Early moves catch the eye
© AFP

Although the dust from frenetic title battles and relegation tussles has barely settled, the race to bolster squads in preparation for next season has begun in earnest. Whether swooping for a seasoned veteran or unearthing the latest young hotshot, clubs have been quick off the mark to pounce on this year’s top deals. FIFA.com reviews the current state of play in the transfer market.

Following Mesut Ozil and Sami Khedira’s arrivals last summer, Real Madrid have again foraged in the Bundesliga for talent, recruiting the Turkish midfield pair of Nuri Sahin and Hamit Altintop from Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich respectively. While acquiring Sahin forced Los Blancos to dig deep in their pockets, coach Jose Mourinho will have appreciated the lack of up-front fees required to sign the out-of-contract Altintop, an experienced, versatile midfielder.

Sahin may well prove worthy of the investment, however, given his current status as player of the year in Germany. “I’m ready to make the jump to La Liga,” confirmed the 22-year-old playmaker. “Becoming a Real player is a dream come true, but that isn’t my goal. My goal is to be successful here,” he added confidently.

Los Blancos have also agreed terms with 24-year-old winger Jose Callejon, a former Madrid youth product who returns after playing over 100 matches for Espanyol.

While Spanish football fans await Barcelona’s inevitable riposte, other clubs in La Liga have already entered the fray. Valencia have picked up France defender Adil Rami from Ligue 1 champions Lille, as well as Getafe midfielder Daniel Parejo. Goalkeeper Miguel Angel Moya, meanwhile, has moved in the opposite direction, leaving Los Chés to sign for the Madrid-based side. Fellow custodian Cesar Sanchez has also departed the Mestalla to join Villarreal.

Becoming a Real player is a dream come true, but that isn’t my goal. My goal is to be successful here.
Nuri Sahin

Two other players to bid farewell to Getafe are Uruguayan forward Juan Albin, who will perform for Espanyol next season, and fellow front-man Manu del Moral, who has moved south to ply his trade with Sevilla. The Andalusian club’s transfer activity did not end there, as they have also brought in attacking midfielder Piotr Trochowski from Hamburg, where the Germany international enjoyed a successful five-and-a-half year spell.

Just down the road from the city of Seville, ambitious Malaga have already made several forays in the transfer market, in line with their stated long-term aim of competing with Spain’s big guns. Los Boquerones have brought in Spain left-back Nacho Monreal from Osasuna, and will also be able to call on the services of skilful Argentinian Diego Buonanotte, signed in January from River Plate, then loaned back to the Buenos Aires club until the end of the Argentinian season.

But the best was yet to come for Malaga fans, in the shape of veteran Dutch goal machine Ruud van Nistelrooy, who will once again create havoc in Spanish defences just two years after leaving Real Madrid for Hamburg.

The German side have not been idle themselves, taking advantage of new sporting director Frank Arnesen’s Stamford Bridge connections to add four Chelsea fringe players to their squad, namely 23-year-old Michael Mancienne, as well as Jeffrey Bruma, Jacopo Sala and Gokhan Tore, all 19 years of age.

Brazilian defender Rafinha has also packed his bags for the Bundesliga, a championship he is already familiar with, having previously played with Schalke before spending a year at Genoa. His destination this time around is Bayern Munich, whose other reinforcements include Nils Petersen, top scorer in the German second division this season with Energie Cottbus, and much sought-after international keeper Manuel Neuer.

The former Schalke No1 will not have to deal with competition from Thomas Kraft at the Allianz Arena, the young shot-stopper choosing to play for Hertha Berlin next season, where he will rub shoulders with another recent arrival from Bayern, defensive midfielder Andreas Ottl.

Champions Borussia Dortmund, meanwhile, have secured the signings of Ilkay Gundogan from Nuremberg – as a replacement for Sahin – and forward Ivan Perisic from Club Brugge. But the most impressive piece of transfer business in Germany may belong to Bayer Leverkusen, who have convinced the young Mainz forward Andre Schurrle to put pen to paper.

In France, Paris Saint-Germain are already a step ahead of their rivals following their capture of pacey striker Kevin Gameiro, whose record of 56 goals for Lorient since 2008 – 21 of which came in season 2010/11 – had made him the hottest property in France. PSG have also acquired the signature of Rennes keeper Nicolas Douchez, who was called up to the French national squad last summer by Laurent Blanc.

Marseille have relieved Lorient of an on-song player too, Morgan Amalfitano moving south from Brittany to fight for a place in L’OM’s midfield. Champions Lille have been getting in on the act as well, picking up former France international Benoit Pedretti from Auxerre as a replacement for the Newcastle United-bound Yohan Cabaye.

In England, the market has yet to properly come to life, although Manchester United have secured a big-money deal for Blackburn’s Phil Jones. Arsenal have decided to stick with youth, acquiring Charlton’s 19-year-old Finnish defender, Carl Jenkinson. Conversely, neighbours Tottenham have opted for experience in the form of American keeper Brad Friedel, who celebrated his 40th birthday last month.

The team that gets him will have done a great bit of business. He’s one of football’s last great magicians.
Alessandro Nesta on Andrea Pirlo

Andrea Pirlo, who at 32 is also approaching the ‘veteran’ category, has left AC Milan for Juventus. “The team that gets him will have done a great bit of business. He’s one of football’s last great magicians,” said former team-mate Alessandro Nesta.

The Turin-based outfit had further good news for their fans, announcing the arrivals of Swiss left-back Reto Ziegler from Sampdoria, and midfielder Michele Pazienza from Napoli. I Partenopei have a UEFA Champions League campaign to prepare for, and with that in mind have made two high-profile signings: Italian defender Domenico Criscito from Genoa and Argentinian midfielder Mario Alberto Santana from Fiorentina.

Crowned champions of Italy just a few weeks ago, AC Milan have not wasted any time in setting about strengthening their squad. The initial additions are of a defensive nature, with Frenchman Philippe Mexes joining from Roma, and Nigerian Taye Taiwo coming in from Marseille.

Lazio, in contrast, have concentrated on their attacking deficiencies, bringing in free-scoring Germany international Miroslav Klose, who had recently found playing time at Bayern hard to come by thanks to the form of Mario Gomez.

On the other side of the Atlantic, the Mexican league is set to welcome an old acquaintance back into the fold. Argentinian winger Cesar Delgado, who left a lasting impression at Cruz Azul before leaving for Lyon, has returned to the Primera Division, but to defend the jersey of Monterrey this time around.

A similar situation has arisen in Brazil, where Gilberto Silva is back after nine years grafting on the pitches of Europe. The defensive midfielder spent the last three seasons with Panathinaikos, having previously starred for Arsenal. The 2002 FIFA World Cup™ winner has joined Gremio.