New faces on the Premier League merry-go-round
LONDON (Reuters) - No one doubted that English clubs would break their own 1.2 billion-pound ($1.56 billion) transfer-spending record this summer; all that was disputed was by how much and which players would go where.
As fees became ever more inflated, the what-ifs provided an intriguing backdrop to the unfolding drama.
Romelu Lukaku might have joined Chelsea but ended up at Manchester United for 75 million pounds ($99.18 million), a move that pushed Jose Mourinho's alternative targets Alexandre Lacazette and Alvaro Morata towards Arsenal and Chelsea respectively.
Benjamin Mendy had also seemed destined for Stamford Bridge before Manchester City nabbed him for a reported 43 million pounds while Mo Salah, who Chelsea once sold, became Liverpool's record 37 million-pound signing.
It is too early to say who has got the best of the most frenetic transfer market, but few of the buys come with the proven record that Zlatan Ibrahimoivic brought to United last summer. Instead, many look like hugely expensive punts.
Morata, perhaps the window's most intriguing signing, spent most of last season warming the bench at Real Madrid and is reported to have confidence issues. Mendy's reputation is based on one excellent year at Monaco.
City's other new full-back, Karl Walker, was rated second-best to Kieran Trippier at Tottenham Hotspur.
City manager Pep Guardiola's decision to spend more than 200 million on five players may be the most astonishing piece of business, but money has been lavished everywhere: Everton and promoted Huddersfield Town both brought in nine new players and most clubs either broke their own transfer records or spent much of the summer trying to do so.
Brighton & Hove Albion even did it three times, first signing Australian keeper Mathew Ryan, then Dutch midfielder Davy Propper and finally Colombian Jose Izquierdo from Club Brugge.
Nothing epitomises summer short-termism more than West Ham's decision to spend a reported 36 million pounds on four players with a collective age of 119 years.
The most expensive of those, Marko Arnautovic, arrives on a five-year contract from Stoke City for 19 million pounds after scoring an underwhelming 22 goals in 125 games. Former Manchester United striker Javier Hernandez returns to the Premier League after spells in Spain and Germany.
At Liverpool, Salah is also embarking on his second spell in England and has impressed with four goals in pre-season friendlies.
Lacazette comes to Arsenal with a big reputation after netting more than 20 league goals in each of the past three seasons with French side Lyon.
Comparisons have been drawn to Thierry Henry, but even Arsenal's prolific striker took time to adjust to English physicality, failing to score in his first eight games after his arrival from Juventus. Lacazette acknowledges the Premier League will be a big step up.
Arsenal's other newcomer, 24-year-old Bosnian defender Sead Kolasinac, cost nothing after seeing out his contract at Schalke, where he was voted into the Bundeliga team of the season in 2016-17.
Bosnia is just one of 105 nations outside the British Isles who have supplied players to the Premier League in its 25-year history.
Fourteen of the league's managers are now foreign and the appointment of Portuguese-speaking coach Marco Silva at Watford was a major draw for Brazilian under 20 forward Richarlison, who has joined for 11.5 million pounds from Fluminense.
Other eye-catching newcomers include former Juventus midfielder Mario Lemina, who played in last season's Champions League final against Real Madrid, and Dutch defender Jairo Riedewald, who is reunited with his former manager Frank de Boer at Crystal Palace.
Swansea's purchase of Roque Mesa for 11 million pounds looks a bargain for a player whose slick passing stood out for Las Palmas last season. Meanwhile, Stoke City's Jean-Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting arrives from Schalke with, if nothing else, the longest name in the league.
Spending by the league's 20 clubs has already passed the 1 billion pound mark, with the usually hectic final few days before deadline day on August 31 set to send that figure higher.
For context, the Sportingintelligence website reported that Watford's 50 million-pound summer spending is more than four times that of every Scottish club combined.
($1 = 0.7692 pounds)
(Reporting by Neil Robinson, editing by Larry King)