Jude Bellingham and Harry Kane will be under the microscope after high-profile transfers in a market now shaken up by Saudi clubs
The list of clubs lining up for the 2023/24 Champions League contains plenty of familiar names, with holders Manchester City taking their place alongside fellow perennials such as Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern München, Benfica and Paris Saint-Germain. As for the players who will be wearing those famous shirts… well, that’s a different story.
Come rain or shine, economic downturn or global pandemic, the summer transfer market always delivers intrigue aplenty. Take 14-time European champions Madrid, for example, who will be starting a new campaign and perhaps a new age altogether. For the first time since 2008/09, the Spanish giants will supply a squad list missing the name Karim Benzema, the French forward having racked up 354 goals for the club before joining Saudi Arabian side Al-Ittihad in June.
Absent too will be Marco Asensio, one of several new faces in the Paris roster. Not that it has all been one-way traffic, of course, and one of the most tantalising questions this season will be how Jude Bellingham fits in at the Bernabéu. The 20-year-old England international admitted his “heart was close to stopping” when he heard Madrid wanted to snap him up from Dortmund, and he will wear the No5 shirt in homage to club great Zinédine Zidane. Can he make anything like the same impact?
Another new arrival under the spotlight will be Harry Kane. The England captain recently joined Bayern in one of the longest-running transfer sagas of the summer, having struck 280 goals for Tottenham Hotspur before the move. The German champions, who have also recruited Napoli centre-back Minjae Kim, will be hoping Kane can prove the missing link up front.
Arsenal are one team giving the Champions League a different look this term, the Gunners returning for the first time since 2016/17. They too have dug deep to snare an England regular, bringing Declan Rice on board to seize midfield control. Fans will also keep a close eye on Kai Havertz, a Champions League winner with Chelsea in 2020/21, though fellow new-boy, former Ajax defender Jurriën Timber, has already sadly picked up a serious injury.
Everywhere you look, fascinating moves have heightened expectations, such as Sandro Tonali becoming the most expensive Italian player of all time following his switch from AC Milan to Newcastle. However, there is no denying the story of the summer, and that has been the newfound financial power wielded by the Saudi Pro League. The Arab nation’s Public Investment Fund has invested huge sums to attract some of football’s banner names, and after Cristiano Ronaldo blazed the trail in January, many more have followed – Benzema being joined by fellow Champions League victors including Neymar, Riyad Mahrez, Sadio Mané, Fabinho, Jordan Henderson, Roberto Firmino and N’Golo Kanté.
Still, not everyone has succumbed to the Saudi lure, with Lionel Messi notably preferring to join David Beckham’s Inter Miami. Crucially, though, he too has left the European stage, having made his Champions League debut in the 2004/05 season. Truly, his departure spells the end of an era – and the dawn of a new one, as Europe’s heavyweight sides set off down the road to Wembley with shuffled packs all round.