“Homecoming,” beamed the official announcement from Juventus. It was, said the Italian club, “the perfect way of describing” the signing of a young Italy international centre-forward.
He is Moise Kean, who set records for preciousness when he made his debut for Juventus at 16. With just hours remaining in the summer transfer window he rejoined them, aged 21, having packed in quite a tour - spells at Everton and Paris Saint-Germain - in his two years away.
This was the transfer window when one homecoming led to another. Juventus needed a striker urgently on Tuesday because the final details of Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure from Italy were being put to paper, and what some at Manchester United were calling 'the great homecoming' was being confirmed.
Ronaldo is not a Manchester native, but his return is a sort of migration to where his world-class status was first endorsed, as a precocious starlet and then a Ballon d’Or holder by the time he left United for Real Madrid.
Ronaldo certainly made Old Trafford sound like a cherished home when he surveyed the mantelpiece of trophies he gathered with United between 2003 and 2009: “My first domestic league, first Cup, first Champions League, my first Golden Boot, my first Ballon d’Or were all born from this special connection. History has been written in the past and history will be written again,” he promised.
In an ordinary year, 36-year-old Ronaldo’s move from Juve to United would have been the headline transfer of the summer window. Lionel Messi trumps it for wow-factor, partly because when he returned from holiday and from leading Argentina to success at the Copa America in August, he was expecting an emotional homecoming to the club of his lifetime, Barcelona. He found the doors suddenly locked, and no money available there to honour the reduced-salary contract extension he had agreed.
Hence his joining Paris Saint-Germain, where Kean, on loan at PSG from Everton last season, had already seen there was little room for a striker like him, young and bidding for a more regular starting place.
Kean is still an Everton loanee, principally for accounting purposes, and is being lent to Juventus for €7m to cover the next two years. But there is an obligation to buy him for at least €28m in 2023 if he reaches certain targets.
Good business for Juve? They sold the then teenaged Kean to Everton for an initial €27.5m in 2019, so this homecoming comes with a small mark-up for a footballer who has hinted at a dazzling career ahead, but not yet consistently achieved it.
This summer’s highest bill for a homecoming was paid by Chelsea, who, a decade ago invested an initial €12m on a centre-forward who had broken into senior football as precociously as Kean did. That was the teenage Romelu Lukaku.
Ten years on, via West Bromwich Albion, Everton (where he was more of a hit than Kean would be), Manchester United (far less of a hit than Ronaldo) and Inter Milan, where he spearheaded a Serie A triumph, he signed for Chelsea again, for €115m.
This time, they are not gambling on his potential, but assuming he will be the finest goalscorer at a club that regularly sets the ball rolling in transfer windows. Kai Havertz was the sport’s biggest single spend 12 months ago, at around €90m from Bayer Leverkusen to Chelsea.
The English Premier League continues to behave like the most-recession proof league in the times of Covid-19. Manchester City, bringing in Jack Grealish, and Chelsea have both exceeded €100m on an individual, while United paid a combined €140m in fees on Jadon Sancho, Raphael Varane and Ronaldo.
Juventus, who used to regard themselves as the shrewdest dealers in free arrivals - stars who have run down their previous contracts - have meanwhile lost that status to PSG, who, apart from Messi, gained a goalkeeper with a long-term future, Gigio Donnarumma; a defender with a uniquely decorated past, Sergio Ramos; and an all-round expert midfielder, Gini Wijnaldum - all on free transfers.
The best ‘free’ capture, apart from Messi? Perhaps David Alaba, only 29 and now at Real Madrid, his contract having run down at Bayern Munich. Barcelona hope, post-Messi, that Memphis Depay, free from Lyon, will soon be considered the snatch of the summer.
Or that Sergio Aguero makes his case once he has stomached the disappointment of having departed Manchester City to join Messi and to then be told Messi was leaving Camp Nou, where, in a lower-key homecoming, Eric Garcia has also returned.