“Top 10 Best Transfer Seasons for Clubs in the 21st Century That Saw Them Successfully Transform Their Squads and Their Fortunes”
The game of Football is evolving. The love and passion for the game have skyrocketed all over the world, throughout all its history. But more importantly, the economics of the game has altered so much, it sometimes reaches the highest levels of “insane”. Success, as a club, in modern day club football depends highly on how much funds you have, or rather, how much you are willing to spend. That’s where the bigger clubs excel, while the particularly smaller clubs sometimes struggle to cope up.
While the transfer budgets and expenditures for most of the big clubs are mind-boggling every season, in times of dire need to refresh the mood around the club, the owners break the banks to spend crazy, and completely transform the first team squad with new and exciting faces. Sometimes they are big names, sometimes new and exciting prospects. Sometimes transfers that look rather insipid on paper, go on to have overwhelming impact on the club’s future. Some clubs don’t have that gigantic a fund, but still buy smart, which just ups the ante for that little bit and injects that all important spark to the team which drives them towards the permanence of greatness.
We talk, today, about the best transfer sprees of them all since the dawn of the new century. These are transfer “seasons”, so they include both the summer and winter transfer windows of that specific season. These transfer seasons directly enabled these clubs to achieve greater heights and respect, and create history, right away or eventually, in some form or the other, sometimes even unintentionally.
Here we rank the top 10 transfer seasons in the 21st century, where certain clubs revamped the whole look of their first teams, and did so successfully.
The roots laid down by Jose Mourinho, in the early 2000s, that were carried on by the good work from the likes of Carlo Ancelotti and Antonio Conte, started to wear out, by the time Conte left the club. The first team of Chelsea was a mess and to make things worse, the club was going through a 2-year transfer ban as well, because of breaching certain clauses of the Financial Fair Play rules of UEFA. It was then, that the onus of the club was put in rebuilding the first team and Frank Lampard was appointed as manager. In his first season in charge, Frank put up quite a show for the Chelsea fans with a very young and homegrown squad. Though he failed to mount a challenge for the title, every Chelsea fan was happy with a top 4 league finish and an FA cup final, with such an inexperienced squad. But the club’s ambitions were higher, and the transfer ban was lifted from the start of the 2020-21 season. That was the opening the owners needed to shore up the ranks with fresh faces. And boy, did they go for it!
In order to be able to be challenging for every known prize there is in England and in Europe, Chelsea have truly gone for the kill. They have acquired probably the most sought-after and talented youngsters in world football right now. The attack looks frightening with the signings of Hakim Ziyech, Timo Werner, and Kai Havertz. They have also mixed the youth with experience, by signing former Brazil captain Thiago Silva from PSG in a free transfer. The 50 million Euros signing of Ben Chilwell from Leicester also bolsters their options at the back. The vulnerable Kepa also has been replaced by Edouard Mendy at goal. Even though an argument could be put forward, that this new looking Chelsea side is not tested yet, the fact remains that they look set to give Liverpool and Man City a proper fight for the PL title in the years to come, and possibly dominate the league as well, with an enthusiastic Frank Lampard at the helms. That alone, is more than enough for this window for Chelsea to be sneaked into this list.
Paris Saint Germain (2017-18)
PSG are not strangers when it comes to spending big. Since their multi-billion takeover by the Qatar Sports Investments Group, they have raided the transfer market quite a few times and have priced away many of Europe’s top talent. They conquered France, pretty easily, but failed to make a mark on the biggest stage of European club football “The Champions League”.
That enraged the owners to go a step further, and rope in some very big names. And they succeeded. The signings of the likes of Brazil Superstar Neymars and Dani Alves, as well as back then a French starlet from Monaco – Kylian Mbappé etc. cost them 238 million Euros, but also succeeded in striking fear into the hearts of other European giants and PSG truly announced themselves on the biggest stage. Those additions to the already star-studded team meant that PSG continued their dominance in France, and slowly started to get up the ladders in the Champions League. Their run to the Champions League final last term, only furthered that progress.
“The Champions of England”. What could be more soothing to the ears of Liverpool fans than the sound of that! A wait of over thirty years. But finally, the voodoo is broken. That, though, was achieved through a superb display of patience and team-building over a 4-year period by Manager Jurgen Klopp. He started in the year 2015 with low-key signings at first. But then he upped the ante slowly, making sure the signings are relevant to their journey to the top. Slowly but surely, he was forming a formidable side, with the exception of big money signings. After ending the chaotic 2016-17 season with a top four finish, manager Klopp thought that it was time for Liverpool to take a huge step forward.
