As football managers and technical staff pack away the swimming trunks and sun cream for another year, the serious business of sorting out their playing squads for a new season begins to gather pace. Several big money transfers have already happened and, while Neymar, Isco and Falcao to Barcelona, Real Madrid and Monaco respectively are probably the most high-profile names, the Premier League looks set to make more than its fair share of impressive signings this summer.
Apart from the aforementioned clubs, along with Paris St-Germain and Bayern Munich, there's little competition these days from the rest of Europe for the most desired names and with the recent TV rights windfall, England's top clubs are in pole position to snap up the talent.
Over the next few weeks I'll be analysing the transfer market, assessing the more interesting moves and trying to pick out this year's Michus – and Marins.
Unusually for a club that notoriously likes to wait until the very last minutes of deadline day to do business, Tottenham have struck early with the expected capture of Paulinho from Corinthians.
Already familiar to those who followed the Confederations Cup, the Brazil international is a central midfielder who is equally able to win the ball, distribute it efficiently and convert well-timed forward runs into a healthy goal tally. He's also a physically strong footballer who covers a lot of ground, creating a modern midfielder who should have no problems settling into his second stint in European football (curiously, Paulinho spent two years playing in Lithuania and Poland early on in his career – which incidentally begs the question as to how he crept under the radar of clubs further west back then).
The transfer fee – believed to be in the region of £17m – may have raised a few eyebrows, though, when considering that midfielders with the qualities that Paulinho possesses are very hard to come by and that Brazilian clubs are now a notoriously high-end market for the export of top players (mainly driven by Russian and Ukrainian clubs paying premium fees and the country's generally improved football economy, which has eased the urgency to sell on the cheap). It seems to me that Spurs have ended up with a reasonable deal, especially when measured up against Manchester City's newly-arrived midfielder, Fernandinho.
At 28, Fernandinho is four years his countryman's senior and hasn't featured for his country for over a year – which isn't necessarily a reliable measure of a player's qualities as Brazil have a long-standing history of ignoring high-performing European-based players for selleçao duty. While a slightly different profile for a central midfielder – Fernandinho is more creative, agile and quicker than the new Spurs midfielder in the final third – he lacks Paulinho's overall game, presence and defensive discipline. Signed from Shakhtar Donetsk for a reported £30m – a price which appears, mildly put, very generous – in comparison it appears that the London club won't have paid over the odds for a man who's proving more and more fundamental to Luiz Felipe Scolari's Brazil side.
To be clear, I'm a huge fan of Fernandinho. I've admired him to the point of producing glowing reports for clubs I've worked for and to contacts who have asked for second opinions – and I do believe he was long one of the most underrated midfielders of world football, and is a player that I'm looking forward immensely to seeing in the Premier League. Yet one would have thought even Manchester City might have been tempted to look elsewhere when the Ukrainian club drove the price above the £15m mark.
Backed by one of the top 50 wealthiest individuals in the world, Rinat Akhmetov, Shakhtar Donetsk are never under pressure to sell their prime assets. This may also partly explain why Liverpool's pursuit of Shakhtar's wonderful attacking midfielder, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, is likely to turn into one of the transfer sagas of the summer. Though Liverpool's interest has never been confirmed by either club (or the player), there's said to have been contact at an official level. If, as is claimed, the player's transfer rights are partly owned by two other parties (in addition to the stake held by Shakhtar) this would probably complicate matters even further.
Having wisely acted early in this summer's market with the signing of a series of players that look somewhere at the crossroads of future promise (Luis Alberto) and valuable squad additions (Simon Mignolet, Iago Aspas and Kolo Touré), the Anfield club still lacks the marquee signing that may help boost their Champions League aspirations – especially as Luis Suárez's future remains unclear.
As with Paulinho to Spurs, a player of Mkhitaryan's calibre joining a club outside the Champions League would have been unthinkable in a prosperous European football scene in which genuine spending power on the continent extended beyond a meagre dozen clubs.
I've still to come across a chief scout or sporting director from European clubs of a certain standard that has not placed Mkhitaryan very near the top of his summer wish list, but £20m plus for one player is proving hard to cough up on the continent these days.
The 24-year-old Armenian is blessed with a somewhat unconventional playing style. Though usually deployed rather deep in his attacking midfield role his quick feet, positional awareness and ability to exploit spaces and successfully execute actions in a snap second make him extremely hard to predict – and a lot more "concrete" and direct than the typical attacking midfielder. Add to that a high goal-scoring rate through the capability of finishing immaculately with both feet, as well as setting up his team-mates with an accurate killer pass, and Mkhitaryan could turn into a genuine Premier League hit.
On a slightly smaller yet still significant scale, Cardiff's swift move to land the 20-year-old Denmark centre forward Andreas Cornelius will have aroused some curiosity throughout European football. Over the past year the powerful front man has been watched, scrutinised and enquired about by many respectable teams, who were quoted asking prices higher than the eventual £8.5m fee paid by Cardiff. Yet, as is often the secret when shopping from "exporting" football countries, speed of action is what matters the most.
Highly-rated players plying their trade in leagues with comparatively lower wage levels, less exposure and a generally lower competitive standard may well jump at the chance of joining a top league – regardless of club – rather than waiting for an offer (that may or may not arrive) from one of the established powerhouses. The transfer fee surely represents a risk for Cardiff but, when taking into account the going rate for a Premier League forward that may guarantee 10 goals a season, paying £8.5m for a young international striker with a potentially significant sell-on value may prove very wise business by the newly-promoted side.