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Mercato 2022: The summer of central defenders

If this summer transfer window has seen several of the best attackers on the planet change air, it has also been punctuated by major movements among central defenders. Having become major players in the transfer window in recent years, their transfers can today be associated with sums of money still unsuspected 15 years ago. Zoom on these operations which animated this transfer window.

It’s no longer a secret to anyone: attracting the best players on the planet thanks to a boundless wallet has now become commonplace in football, and in sport by extension. If in the past, the players considered to be the most expensive were by far offensive elements, the trend has changed today. Indeed, clubs no longer hesitate to pay colossal sums for defenders and even more recently for goalkeepers. Amounts which, even 15 years ago, remained unimaginable for defensive players. A phenomenon that is constantly evolving and which is partly linked to the arrival of new wealthy players in football and the significant revaluation of television rights.

Central defenders become protagonists of the transfer window

Formerly mere players in the transfer market, central defenders, and by extension defenders, have seen their role evolve over the decades. While attacking players were once considered the most expensive part of a squad, the trend has changed dramatically in recent seasons. And the signing of full-back Benjamin Mendy at Manchester City in 2017 for €57 million played a catapult role in this change.

This summer, we are already adding up 8 transfers valued at over €30m just in central defenders. Headlining: Matthijs DeLigt, customary of the fact. The 22-year-old Batavian, who had already joined Juventus in 2019 for the astronomical sum of €85m, joined the Bayern Munich this summer for 80M€ bonuses included. Enough to appear in the TOP 3 of the biggest transfers of the summer. To replace it, the Juventus decided to bet on Bremer, voted best defender in Serie A last season with Torino. To secure the services of the Brazilian, the Bianconeri had to pay no less than 40M€. A sum which, 15 years ago, would not have been possible for a defender with 0 European Cup matches.

Bayern Munich spent €80 million including bonuses to recruit Matthijs de Ligt this summer. © Icon Sport

By way of comparison, during the 2006-2007 off-season transfer window, the cumulative price of the 10 biggest transfers among central defenders was €70m. A lower price … than the transfer of Matthijs de Ligt this summer. Because unlike 15 years ago, clubs can now bet and pay a high price for the “potential” of a young central defender. In 2019, Arsenal did not hesitate to spend €30 million to recruit William Saliba after just one pro season. 1 year later, Leicester had imitated the London club by dislodging Wesley Fofana in Saint-Etienne against €35m. Sums that were once reserved for “accomplished” central defenders such as for the transfer of Rio Ferdinand towards Manchester United in 2002 or even Lilian Thuram around the Juventus in 2001.

Ligue 1, breeding ground for talent

Among the list of heavyweights poached this summer, there are also several ex-talents from Ligue 1. The French international Jules Kounde is the figurehead of the phenomenon. Arrived at Sevilla FC from Bordeaux in 2019 – the Sevillians did not hesitate to bet €35 million on Koundé, then 20 years old – the 23-year-old defender signed up this summer with the barca against €50 million. Same story for its hinge partner Diego Carlos, who also left Andalusia this summer. The former Nantes went to AstonVilla compared to €31 million this summer.

Jules Koundé joined FC Barcelona for €50m this summer. © Icon Sport

The Magpies of Newcastlenow under the aegis of a Saudi investment fund, did not hesitate on their side to put 37 M€ on the table for the Lille Sven Botman (22 years old). In the same vein, the Hammers of West Hamused to shopping in Ligue 1, spent €35m to dislodge the Rennes and Moroccan international Nayef Aguerd.

The Premier League, standard-bearer of the phenomenon

If we take a closer look, 5 of the 8 biggest purchases of centre-backs this summer have been made by Premier League resident clubs. A trend that has been observable for several years now and which is partly linked to the significant revaluation of television rights and the constant arrival of new wealthy investors on the English market.

This summer, Manchester United did not fumble on the file Lisandro Martinez, recruited for just over €57m from Ajax. Customary Red Devils because they had already recruited Harry Maguire for €87m in 2019, making the Englishman the most expensive defender in history. On his side, chelsea brought Kalidou Koulibaly for €38m, a sum that might seem modest given the quality of the player, but who only had one year left on his contract with Naples.

Senegalese Kalidou Koulibaly left Napoli to join Chelsea this summer. © Icon Sport

On their side, Newcastle, West Ham or AstonVillaunusual clubs in the TOP 5 in the Premier League, have nevertheless spent around thirty million euros to enlist the former central defenders of Ligue 1 Sven Botman, Nayef Aguerd and Diego Carlos.

An air of summer 2019

And the trend is reminiscent of that observed 3 years ago. Indeed, if the 2019 off-season transfer window had been marked by the signings ofEden Hazard at Real Madrid,Antoine Griezmann at Barca or even from the Portuguese promise Joao Felix at Atletico, it had also been punctuated by major moves in central defenders.

Harry Maguire, recruited for 87 M€ by Manchester United in 2019, is the most expensive defender in history. © Icon Sport

Harry Maguire then at Leicester, had joined Manchester United in historic proportions by becoming the most expensive defender in history (€87m). After a sensational European campaign, Matthijs de Ligt, only 19 years old, joined him the Juventus Torino for €85 million. 5 M€ more than what had to have been spent Bayern Munich to poach French Lucas Hernández from Atletico Madrid. Less expensive but still substantial, Eder Militao left Porto to join the real Madrid against €50 million. After just one season as a professional, the promising William Saliba joined him Arsenal for €30 million. his eldest Jules Kounde and now teammate in Blues, landed him at the Sevilla FC for €35 million.

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