The 2017-18 transfer season saw Liverpool make a couple of huge signings, that went on to be proved vital in their route to the Champions League and the Premier League triumphs in respective years. Everyone knows what Mo Salah has achieved in the past few years, as well as Virgil Van Dijk, one of Europe’s top three players of 2018-19, alongside Ronaldo and Messi. These two have had the biggest impact on their rise, that saw them climbing from the mid-tables to the peak of the Premier League. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain too, has made his presence felt every time he is called upon. The strength in today’s Liverpool squad was built around these players and still continue to be so.
Borussia Dortmund (2010-11)
The focal point of this entry remains the same from the last one – Jurgen Klopp. The man to go to for transformations, it seems. While there is no doubt about his man management skills, it has to be said that the man has a very good eye when it comes to spotting talent, young ones at that. Klopp was an unknown entity when he made his move to Dortmund from Meinz. But instantly made his presence felt in 2012 by dethroning the German giants Bayern Munich to win their first German league title in ages. They also did the double that year with a DFB Pokal title as well, winning the final against the same Bayern side.
The success that year, and their journey to the Champions League final in the following year, hinged heavily on the transfer season of 2010-11. The names that Klopp signed were not recognizable at the time and no one was expecting such big things from them. But did they deliver! Robert Lewandowski came with a mere 4.5m Euros price tag on his head, while Shinji Kagawa and Lucas Piszczek came to the club as free agents. Mario Gotze came through the ranks at Dortmund and he was too promoted to the first team in this season. It goes beyond saying how much all of them have achieved since then and are still achieving season after season. This could be hailed as the best transfer season ever for any club, in terms of cost-effectiveness.
Real Madrid (2013-14)
Real Madrid’s recent exploits, especially in the Champions League, are astonishing, as much as historic. When Zinadine Zidane came in as Head Coach, Real Madrid used to linger down Barcelona in the La Liga, and also fail in the Champions League quite miserably as they went out of the competition from the Round of 16 in quite a few occasions. The already star-sprinkled squad needed some sort of boost. And it was given to them in this transfer season.
Already a superstar with Spurs, Gareth Bale became the most expensive player in the world with his 101m Euros move to Real Madrid in this window, along with Isco, Casemiro and Dani Carvajal. All of them went on straight away to play vital roles that season in their first Champions League triumph in years. Since then, they pulled off a miracle by winning the competition three times in a row and four times in five years. They also signed Asier Illarramendi that season, who didn’t come out to be a very successful signing. But, all things considered, this was the transfer season that gave Real Madrid an unforgettable name in the modern-day history of football.
Whenever anyone talks about Arsenal, there is a certain part of their recent history that almost inevitably comes up. It’s called the “Invincibles” season. The memories of that season must still bring tears of joy to the eyes of the Arsenal fans who saw their team achieve that exceptional feat that season and also the newer fans who can take that season as inspiration to keep believing in their team. The season gave birth to so many modern day legends. They even followed it up with a Champions League final where they eventually lost to a rampant Barcelona. What many of us often forget about is the transfer season that came before that season.
The 2003-04 summer transfer window saw then Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger bring I some reinforcements, a mixture of youth and experience in the likes of Cesc Fabregas, who later went on to be the club captain, Gael Clichy, Jose Antonio Reyes, Philippe Senderos, and the long serving Goalkeeper Jens Lehmann. All these signings played their parts in the invincible season, as well as in the club’s following years, making this transfer season one of the most productive in their history.
Leicester City (2015-16)
Miracles happen in football, but this kind miracle happens once in a lifetime. A club that was in the English third tiers, a couple of seasons earlier, comes up to the Premier League, and after only one season, clinches the title itself in the second. Pretty much unheard of ever before, almost bizarre. That’s what the 2015-16 was for Premier League fans. But for Leicester City, it was a dream that they never thought could come true. Their shrewd transfers right at the start of the season proved vital.
It was a collective effort that season. Yes, Jamie Vardy was instrumental, so was Riyad Mahrez, but the team that was built around them, was not flashy, but was fluent and efficient. Some of these very influential cogs in their machine were signed at the start of the season. Ngolo Kante was at the forefront of those signings, although, he didn’t have such a fan following as he has now. A midfield boss, is what the Premier League had got In Kante, as he still works his silent magic in the PL, though now, with Chelsea. The other additions that season included the eventual club captain Christian Fuchs, long-term faithful Shinji Okazaki, Daniel Amartey, Gokhan Inler, Yohan Benalouane, Demarai Gray, Robert Huth and Nathan Dyer, among others. The astonishing fact is that, they got all these vital players in a modest budget of 49.50m euros. Take that in, and move on.
