A starting XI of transfer questions
Real Madrid has been the only club making real noise during the transfer window
Manchester City has made good on its promise to spend, but parts are puzzling
Barcelona, AC Milan in particular have done very little, which may be a problem
It has been a weird summer of transfers. Most of Europe's top leagues kick off next month and yet, with a few exceptions (Real Madrid and, to a lesser degree, Juventus and Bayern Munich), there hasn't been too much going on. The window won't close until Aug. 31. In the meantime, here's an attempt at making sense of it all, with 11 questions facing 11 big clubs:
1. Real Madrid has picked up Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaká, Karim Benzema, Raúl Albiol and Álvaro Negredo. Is there more to come?
Probably, although right now the priority has to be trimming the bloated roster. Guys like Roysten Drenthe, Rafael van der Vaart, Christoph Metzelder, Míchel Salgado, Wesley Sneijder, Arjen Robben, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Ruud van Nistelrooy are pretty much surplus to requirements. The problem is that prospective buyers know this and therefore they know the longer they wait, the more Real's asking price will fall. And, in fact, if Real, as appears likely, picks up another holding midfielder (Xabi Alonso?), another defender (Álvaro Arbeloa?) and another winger (Franck Ribéry?), it will be even harder for the club to get fair market value for its players.
2. Barcelona stood head and shoulders above everybody else last season. Apart from Maxwell, it hasn't really made any signings. I guess it's a smart move because it's already such a strong unit, right?
Wrong. For starters, Barça is still in the market for a forward. It probably won't be Zlatan Ibrahimovic, it could yet be David Villa. Either way, Barça needs help. Thierry Henry turns 32 next month and Samuel Eto'o has been shopped around all summer long, suggesting Pep Guardiola himself wouldn't mind finding an alternative. The midfield could use some extra muscle as well (with Xavi and Andrés Iniesta in the mix, Barça can struggle against the more physical sides, as it showed in the Champions League semifinals against Chelsea).
3. Manchester United loses Ronaldo and Carlos Tévez and replaces them with Michael Owen, Antonio Valencia and Gabriel Obertan. Can it pick up the slack?
Probably not. Obertan is one for the future -- he's a kid and needs time to develop (much like the immensely skilled Adem Ljajic). Owen is just a mystery to me -- he's injury-prone, he has a huge salary, he's not getting any younger and he doesn't seem to be a natural partner for either Wayne Rooney or Dimitar Berbatov. Valencia, on the other hand, is a smart pickup; you can imagine United putting together a more orthodox 4-3-3 with him on one flank and Rooney on the other. United will be OK if the youngsters continue to develop, though you get the sense this may be a transition year at Old Trafford.
4. Will Glen Johnson finally give Rafa Benítez the attacking fullback he craves?
For a right back, $30 million is a heck of a lot of money. That said, Johnson has the necessary attacking tools to give Liverpool the right kind of width. But I'm not sure he's the final piece in the puzzle. Especially if Alonso goes.
5. Arsenal fans gave him stick most of last season, so surely everybody is happy that Emmanuel Adebayor is going, right?
Pretty much. It was pretty obvious he wasn't happy at the Emirates and the $35 million (give or take) he's likely to fetch will allow Arsčne Wenger to strengthen the team. From where I sit, the Gunners still need a dominant central defender (Thomas Vermaelen is a neat pickup, but hardly a giant) and, especially, a true ball-winner in midfield (shame that Felipe Melo got away). Replacing Adebayor up front is less of an issue. If Robin van Persie is healthy, you can simply stick some combination of Andrei Arshavin, Nicklas Bendtner, Theo Walcott and Eduardo behind him and you'll be OK. Still, you'd expect Wenger to pick up another striker.
6. The Carlo Ancelotti era has begun at Stamford Bridge. So why isn't Chelsea signing anyone?
Well, Yuri Zhirkov has come on board -- he'll make a somewhat ponderous midfield more dynamic (once he settles). But it's true that Chelsea needs to get moving or risk being left behind. The uncertainty over the future of chief executive Peter Kenyon isn't helping matters, nor are the rumors linking captain John Terry with a move to Manchester City. My guess is Chelsea wants to wait to see how those situations pan out before making its next move.
7. Speaking of Manchester City, Sheikh Mansour is true to his word: With Tévez, Roque Santa Cruz, Gareth Barry and possibly Terry and Adebayor, some $200 million will likely be spent by the end of the summer. Is City the Premier League's answer to Real Madrid?
In terms of spending, maybe. But putting this squad together will be a challenge for anyone (don't forget, City already has the likes of Shaun Wright-Phillips, Craig Bellamy and Robinho on board). It's hard to see how these random parts fit together, even harder to see how Mark Hughes can make it all work.
8. José Mourinho now makes more money than anyone in the game, player or manager. Is he earning his keep at Inter?
It will be money well-spent if he delivers the Champions League. The problem is that Inter's activity this summer doesn't seem to make much sense. Diego Milito is a consistent scorer, but not a natural partner for Ibrahimovic. Thiago Motta is a serviceable player, but too similar to Inter's incumbent midfielders. Lúcio is a veteran who'll shore up the back four, but the team lacks creativity (Ibra aside) and that has yet to be addressed. That said, if Mourinho can win the Champions League with this bunch, you have to tip your hat to him.
9. Leonardo finally gets his crack at the big time by getting the AC Milan job, only to see his protégé, Kaká, sold to Real Madrid. To add insult to injury, it doesn't look like Milan is going to spend any of the Kaká money this year. Does that seem fair to you?
No, but that's life. Leonardo is one of the brightest guys in the game -- he can still manage a top-three finish. But the club needs to help him. Milan needs a center forward, Pippo Inzaghi is 100 years old, Marco Borriello is unproven and coming off a long injury layoff and Alexandre Pato's future remains in doubt. Yet it seems clear that Milan is intent on scaling back this season. Unless Ronaldinho regains his luster, it's going to be rough this year.
10. With Diego and Felipe Melo, Juventus has a new Brazilian central midfield. Is this the year it challenges Inter?
Possibly, although there's still a big gap. Diego is very talented, but it remains to be seen how he will adapt to Serie A. Picking up Fabio Cannavaro was an emotional decision (and one the Ultras didn't exactly appreciate); you wonder where he's going to fit given the strength of the Giorgio Chiellini-Nicola Legrottaglie partnership. And, up front, Alessandro Del Piero isn't getting any younger, while Amauri still needs to live up to his price tag.
11. Louis van Gaal talks a good game at Bayern. He seems to have bought ready-made replacements for Luca Toni (Mario Gómez) and Ribéry (Daniel Pranjic), except they're still at the club. How is it all going to shake out?
I can't see Toni staying, given that Miroslav Klose is still around and Ivica Olic also has arrived. As for Ribéry, if Bayern can get Kaká-type money for him (or close to it), it would be crazy not to sell. Anatoliy Tymoschuk, if he settles, is a tremendous pickup in midfield. There is no middle ground with van Gaal -- you either love him or hate him. And he tends to either triumph or crash and burn very badly. After the nightmare that was Jürgen Klinsmann, Bayern can't afford to get it wrong twice in a row.