There may not have been a new Galáctico superstar signing at Real Madrid this summer, and Barcelona have focussed more on bringing in young, versatile players to add balance and competition for places within their squad, rather than splash €80 million in another Neymar or Luis Suárez. But there has still been plenty of interesting acquisitions made by La Liga clubs this summer.
Some have come relatively cheap, in adherence to the model of bringing in young, undiscovered players with the potential for huge re-sale value that clubs like Sevilla and Villarreal have become known for.
While others have stretched the budget of the buying club a little more: André Gomes moving from Valencia to Barça for €55 million, for example, or Álvaro Morata’s return to Real Madrid from Juventus for €30 million.
But, regardless of price, here are the five signings – who are all newcomers to La Liga – that could have the biggest impact in Spain’s top division this season.
Barcelona have signed Samuel Umtiti from French side Lyon for €25 million. The 22-year-old central defender was superb last season, as he helped l’OL finish runners-up to Paris Saint Germain in Ligue 1.
So impressive were Umtiti’s performances that when Jeremy Mathieu and Raphaël Varane were ruled out of Euro 2016 with injuries, France boss Didier Deschamps drafted the Cameroon-born defender in to take their place. And when Adil Rami’s tournament was also ended by injury, Umtiti made his senior international debut in the quarter-finals of the tournament against Iceland.
Umtiti’s coolness under pressure and sublime passing skills made him a natural fit at the highest level, and he went on to star for Les Bleus in the semi-final against Germany and the disappointing final defeat to Portugal.
Umtiti will become an asset for Barcelona due to his physicality, speed and, above all, passing ability.
The Frenchman will be able to slot into the Barça backline to partner either Gerard Piqué of Javier Mascherano, who are comfortable in possession and accomplished passers in their own right. But it is Umtiti’s vertical passing that sets him apart. When the Blaugrana build from the back, midfield pivot Sergio Busquets is the man who collects possession in deep areas and looks to break through the opposition’s first line of defence with penetrative passes; Umtiti is also able to do this, offering Barça a new dimension.
Umtiti will become a mainstay of the Barça defence for years to come and, in the current market, his price represents a genuine bargain.
In 2010, Benfica drafted in Boca Juniors attacking midfielder Nicolas Gaitan to replace his Real Madrid-bound compatriot Ángel di Maria. In his six seasons with the Lisbon giants, Gaitan was consistently one of the Águias’s most potent attacking weapons. Whether playing on the wing or more centrally as a number 10, Gaitan’s blend of pace, dribbling skills, eye for a killer pass and goal-scoring ability marked him out as arguably the best player in Portugal during his stay in the Primeira Liga.
After several years of speculation connecting him with a move away from the Estádio da Luz – most notably yearly links with a Manchester United switch – Gaitan has finally left Benfica to join Atlético Madrid in a €25 million deal.
The 28-year-old will be working under compatriot Diego Simeone at the Vicente Calderón, and how the fiery coach will fit Gaitan into his system is one of the most intriguing tactical question marks of the new season.
Atléti’s recent success has been built on their solid 4-4-2 formation, with Simeone also utilising a 4-5-1 shape for added protection in away games against higher calibre opposition. Gaitan does not have a natural position in either of these systems. The Argentina international is better suited to playing in one of the attacking midfield berths in a 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 set up.
The one area Gaitan could operate in within the current Atléti system would be as a withdrawn centre-forward, but that is where star man Antoine Griezmann does his best work.
So there’s a puzzle for Simeone to solve, but if he gets it right, Gaitan will become a star for Los Colchoneros.
Paulo Henrique Ganso
Sevilla’s €10 million capture of Paulo Henrique Ganso from São Paulo is one of the most intriguing transfers of the summer.
The 26-year-old playmaker was regarded as one of the hottest properties in Brazil in his late teens and early twenties. Having made his first-team breakthrough at Santos back in 2008, Ganso became a key figure in the Alvinegro Praiano’s three consecutive Campeonato Paulista titles from 2010 to 2012, as well as their 2011 Copa Libertadores triumph, and made his senior Brazil debut in 2010.
But Ganso’s relationship with the Santos fans was an uneasy one: he became labelled as a mercenary by the club’s supporters, relating to a 2010 deal for a third party company to acquire his image rights.
The youngster’s form began to tail off around this time, and the man once thought of as the future of Brazil’s midfield, did not feature for the Seleção from 2012 up until his recent selection in the 23-man Copa América Centenario squad.
Ganso left Santos to join rivals São Paulo four years ago. Being awarded the Tricolor’s number 10 shirt in 2014 coincided with a return to form for the now 26-year-old.
If Ganso can take his recent form with him to Sevilla, Los Rojiblancos could have a player of real quality on their hands.
In a transfer that has gone somewhat under the radar, Celta de Vigo have snapped up exciting Uganda-born Denmark winger Pione Sisto from FC Midtjylland.
Sisto will be a name familiar to those who saw his displays against Manchester United in the Europa League last season. Midtjylland produced one of the shock results of the season when they beat United 2-1 in the first leg of their round of 32 tie, with Sisto’s pace, power and dribbling skills wreaking havoc among the Red Devils’ defence.
And although the 20-time English champions went on to hammer the Danes 5-1 in the return fixture at Old Trafford, Sisto still managed to score an early goal to give United a fright.
The 21-year-old seems destined for a bright future, and the fact that Celta have picked him up for just €5 million, means that the Galicians could stand to make a hefty profit on Sisto in the not too distant future.
Another €5 million signing who could quadruple in value if all goes to plan this season, is 21-year-old Ecuadorian striker José Angulo, who has signed for Granada from Independiente del Valle.
The young forward has earned himself the reputation of being the hottest young prospect in Ecuador over the last two seasons, scoring 24 goals and registering five assists in 45 games since his first-team debut in 2015.
It was his performances in last season’s Copa Libertadores that brought Angulo to the wider attention of the South American football audience, as his six goals powered Independiente to the tournament final, only to lose out to Atlético Nacional, with the Colombian side winning 2-1 on aggregate over two legs.
With his pace and remarkably mature finishing ability, Angulo will be one to watch this season.
About the author – Ryan Baldi
Ryan is a Midlands based freelance sports writer specialising in European football. He has been fascinated with the continental game ever since he was presented with his first football kit at the age of 7 years old whilst on holiday in Spain – a Barcelona shirt with ‘Romario 10’ printed on the back. A contributor to numerous footballing websites, Ryan has also covered martial arts for local and national print publications. Ryan’s musings on European football can be found here.