In our day and age, we seem to know every single transfer that happens. You never get those moments of ‘when the heck did he join THEM?’, anymore. Football is almost as much about the off-field antics as it is the actual sport on it. And the transfer merry-go-round is right at the heart of all the drama that accompanies the spectacle on the pitch. This realistic view on the current state of top-flight football is certainly truthful, however, I’m here to discuss the recent Premier League transfers that I feel have gone fairly under-the-radar. The type of transfer that when you check BBC Sport’s ‘Transfer’ page, you’re thoroughly confused that it happened. Whether these are well-known, well talked about, and very obvious signings, or not; well, you’ll be the judge of that, but these signings are ones I’ve heard very little about at all.
1. Bertrand Traore to Aston Villa
Aston Villa are doing BUSINESS this summer, and they’re taking it seriously. With the signings of Ollie Watkins, and a certain Argentine goalie, as well as Bertrand Traore and Matty Cash; the Villains look like they’re strengthening well. The well-documented arrivals of Watkins and Cash meant I was surprised to see that the transfer of Lyon’s pacy winger to the Midlands was seemingly smaller news.
Born in Burkina Faso, the attacker came through the youth ranks at Chelsea. Where he always looked destined to be able to break into the Blues’ first team. However after 10 league starts, and two fairly good loans away, Traore was sold for a measly sum of £8.8 million. Olympique Lyonnais were his suitors, and he went on to feature for three years at the French side.
The 25-year-old, right winger could be exactly what Villa need. In their last match, a 1-0 win over 10-man Sheffield United, the Midlanders featured Trezeguet on the right wing. Although a competent and occasionally exciting player, the Egyptian is more of a defensive wide-man, than an out-and-out attacker. Bertrand fits a new direction. Alongside Watkins and Jack Grealish, on paper, this looks to be an exciting front three.
How Good Was He For Lyon?
He netted 33 times in 125 games in all competitions for Lyon, thats a goal to game ratio of 1:3.7. Coming off the right wing, and scoring an average 10 goals a season would be an excellent addition to Aston Villa’s Premier League survival hopes. There is always two sides to a story though. Last season was Bertrand Traore’s worst for a long time. With four goal involvements (one goal, three assists), it is not pretty reading for the Burkina Faso international. That being said, he actually only played the full 90 minutes on four occasions in the league, and of course, the league was curtailed after only 23 matches.
If he can follow in the footsteps of the likes of N’golo Kante, Riyad Mahrez, Cesar Azpilicueta and Eden Hazard, on their path to success from France to England, then Villa have got themselves on hell of a player. It’d be £17 million well spent.
2. Mario Lemina to Fulham
When Southampton signed Mario Lemina from Juventus in 2017 for a fee of £18 million the Premier League fans were purring. A classy central midfield player capable of screening the back four, whilst also able to play further up, and in a box-to-box role. The 2016 sale of destroyer Victor Wanyama left a significant gap in the Saint’s midfield. The ’17 arrival of Lemina was designed to fill that hole, but after two years of frustrating mediocracy, the south coasters developed both Pierre-Emile Højbjerg, and Oriel Romeu to take that spot. Lemina found himself out on loan at Turkish giants Galatasaray. He featured 20 times for the Istanbul side, but the club failed to win back-to-back titles. Now, he’s back in England, and Scott Parker has taken a punt on the now-27-year-old midfielder.
How Versatile Is He?
When playing under Marcelo Bielsa at Marseille, Lemina was a hot-prospect, and something that helped give him this pedigree was his versatility. For The Olympians, the Gabonese player featured in a defensive midfield role, an attacking playmaker role, a box-to-box slot, and also out on the right wing, and even full back. Everywhere it seems. As a player, he brought pace and power. As well as brilliant asset of winning the ball back, and getting the side on the attack quickly. Although his performance levels and effectivity has significantly decreased in recent years, Scott Parker could be the perfect man to get him back up to speed. Particularly, if he can mould him into a Parker type player.
Lemina has never been a goalscoring midfielder, so the Fulham faithful shouldn’t expect that from him. He’s netted eight goals in 177 career appearances. He is definitely more of a defensive asset, than an attacking one. If he is to rekindle his fire, then Fulham have a quality defensive midfielder for the season.
3. Marcal to Wolverhampton Wanderers
Another Lyon player heading to the Midlands. Wolves have signed left-back Marcal, 31, for a tiny sum of £1.78m. Instantly handed the no.5 shirt, the Brazilian player should expect some real tough competition for the starting XI slot. In Jonny Otto, Wolves have one brilliant left wing-back, and with Ruben Vinagre as the back-up, then there you have a well-balanced position. However, with Otto’s knee injury set to see him sidelined for a number of weeks, or months, Marcal must step-up quickly.
Standing at 5’8, the former Benfica (who would’ve guessed?!) full-back possesses a strong balance of attack and defence. At wing-back, he has the pace and attacking drive to get in the right positions to support the attacking play that Wolves employ. According to transfermarkt.com, he can also play centre-back. Despite being a smaller defender, his capability must allow him to perform that role admirably. In Wolves’ three-at-the-back formation, I’d have no issue with playing him as the LCB if necessary.
It’s by no means a marquee signing. The defender only played 11 Ligue 1 games last year, and even featured for the Lyon B side. Reaching 300 career games will be likely this season, as he has already reached 289. It could be a big year for the ageing defender.
