After a summer dominated by Euro 2016, astronomical transfer fees and now the Olympics, it’s time for the Premier League to return to centre stage this weekend as the 2016/17 season kicks off in style. Excitingly, domestic leagues in France, Spain, Italy and Germany won’t be far behind.
So while the talk on these shores have been dominated by Ibrahimovic, Pogba, Stones et al, what big-name signings might you have missed from our European neighbours? Here are FIVE of the best to keep a close eye on…
1. Gonzalo Higuain, Napoli to Juventus, £75m
Given the whopping fee involved, you’re unlikely to have missed the news that Argentinian international striker Higuain has swapped Naples for Turin in a move that was at the time the third most expensive ever recorded. Paul Pogba’s world-record fee has not only helped Juve pay for Higuain, but has since bumped the former Real Madrid man striker into fourth place for transfer records.
Not that the figures involved should deter the 28-year-old, who is no stranger to commanding a high price - he signed for Real Madrid from River Plate in 2006 for £10m and then moved to Napoli in 2013 for £35m.
Of course his rising value reflects the increasing number of goals that he consistently adds to his career total. He followed 107 La Liga goals in 190 games for Madrid with 71 Serie A goals in 104 league games for Napoli, and with this prolific marksman on board Juventus can be confident of securing their sixth consecutive Italian title.
2. Renato Sanches, Benfica to Bayern Munich, £27m
It didn’t take long for new Bayern Munich boss Carlo Ancelotti to identify his chief targets, with Mats Hummels becoming the latest Borussia Dortmund player to defect to their arch rivals, while Portuguese star Renato Sanches made the switch from Benfica for an identical fee.
The deal was signed and agreed by May, which proved a masterstroke by the Bavarian side as Sanches went on to star at Euro 2016, meaning Bayern’s biggest European rivals could only watch and curse, knowing a deal was already done.
The 18-year-old showed maturity beyond his years, winning the Young Player of the Tournament thanks to his composure on the ball, powerful running and clinical finishing. Having already inspired his country to their first ever tournament win, Sanches will play with no fear and is sure to make a telling impression on the Bundlesliga.
3. Kevin Gameiro, Sevilla to Atletico Madrid, £27m.
Given France’s relative striker shortage due to Karim Benzema’s unavailability, Gameiro’s absence from Didier Deschamps’ Euro 2016 squad raised eyebrows all over Europe following another prolific season in which the Sevilla striker had bagged 16 La Liga goals.
Nonetheless he’s put the disappointment of missing out behind him to join up with one man who did make a lasting mark on the Euros, compatriot Antoine Griezmann. The pair are likely to make a potent pairing up top for Atletico, with Gameiro having turned down more lucrative offers elsewhere, including Barcelona, in order to join Diego Simeone’s tightly-knit squad.
Having experienced recurring success in the Europa League with Sevilla, the 29-year-old will be keen to test himself in the Champions League, with last year’s finalists sure to be strengthened by Gameiro’s savvy and selfless forward play.
4. Mario Goetze, Bayern Munich to Borussia Dortmund, £18m
Reversing the trend for Borussia’s star men to scamper to Bayern, Dortmund’s prodigal son Mario Goetze makes an emotional return to the side he left in controversial circumstances in 2013. As while his winning goal in the 2014 World Cup final may have made him a national hero, his club form has wilted, rarely able to force his way into a formidable Bayern team.
And so the 24-year-old follows a similar path to the likes of Shinji Kagawa and Nuri Sahin in returning to Dortmund after moves elsewhere didn’t work out. Whether Goetze is welcomed back as warmly as his teammates is another matter - after all, they sought pastures new abroad, not to title rivals and sworn enemies.
Nonetheless Goetze will know that any frost that accompanies his reception will soon be thawed if he can recreate the on-pitch magic of yore, when he helped Dortmund secure the Bundesliga title in successive years from 2010-2012 under Jurgen Klopp.
5. Hatem Ben Arfa, Nice to PSG, Free
The French champions have once again spent big this summer, bringing in Poland international Grzegorz Krychowiak from Sevilla for nearly £30m, alongside Real Madrid winger Jese for just over £20m. But arguably their most exciting transfer is one they’ve brought in for no free at all: Hatem Ben Arfa.
The mercurial attacker appears to have put the off-field issues that blighted his early career behind him following a stunning season in Nice where he scored 17 goals, more than double his previous season-best for goalscoring. In turn he forced his way into Didier Deschamps’ thinking for Euro 2016, and earned himself a move to France’s best side.
At 29-years-old, the hope is that Ben Arfa will appreciate that this is likely to be his final chance to prove his undoubted class at the highest level of European football. With skill and flair in abundance, new PSG boss Unai Emery will be hoping that Ben Arfa has added maturity and consistency to his renowned box of tricks. Should that be the case, he is sure to be one of the standout performers in Ligue 1, and possibly even the Champions League.