Five transfer window bargains
It was another record-breaking transfer window in terms of money spent, but sometimes the most intelligent transfers cost extremely little and clubs that take a chance on overlooked players are frequently rewarded with fine performances.
Here, then, are five of the bargains of this transfer window:
Gareth Barry: Manchester City to Everton, 1 million pounds
Two of Roberto Martinez's major acquisitions were simply permanent signings of players previously on loan at Goodison Park. Romelu Lukaku was the bigger name, but Barry was 28 times cheaper and ensures Everton can continue their successful double pivot from last year, with the 33-year-old alongside James McCarthy.
Martinez likes his central midfielders to stay in relatively deep positions, distributing the ball intelligently into attack and capable of moving out to wide areas to cover for advancing full-backs. That suits Barry perfectly, and his left-footedness brings a nice balance to the side.
Barry has been cast as something of a joke figure in English football, with his inability to keep up with Mesut Ozil in Germany's 4-1 thrashing of England at the 2010 World Cup summarising the country's failings, not just in that tournament but in a more general sense.
Nevertheless, since moving to Everton Barry has been in superb form, and surely only his age is preventing a recall to the national team. Even then, Barry can count himself unfortunate not to be selected ahead of Jack Colback, who might be much younger but remains significantly less authoritative.
Barry might not technically be a new arrival, but at such a low price, he might be one of the Premier League's best signings this summer.
Diego Perotti: Sevilla to Genoa, 250,000 pounds
As always, Genoa have signed a huge number of players. It depends precisely how you classify new signings, but if you include those bought permanently after loan deals, those purchased and then immediately loaned out and those simply loaned, the Serie A club has recruited no fewer than 18 new players.
One of the most interesting is Perotti, who is part of a succession of wingers who have performed inconsistently for Sevilla over the past few years; Jose Antonio Reyes, Jesus Navas and Diego Capel are others. It's not unfair to consider that Perotti hasn't fulfilled his potential. Nevertheless, he has a burst of pace and a trick and is ideal for a Genoa side that is set to play with great width.
Perotti is highly unpredictable in terms of playing style and output. Favouring the left side but two-footed, he has never developed into a truly efficient footballer. He doesn't get himself into goal-scoring positions frequently enough, and Sevilla's style of football, often centred around crossing, means he sees himself as a pure facilitator rather than a goal scorer.
But at 26, Perotti still has time to improve, and he could thrive in the 3-4-3 system favoured by Genoa manager Gian Piero Gasperini. Perotti debuted against Sampdoria last weekend on the right and was encouraged to cut inside, but while he carried the ball well, he continued to underwhelm with his final pass. Still, at this price, it's a great addition.
Summer transfer window roundup
- Premier League: Team-by-team ins and outs
- Transfer Centre: All the done deals
- Marcotti: Mind-boggling transfers
- Delaney: What did we learn on deadline day?
- Horncastle: European transfer grades
- Smith: Transfers more important than the game?
- Macintosh: We worship goals, not balance sheets
Sascha Riether: Fulham to Freiburg, 300,000 pounds
Riether is a full-back in the Pablo Zabaleta mould. He is not the most technical player and is primarily a committed, scrappy tackling defender. But like Zabaleta, he compensates for his relative lack of ball-playing skill by providing an attacking threat with his stamina, constantly scampering up and down the touchline. He also has an Ashley Cole-esque penchant for crucial goal-line clearances.
While his form faded badly last season, along with that of his teammates as Fulham slid toward relegation, Riether was superb in his first Premier League campaign and was named the club's player of the season for 2012-13.
A return to Freiburg suits Riether perfectly. He grew up close to the city in southwest Germany, came through the ranks at the club and spent five years as a first-team regular before realising he could no longer afford to waste time in Bundesliga 2, transferring to Wolfsburg and then Cologne before his two-year spell at Fulham.
This is a homecoming, and it's easy to imagine Riether finishing his career in Freiburg. He has taken his old No. 22 shirt and should become a key leader in the dressing room.
"That's all part of my mentality, but I don't necessarily believe that I've been brought in just because of my leadership qualities," he told the official Bundesliga website.
What went wrong last season? It's difficult to recall a player suffering such a severe case of personal "second season syndrome," and perhaps the (very different but equally confusing) managerial regimes of Rene Meulensteen and Felix Magath weren't to his taste, although he did win the Bundesliga under Magath in 2008-09.
The only problem is fitting him into the side. Oliver Sorg made the right-back slot his own last season while Christian Gunter has done well on the left. Sorg can play there too, which would allow Riether to play right-back. With Riether capable of playing in midfield, however, he should prove useful.
Nani: Manchester United to Sporting, free loan with United continuing to pay wages
He may not be the most popular player, but Nani had 18 months of excellent form at Manchester United, winning the player's player of the season trophy in the title-winning 2010-11 campaign, and has suffered from an injury-hit three years since. Although highly inconsistent, he can be an extremely effective winger capable of scoring and providing.
It remains to be seen whether Nani can recapture his best form back at his boyhood club, but the loan signing represents a significant coup for Sporting. They have developed one of Europe's best academies and are accustomed to losing top talent while it's rare they ever return. Back in the Champions League for the first time in six seasons, they can now attract a different calibre of player.
The real story with this deal, however, is the financial aspect. Sporting don't have to pay anything for Nani's service for a year, not even his wages. They have acquired the services of a player who unquestionably strengthens their squad without any financial risk whatsoever.
Things haven't quite gone to plan so far, however. Nani demanded to take a penalty in his first game -- then promptly missed it -- while his final act in Sunday's Lisbon derby was thumping a 35-yard free-kick that went miles over the bar, summing up an underwhelming display. Still, it's a fantastic move for the club.
Ever Banega: Valencia to Sevilla, 2 million pounds
Only 26, Banega has encountered problems with both discipline and injury, but it's amazing to see him moving for so little. At his best, the Argentine is a wonderfully authoritative midfield controller, capable of pulling the strings and combining reliable short-range passing with more ambitious, penetrative balls into attack.
Banega is obviously a replacement for Ivan Rakitic, who joined Barcelona after a couple of outstanding seasons in Andalusia. Replacing their Europa League-winning captain is a tough task -- and in terms of leadership, Banega certainly isn't the man for the job -- but he is capable of playing Rakitic's midfield role.
Banega's problems at Valencia were often self-enforced, epitomised by the time he fractured his ankle and broke his leg while being run over by his own car, having failed to apply the handbrake at a petrol station.
A lack of focus remains a real worry, but perhaps the setback of being omitted from Argentina's 23-man World Cup squad will force him to buck his ideas. Crucially, he will be rejoining former Valencia coach Unai Emery; Banega's best performances at his previous club came under his regime, with Emery's departure seemingly prompting the player's struggles.
It would be great to see him back in form, excelling as Sevilla attempt another Europa League run and a challenge for the Champions League places. At his best, Banega is one of the most clever midfielders around.
Michael Cox is the editor of zonalmarking.net and a contributor to ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @Zonal_Marking.