4. Cengiz Ünder to Leicester City
It might only be a loan deal, but this one got me excited. The Turkish winger’s breakthrough came at the controversial Istanbul Basaksehir, but more people will know him from his three years at Roma. In Turkey’s top tier, he banged seven goals and five assists, as Basaksehir averaged 2.22 points per game, in a mightily impressive season. His ‘game to goal involvement’ ratio came it at 1:2.6 – not bad for a 19-year-old stepping up from the second tier. Roma purchased the exciting winger for €13.4m, and he started life in the Eternal City well too. Seven goals in 26 Serie A games were supplemented by a Champions League goal against Shakhtar Donetsk, and a huge assist in the amazing 3-0 victory over FC Barcelona – despite only playing 17 minutes.
In the following two years, the Turkish international scored six league goals and recorded seven assists (all of which came in 2018-19 Serie A campaign). He might’ve dropped off a little, but you know what they say about ‘form’ and ‘class’.
At 23, the player still has a lot of growing to do. But with the attributes he’s got, Brendan Rodgers might be the perfect man to get the best out of him. Pace, directness, and trickery. The winger is a nuisance for opposition midfielders and defenders. Leicester City fans should be interested and excited by the switch. It’ll provide excellent competition for Ayoze Perez on the right flank; possibly freeing the Spaniard up to go inside again.
5. Ki-Jana Hoever to Wolverhampton Wanderers
Yet another full-back signed by the golden side of the Midlands. The signing of Nelson Semedo was somewhat under-wraps until the announcement, but it was a big release to be fair. However, the Dutch right-back’s transfer from Liverpool was kept very quiet. As Diogo Jota moved to the Reds this summer for a large £41m fee, the youngster’s transfer the opposite way should be held with a lot of respect too.
Hoever was very well respected at Liverpool. He became the club’s youngster ever FA Cup player in early 2019 when he came on for the injured Dejan Lovren. Jurgen Klopp described him as a ‘joy to watch’ – high praise indeed. Unfortunately for the Dutch U18 international, the path to the Liverpool first team is a treacherous one, especially if you’re a right back. With fan favourite and star assister, Trent Alexander-Arnold looking like he’ll be the main man for MANY years to come, that back-up role is also seemingly filled. Another academy graduate, and fan favourite, Neco Williams has burst onto the scene. With massively impressive performances in the cup competitions last season, young Neco is a great talent too.
So, where does that leave the talented Ki-Jana?
Well, Wolves have just spent £9m on the 18-year-old. With the signing of Semedo, clearly Hoever won’t be the first XI starter – not yet anyway. Under Nuno he’ll have time to grow, and develop his game into a quality full back. He might not be used as an out-and-out wing back at all though. With Wolves continuing their five at the back formation, there is certainly a possibility that he could feature in the trio of centre backs. According to transfermarkt.com, 17 out of his 42 recorded performances have been at centre-back. Standing at exactly 6 foot, the player could excel in a similar role to what Kyle Walker did in England’s back three. Playing the RCB role, and being allowed to push forward, whilst also being the sweeper behind his fellow CB’s.
This route could be an interesting one for Ki-Jana to take, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Nuno hasn’t already considered it.
6. Emiliano Martinez to Aston Villa
When the Argentine goalkeeper sat down and cried on the phone to his family after lifting the FA Cup with Arsenal, then we knew it was his time to leave. Bernd Leno’s injury against Brighton paved the way for the serial-loanee keeper to finally get a prolonged period as the first choice in north London. He excelled. He had the Gunners’ faithful purring, and had every other team that needed a solid keeper looking for their cheque books. It was obvious that when Leno returned, he would be the first team keeper again. Rightly so. But for Emi Martinez, a man who had won the hearts of the nation, it was certainly time to leave.
Last season, Villa’s goalkeeper situation was… bad. Tom Heaton’s injury was a disaster. Ørjan Nyland isn’t Premier League quality, and the loan signing of veteran Pepe Reina didn’t work out too well either. No Villa keeper got into the top tiers of the clean sheet tallies, and the side’s 67 goals conceded was only better than one other team; 20th place Norwich City. If the Villains are to survive better this season then a new keeper was a must, and if Martinez’s previous appearances mean anything, then it shows they’ve found the right man.
£17m for a 28-year-old goalkeeper is a lot. But when he could be the essential part of the defensive puzzle, then it’s worth splashing the cash.
In Martinez’s nine games at the back end of last season, he only conceded nine goals. A stat of 1:1 (games to goals conceded) isn’t phenomenal, but it is much better than Villa’s total of 1:1.7 last season. In fact he retained that 1:1 ratio for the reason, then only Liverpool, Man City and Man United would’ve conceded less. In his first three games (excluding the game he was subbed on to replace Leno), he made back-to-back clean sheets – something Leno hadn’t done all season. Impressive. His reflex save ability was also impressive. His distribution was respectable. And his handling of arial balls was not a problem.
For Villa, he is likely to be tested more, and this could make or break him as a top flight keeper. But what he has shown so far is excellent.
It is an exciting time to be a neutral in the Premier League. These under-the-radar signings are as fascinating as the mega moves are that are thrusted in our faces all day long. Young Ki-Jana might prove to be top class wing-back and Villa’s new boys might fire them into the mid-table they desire. Lemina and Ünder could be exactly what their clubs need too. Interesting transfers. As we continue to move into a period where every team is awash with cash, then SO many transfers are going to keep happening. More, and more transfers means more under-the-radar ones! And they’re my favourite kind.
Well then. Were any of these players’ transfers under your radar? Have I missed any that I maybe should’ve included? What do you think of these actual signings? Let me know your thoughts. Tweet us @fanhub_football.