The best things in life are free but don’t forget the six-figure contract or the agent fee. Okay, so Janet and Luther didn’t quite sing it like that but when Monaco is flashing the big bucks along with PSG, Manchester City and Chelsea like spoilt rich kids, it’s left to the rest to strengthen on a budget.
The transfers of Cavani, Falcao, Neymar, Isco and Negredo will understandably hog the headlines, but there are plenty of managers doing shrewd business to add the quality to improve performances and results in the fast approaching new season. Looking across Europe from the Premier League to La Liga, these are the best transfers secured minus the transfer fee.
Kolo Toure (Manchester City to Liverpool)
While Brendan Rodgers has been busy trying to unearth another Michu from La Liga, his most important piece of business could be saving Toure from the Manchester City subs bench. Rodgers acted swiftly after Jamie Carragher hung up his boots making Toure his first signing of the summer. Carragher formed an excellent partnership with Daniel Agger at the tail end of the season keeping the inconsistent Martin Skrtel out of the side. Toure has started alongside Agger in the opening pre-season friendlies and has the composure on the ball that Rodgers greatly values to go with a wealth of Premier League experience. Toure hasn’t played 30 league games since 2010 but looks set to get more first team action at Anfield than he did at City.
Massimo Ambrosini (AC Milan – Fiorentina)
The Viola were agonizingly close to securing Champions League football last season and the board has backed coach Vincenzo Montella once again in the transfer market with the signings of Mario Gomez and Joaquin. It’s a side brimming with creativity and the signing of Ambrosini will help share some of the defensive burden. At Milan Allegri opted for Muntari over the 36-year old to play in that deep lying midfield role in his more dynamic-looking side. The Champions League winner still proved his worth when called upon. He helped nullify Barcelona so effectively in the Champions League and still has the quality to make sure Fiorentina can mount a serious title challenge and qualify for the Champions League.
Martin Demichelis (Malaga to Atletico Madrid)
Inevitably given the financial problems that threatened to derail Malaga’s season the player exodus continued this summer with Isco, Joaquin, Toulalan and Iturra all leaving the club. Martin Demichelis also ended his stay at La Rosaleda joining his fellow Argentine Diego Simeone over at Atletico. Pellegrini built his Malaga side on a disciplined back line and while Demichelis lacks pace, his reading of the game and committed approach should fit in nicely with Simeone’s own footballing ethos. Back in the Champions League for the first time since the 2008/09 season, Demichelis brings a wealth of experience playing in the elite European cup competition and will join one of the meanest defences in La Liga last season.
Fernando Llorente (Athletic Bilbao to Juventus)
After the falling outs with Marcelo Bielsa and the backlash from Bilbao supporters when El Rey León decided to leave, the Spanish international finally made his move to the Bianconeri after signing back in January. Llorente will be vying with Tevez, Quagliarella and Matri to spearhead the attack of the current Scudetto holders. In his most fruitful years at Bilbao, Llorente flourished in the lone striker role. Last season Conte employed two forwards in attack, but in tighter games favoured the option of playing just one up front. Despite their dominance in Serie A, not one Juventus player managed to score 20 goals. In Llorente they have a player who brings an entirely new dimension to the forward line and could help provide the firepower the Old Lady needs to be more ruthless in the league and in Europe.
Eric Abidal (Barcelona to Monaco)
The Frenchman emotionally parted company with his beloved Barca and if he remains fit, still has plenty to offer. Along with Toulalan and Carvalho, Abidal will bring the experience and quality to match a star studded cast that includes Falcao, Rodriguez and Moutinho. Abidal made just five appearances for Barcelona last season but it’s clear that he is still a supremely talented defender with the composure and passing ability to challenge Greek international Georgios Tzavelas for the left back role. Ranieri has been fortunate to able to spend so big this summer but the signing of Abidal indicates he still wants players in his side that understand what it takes to launch a serious attempt to win Ligue 1 on their return to the top flight.