Transfer activity intensifies

Europe's footballers are getting ready to return to the training grounds in preparation for the season ahead. Awaiting them will be new faces and vacant lockers in the dressing room, the result of the wheeling and dealing that is a facet of the summer transfer market. The last two weeks have produced plenty of comings and goings, as reveals in its latest transfer round-up.

Back in the limelight once more following the return of Florentino Perez, Real Madrid have embarked on a highly ambitious recruitment drive after some relatively low-key signings in recent years. The latest addition to a fantasy Merengue front line already featuring Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaka is French striker Karim Benzema, while Spain international Raul Albiol has been drafted in from Valencia to reinforce the defence.

There has also been plenty of transfer activity in Barcelona, where Espanyol have added an international dimension to their squad by bringing in Japanese playmaker Shunsuke Nakamura, who bewitched Celtic supporters during four seasons in Scotland. Los Periquitos have also snapped up young Israeli striker Ben Sahar, who will be out to impress after a luckless spell with Chelsea.

Elsewhere in La Liga, Atletico Madrid have strengthened their rearguard with the acquisition of experienced centre-half Juanito from recently relegated Real Betis, while Miguel de las Cuevas has swapped the red and white stripes of Los Colchoneros for those of Sporting Gijon.

The cheque book has been out in Manchester, thanks in no small part to Ronaldo's high-profile departure from United. Arriving in his place is Ecuadorian attacking midfielder Luis Antonio Valencia, a revelation at the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™ and an inspirational force for Wigan over the last three seasons. City rivals have been busy too, acquiring Paraguayan goalgetter Roque Santa Cruz on the back of his two seasons at Blackburn Rovers.

West Ham have added even more of a Latin touch to the English top flight by acquiring the services of Chilean midfielder Luis Jimenez on loan from Inter Milan, while Wigan and Birmingham City have followed suit by drafting in Spanish midfielder Jordi Gomez from Espanyol and Ecuadorian defender Giovanny Espinoza from Barcelona Guayaquil respectively.

Liverpool spared in no expense in persuading Glen Johnson to leave Portsmouth, where the young England defender managed to resurrect his career after a lengthy spell on the bench at Chelsea. Arsenal have stayed loyal to their policy of signing gifted youngsters by recruiting Ajax's Belgian defender Thomas Vermaelen. Finally Stuart Taylor has ended his stint as goalkeeping understudy at Aston Villa to join his former captain Gareth Barry at Manchester City.

Like the Premier League, Serie A has also been mining South America's rich seams of talent. Lazio have signed experienced Argentinian goalkeeper Albano Bizarri from Catania, while his compatriot Nicolas Bertolo has left Banfield for Palermo. Bolstering Udinese's ranks are Chilean forward Fabian Orellana and Colombian midfielder Victor Ibarbo, who have joined I Bianconeri from Audax Italiano and Atletico Nacional of Medellin respectively.

A successful campaign with Nacional of Madeira has earned Brazilian sharpshooter Nene a move to Cagliari, and Napoli, who know a thing or two about South American players following Diego Maradona's distinguished sojourn, have splashed out on Siena's Colombian defender Camilo Zuniga and have also brought Italy goalkeeper Morgan de Sanctis back home after his spells with Sevilla and Galatasaray. Taking his place between the posts for Cim Bom will be Argentinian shotstopper Leo Franco, formerly with Atletico Madrid. Gala have also strengthened their front line with the purchase of Ivorian livewire Kader Keita, who failed to impress with Lyon.

Greece's ruling elite have gone to every effort to keep up with Europe's finest. Leading the way are Panathinaikos, who have called on the services of Djibril Cisse, bought from Marseille after a loan spell at Sunderland, and Ajax's Brazilian left winger Leonardo. The man charged with the task of supplying them with quality balls is UEFA EURO 2004 winner Kostas Katsouranis, who returns to his native country following three seasons at Benfica.

Reigning champions Olympiakos are intent on retaining their title and have lured seasoned Swedish defender Olof Mellberg away from Juventus with that aim in mind. Domestic rivals Panionios and Aris Salonika have also played the international card by securing the respective services of Croatian goalscorer Bosko Balaban from Dinamo Zagreb and Manchester City's Irish striker Ian Daly.

Over in Portugal, Sporting Lisbon and Benfica have been strengthening their squads in an attempt to unseat Porto. Os Leões have rescued Chilean prodigy Matias Fernandez from the Villarreal bench, and after performing a similar duty at Real Madrid Javier Saviola has been reunited with his equally gifted former River Plate team-mate Pablo Aimar at the Estadio da Luz.

The Argentinian duo will be supported by the speed and skills of Benfica's new recruit from Cruzeiro Ramires, who has just enjoyed an excellent FIFA Confederations Cup with the Seleçao. Further heartening news for Porto's rivals came when their star player, Argentina international Lucho Gonzalez, decamped to Ligue 1 giants Olympique Marseille.

Also in France, there have been several changes in the goalkeeping department. Paris St Germain agreed to sell international custodian Mickael Landreau to Lille, with seven-time French league winner Gregory Coupet coming in from a spell of bench-warming at Atletico Madrid to replace him. Cedric Carrasso's superb season at Toulouse earned him a move to newly crowned champions Bordeaux, with former Le Mans No1 Yohann Pele taking over from him at TFC. There has also been a changing of the goalkeeping guard at St Etienne, with Jodi Viviani switching to Grenoble, and Vincent Plante arriving from Caen to take over from him.

There have been plenty of outfield changes too, with Monaco offering ex-Caen striker Steve Savidan a fresh challenge and PSG persuading Turkish hitman Mevlut Erding to leave Sochaux. Similarly, Rennes have offered another new home to Japanese midfielder Junichi Inamoto, who leaves Eintracht Frankfurt in the latest stop on a lengthy European tour that has taken in Arsenal and Galatasaray to name but two clubs clubs.

The man stepping into his shoes in Frankfurt is Selim Teber, who made such an impact with Hoffenheim last term, as did Franco-Senegalese forward Demba Ba, who has earned himself a move to Stuttgart, where his brief will be to make up for the departure of Mario Gomez to Bayern Munich. Hoffenheim can at least now call on the experience of Croatian defender Josip Simunic, a veteran of 222 matches for Hertha Berlin.

Finally, Borussia Moenchengladbach have reluctantly bid farewell to their bright young hope Marko Marin, who has departed for Werder Bremen. By way of compensation, however, they have drafted in Venezuela international Juan Arango, a proven performer in five largely productive seasons with La Liga outfit Mallorca.

Our last port of call in our transfer round-up ends in Mexico, where Cameroonian midfielder Alain N'Kong has joined Indios Juarez and Angolan midfielder Antonio Mendonca has linked up with Puebla. Two more Mexican Primera Division sides to venture into the market are America, who have bought Colombian defender Aquivaldo Mosquera from Sevilla, and Cruz Azul, who have taken Derby County's Argentinian forward Emanuel Villa off their hands.