Shrewd switches as kick-off looms
The stars of Germany and France's top flight are already back in competitive action, with their English counterparts set to follow them this weekend, though it remains strictly pre-season in Spain and Italy. What these competitions and leagues across Planet Football do have in common, however, is a determination to complete their transfer dealings before the window slams shut at the end of the month. FIFA.com takes at look at the most notable moves of the last fortnight.
Following hot on the heels of Kaka, Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema, Raul Albiol and Alvaro Arbeloa, the latest established international to join the Real Madrid revolution is Spain's Xabi Alonso, who has joined from Liverpool. The cultured midfielder, whose father played for Los Blancos' fierce rivals Barcelona during the 1980s, won the UEFA Champions League in his first season in England after arriving from Real Sociedad in 2004. Charged with the daunting task of replacing Alonso is Italy's Alberto Aquilani, who thus bids farewell to fellow home-grown Roma icons Francesco Totti and Daniele De Rossi.
Currently injured, Aquilani will not be involved in the Reds' Premier League opener away to a Tottenham Hotspur side likely to include Cameroon defender Sebastien Bassong, brought in from relegated Newcastle United. Also leaving the Magpies is Senegal's Habib Beye, who broke off talks with Hull City to sign for Europa League contenders Aston Villa. The Tigers promptly bounced back by signing Stoke City's Nigerian midfielder Seyi Olofinjana, Reading's Irish winger Stephen Hunt, forward Kamel Ghilas of Algeria, snapped up from Celta Vigo, and Villarreal's powerful US front-runner Jozy Altidore on loan. Portsmouth, meanwhile, have brought in Lyon bench-warmer Frederic Piquionne to boost their forward line as well as convincing former Finnish international keeper Antti Niemi, who put away his gloves in September 2008 after a 17-year professional career, to come out of retirement.
Milan go Dutch
Also on the move was another veteran shotstopper, 35-year-old Italian Flavio Roma, who leaves Monaco to join AC Milan's contingent of 30-something custodians, which includes Dida, 35, Christian Abbiati and Marco Storari, both 32. It is all change between the sticks at Palermo and Genoa, with the clubs simply swapping their last lines of defence. Thus Genoa's Brazilian Rubinho heads to Sicily, while Marco Amelia, part of Italy's 2006 FIFA World Cup-winning squad, goes the opposite way.
At the other end of the field of play, the Milan giants have secured the signature of Dutch goal-getter Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, part of Madrid's summer clearout. Over at neighbours Inter, coach Jose Mourinho has added Twente's promising Austrian Marko Arnautovic on loan to a front-line already boasting Samuel Eto'o, Diego Milito and Mario Balotelli. Making way was veteran Argentinian forward Julio Cruz, with the 34-year-old former Bologna and Inter man taking his Serie A nous to Lazio.
A former team-mate of Cruz in Lombardy, midfielder Cristiano Zanetti, has made the switch from Juventus to Fiorentina, having failed to fully establish himself at Juve since joining in 2006. The 32-year-old thus returns to his first club, which he left no fewer than 13 years ago. A new face in Serie A is Romanian defender Dorin Goian, who has signed for Palermo after five seasons at Steaua Bucharest.
Turning to Germany, and the Bundesliga's reputation as an attacking haven has been boosted by the arrival of Nigerian front-man Obafemi Martins from Newcastle. He joins reigning champions Wolfsburg, where he will compete for a starting berth with the record-breaking forward pair of Brazilian Grafite and Bosnia's Edin Dzeko. Stuttgart, for their part, have brought in Russian hitman Pavel Pogrebnyak, a UEFA Cup winner in 2008 with Zenit St Petersburg, to fill the shooting boots of Bayern Munich new boy Mario Gomez.
The Russian championship thus loses one of its biggest assets, though the arrival of two experienced South Americans should go some way to redressing the balance. Chilean flyer Mark Gonzalez, a former Liverpool winger, has jetted in to Lokomotiv Moscow from relegated Real Betis, while Brazilian midfielder Wagner, a Copa Libertadores finalist this year with Cruzeiro, joins capital rivals CSKA.
Travelling the opposite way across the Pacific is Ecuador's Edison Mendez, who draws a line under three years at PSV Eindhoven in favour of a return home to Liga de Quito, where he played during 2005/06. Having failed to settle in Italy with Sampdoria, the Argentinian Jonathan Bottinelli has sealed a definitive return to first club San Lorenzo having spent the last six months there on loan. Joining him at El Ciclón is former Valencia and Inter Milan left-midfielder Kily Gonzalez, who returned from Europe to sign for Rosario Central in 2006.
Rounding up this global tour is the new challenge facing former Brazil greats Junior Baiano and Romario, two men who could easily have been included in FIFA.com's recent article 'Football's elder statesmen'. The former, a runner-up at France 1998 with the Seleção, has left humble Volta Redonda to join American second-tier outfit Miami FC at the age of 39. The inimitable O Baixinho (Shorty), now 43, has decided to come out of retirement to pull on the shirt of Rio de Janeiro state second-division side America, the team his late father supported.