transfer of Willian after a disappointing season in north London. The Brazilian giants are expected to secure the services of the 33 year old on a free transfer with Arsenal continuing to subsidize his wages for nearly two years. Should Sead Kolasinac get his move to Fenerbahce he is also likely to receive further compensation from the Emirates Stadium. It is becoming something of a trend that technical director Edu agrees to pay players to go away, having done the same with Mesut Ozil, Shkodran Mustafi and Sokratis Papastathopoulos in January.
Meanwhile Lucas Torreira, who two years ago seemed to be the answer to Arsenal's long term midfield problems, is set to join Fiorentina on loan. There are also headaches to solve over the futures of academy graduates. Eddie Nketiah and Reiss Nelson are out of contract at the end of the season and with offers of extensions unsigned Edu may have to accept the sort of fees that would have once been viewed as a pittance for bright young things.
Liverpool, Tottenham, rest of PL struggle to sell unwanted pieces
It is a similar story across the Premier League's biggest clubs. Nuno Espirito Santo may not want Serge Aurier or Tanguy Ndombele but Tottenham will do well to get a sizeable return for them. Liverpool might have been pleased to ultimately get $13 million for Xherdan Shaqiri but hopes that the sale of players such as Divock Origi, Neco Williams and Loris Karius might have brought in a decent cash injection look to be fading.
Even away from the big six, finding clubs to take on fringe players on Premier League wages has proven to be tough. Newcastle manager Steve Bruce said: "Most people have to trade, but I've been unable to do that. We haven't been able to sell. Nobody wants to sell their best players, but we all would like to be in a position to trade. That's normal.
"But we haven't been in the situation to do that. I'm not talking about selling your best players, but if you can trade then you can alter your squad."
Equally what is bad news for the Premier League can be a boon for clubs in Europe and beyond. Having spent so much of the summer fretting over what might happen if an English side turned up at their door, their wallets heaving with broadcast cash, they now have some degree of leverage at last. Give us your squad players for next to nothing or spend the next few months dealing with unhappy players who know there is no room for them.
Arsenal are a prime example of the damage that can do; they reached the start of the 2020-21 season with more senior players than squad places, effectively paying veterans to pop into London Colney and not much else. It is a scenario that no head coach wants so Fiorentina can get a year long look at Torreira. If they like him they can pick up a purchase option but the ball remains firmly in their court.
Meanwhile sporting directors will be scrolling through the Chelsea first team squad page and taking a note of those without so much as a first team number. Lyon have already picked up European champion Emerson on a season long loan to go with Shaqiri, whose arrival could allow them to cash in on Houssem Aouar. The likes of Malang Sarr, Charly Musonda and perhaps even Ross Barkley could strengthen squads for very little investment. Even if Kurt Zouma does not quite fit that category, West Ham will look at $35 million as something of a bargain for a France international and European champion entering his prime years.
The early weeks of the transfer window were the time for the big money deals, for teams who know how much they have to spend to flex their financial muscles and secure the Jadon Sanchos of the world. Now those big clubs have got what they want but are left with unwanted talent, relics of former regimes, the overpaid and the underplayed. Suddenly there are bargains to be snared and for once it won't be the Premier League giants with all the power in the transfer market.