Impossible. Even just thinking of something like that. I have been repeating this to myself every day for weeks: if they had told me that Cristiano Ronaldo, Leo Messi, Jack Grealish, Jadon Sancho, Sergio Ramos, Romelu Lukaku and many others would have moved in the same summer, would I have believed it? The answer is simple: no, absolutely not. I have had the privilege of experiencing the transfer market for years and for me it is the most beautiful thing in the world for a reason: you never know what will happen.
Every prediction can change in an instant, due to a fax, a commission, a late phone call. Everyone – agents, managers, club presidents and owners – had been repeating for months: it will be a very poor summer window, the clubs are in crisis and the stars will not move. Instead, it was the most incredible transfer window in history.
My summer started at half-time of a match with friends. It was the end of May, we were on vacation and it was late in the evening: I checked my phone but I didn’t expect any news because it was 11pm. Two missed calls and a Whatsapp received: “Fabrizio, Zinedine Zidane has communicated to the team that he will leave Real Madrid. Tomorrow he will also notify Florentino Pérez. Do your checks.”
The source is secret, of course. But those checks were immediately positive. All true. The first breaking news of a crazy summer: at that moment I realised that it would be a long three months, full of surprises and twists. Of course, because of phone calls, messages and tweets that game ended in the 45th minute. Luckily we were winning.
Just a few days later, two hours of work in the middle of the night – between 1am and 3am – to cover Georginio Wijnaldum’s incredible change of mind. A verbal agreement had been reached with Barcelona, the La Liga club were preparing the medical tests and the announcement … then an offer arrived from Paris Saint-Germain to more than double his salary. “Gini has to decide tonight,” my sources said. Phone calls, Whatsapp … the incredible turnaround becomes reality.
My favourite feeling is when a transfer saga comes to an end with the club’s official statement. A sense of liberation when fans celebrate new signings on social media. “Here we go”, the same as scoring a goal in the 90th minute. Jadon Sancho’s move to Manchester United was a negotiation born in February 2020 and concluded in July 2021 and I cannot begin to count how many messages I sent or phone calls I made covering this deal.
I received confirmation of the “done deal” for Raphaël Varane to Manchester United while I enjoyed one of the rare free evenings of my summer: a concert by Paolo Conte, an Italian singer who accompanies my working nights with his songs, sometimes until 5am. In the middle of a song, I got two phone calls. I didn’t answer, but Whatsapp saved me: “Varane OK”. In the morning I had the definitive confirmation, always key before sharing such important news.
In the Premier League, there were two new record-breaking transfers: Jack Grealish to Manchester City and Romelu Lukaku to Chelsea. I expected the first, even if it was a very tense negotiation because there was a deadline: agreement within a week or England’s Euro 2020 star would renew his contract with Aston Villa. This was a deal in which the management of those who led it was fundamental. No one on the Internazionale board, on the other hand, really expected Lukaku to leave. When I learned Inter were seriously considering Chelsea’s first offer, it was a surprise which became reality very quickly.
Fast timing also for Eduardo Camavinga at Real Madrid. I had a meeting in the afternoon of the penultimate day of the transfer market with one of my sources in Spanish football: he told me not to rule out a surprise deal for Camavinga, “it’s not over yet”. In the evening while I was having dinner, I received confirmation of Real Madrid’s €31m offer (plus add ons) for Camavinga. I remember the surprised faces of those sitting at the table with me. “Offer accepted, all done: Camavinga to Real.”
But I will surely never forget three particular moments of this crazy summer. The first was a Whatsapp message I received at 11.59am on 10 August. “Everything finally signed. Hecho!”. Lionel Messi to Paris Saint-Germain was the hardest deal I have had to cover in my life. Every day there was different fake news: Messi is in Paris, Messi is in Ibiza, Barça are trying to keep him with a final proposal.
Every 30 minutes, I had to stress to my sources to be sure of every update. I will always carry the experience of this transfer with me: trust only your sources. From the incredible twist with Barcelona to the details of each step of the transfer to PSG. I saved that Whatsapp message in my iPhone favourites – of course.
It will also be impossible to forget that tweet in the middle of the night in response to a Manchester United fan on the Cristiano Ronaldo affair: “Yes, Jorge Mendes also had contact with United for Cristiano.” Nobody believed it. In the morning, all the sources close to the deal denied it.
Then, after three days of negotiations with Manchester City, Mendes started talking with United and the Ronaldo deal was done with impressive speed. A source told me about it in the evening when Mendes’ idea was born. The next morning, the green light: “Manchester City have left the negotiations, Manchester United are closing the deal.” I will not forget the emotions in reading the messages of incredulous fans.
But the craziest moment of an incredible window was … the last few minutes. The Antoine Griezmann to Atlético, Saúl to Chelsea and Luuk de Jong to Barcelona deals were all linked. Each had to be finalised to allow the other deal to complete the domino effect. Everything was agreed verbally but all the contracts of a complicated triple negotiation had to be written down. Signatures did not arrive and in Spain there was talk of the deals for Griezmann and De Jong collapsing because there were problems for Saúl at Chelsea. I assure you, the tension was high. Two of my sources stopped returning my calls; another kept telling me to stay “positive and calm”.
Then, after 12 exhausting hours, I received a Whatsapp: “Saúl-Chelsea deal, done”. Those few words at that moment were worth a whole summer to me. All done and signed, even Griezmann can go to Atléticoand De Jong to Barça. My tweet in that moment of tension made the fans crazy on social media, as if we were at the stadium celebrating a goal. It is impossible to forget those moments that only this work can give you.
All these complex deals of an incredible summer taught me two great lessons: that anything can happen, but above all respecting anyone with the correct information. Sources, fans, players. Telling people what is really happening is difficult and tiring – but sacred, the only real way to fall in love with this mad world. The one where reality surpasses fantasy. Arrivederci, my beloved transfer market. Here we go!