Welcome to the Jose era of Chelsea. An era full of flamboyant football, a formidable attack backed up by a robust midfield and a reliable backline. Chelsea had it all. The man they appointed to achieve this balance, Jose Mourinho, was at the top of his game right then. He came in with a huge reputation from Porto, and he didn’t disappoint the Chelsea faithful, as well as the new multi-billionaire owner, Roman Abramovich. They really reshaped a team that had a mid-table finish as the priority of their season, before this reformation happened. The 2004-05 transfer season, thus, proved to be the one where Chelsea announced their presence, and inevitably, got a step ahead of the invincible Arsenal side who won the league unbeaten in the previous season.
The transfer season (including the summer and the winter one) saw big names in Chelsea history come through the doors. You name them – Didier Drogba, Petr Cech, Arjen Robben, Ricardo Carvalho, Paulo Ferreira, Tiago, Alex, and Mateja Kezman. Phew. Any defense would start sweating just from hearing those names. It’s known to all and sundry what this team achieved after that – The Premier League, the FA cup, the League Cup. They even got to the Champions League final, but lost agonizingly at the hands of PL rivals Manchester United on penalties. Didier Drogba and Petr Cech, though, later went on to win the competition with Chelsea in 2012. That team built by Jose will live in Chelsea’s football history for eternity.
Manchester City (2010-11)
Another 21st century powerhouse, Manchester City, came into action in 2007-08 with big money acquisitions like – Emmanuel Adebayor and Robinho. But their goals of becoming a Premier League heavyweight didn’t come to fruition overnight. They toiled hard with a few stars for a few seasons, before realizing that they needed more permanent solutions. After failing to secure a top four finish in the 2009-10 season, Manchester City thought it best to look for long term solutions and they found it necessary to build a team in order to achieve permanence of success, rather than to focus on big names only. The acquisitions were all well thought out by manager Roberto Mancini, and they proved to be essential in bringing future successes to the Citizens ranks.
With the likes of Vincent Kompany, Pablo Zabaleta, Gareth Barry and co already in the sheds, the added firepower enabled the team to move forward a notch ahead of their contemporaries at the time. The 2010-11 signings include club legends like – David Silva, Yaya Toure, Edin Dzeko, and Alexander Kolarov, as well as James Milner, Jerome Boateng and Mario Balotelli. This transformation laid the base for future signings like Sergio Aguero and Samir Nasri to come in and thrive, and also win various trophies, including City’s first PL title in 45 years.
Real Madrid (2009-10)
Real Madrid have long been the pace-setters of the transfer market. Football lovers have lost count of the number of Galacticos they have produced over the years. The late 1900s’ galactico with the Brazilian Ronaldo, Roberto Carlos, Figo, Beckham etc. was a history, and with a squad pretty much mediocre in terms of Real Madrid standards, the La Liga giants were finding it very difficult to cope up with the ever-evolving Barcelona and their midfield prowess, in general. They even had to digest humbling and embarrassing defeats at the hand of their long-time arch-rivals Barcelona in that period. And right then, a revolution took place in the Real ranks. At the helm of that reformation, was an entity called “Jose Mourinho” again. After his shrewd show at Chelsea, the Portuguese was handed over the reins at the Madrid based club and he instantly agreed to go on with the club’s plans to put together another bunch of stars in order to reinstate the dying prominence of the club.
In the summer transfer window of 2009, Real Madrid shook the world with shock after shock. One world record fee to another. At the end of the window, they had assembled one of the best-looking teams on paper the world has ever seen. They signed established and experienced players like Alvaro Arbeloa and Xabi Alonso from Liverpool. They also signed a promising youngster back then in Karim Benzema, from Lyon. But that was not it. Not at all. They still had two cards up their sleeves, two big ones at that. They went out all guns blazing and got hold of the two FIFA Balon d’Or winners from the previous two seasons – Kaka and Cristiano Ronaldo, from AC Milan and Manchester United, respectively. They broke all the transfer records at the time to get those two. Kaka didn’t really get to the heights expected from him in Real Madrid colors, but Cristiano Ronaldo’s name will be written in Real Madrid and footballing history in big bold and glazing golden colors. He has attained every honor there is in mother earth for Real Madrid and for himself. And make no mistake, he had been at the forefront of every success that Real Madrid saw in the best part of the last decade. He has been the poster boy of football since God-knows-when, and a true genius on the field. And 2009-10 was the transfer season when Real Madrid took hold of this gem and painted him white.
It is presumptuous to believe other 21st century giants like Barcelona, Manchester United, Juventus or Bayern Munich haven’t had any good transfers since the dawn of the century, as they, along with others, truly have had many high profile transfers and have been immensely successful too. But, they didn’t (or rather didn’t have to) go through any kind of full-on reformation in their squads. If anything, it’s a blessing for them, that they haven’t really had to break the banks that immensely to achieve what they have. But as football fans and enthusiasts, it is always exciting and refreshing to see transfers happen, and when teams go out all guns blazing like that, it is a sight to savor.