There is no bigger prize in club football than the Champions League, which gets underway for a new season across Europe this week.
It’s been three months since Real Madrid became the first team to retain the trophy, but that doesn’t mean teams haven’t been busy over the summer.
Given the riches on offer for the winners of the tournament, as well as the prestige of being the best team on the continent, plenty of sides have spent big in an attempt to close the gap on Real.
The most eye-catching sums have been spent by two teams that only reached the round-of-16 last time around.
Neymar’s £200m transfer from Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain was earth-shattering for a number of reasons – both for the money it cost, and what it represents for football.
The Brazilian has left one of Europe’s biggest and most established clubs with five Champions League trophies to their name, for a far smaller club only established in 1970.
While PSG have won four of the last five Ligue 1 titles, they only have six domestic league wins to their name in their history, and have never made it past the quarter-final stage of the Champions League.
However, the French club’s Qatari owners have made clear their intention to deliver the European Cup to Paris, and there was no bigger statement than the signing of Neymar to bolster their attack.
His addition, alongside the loan signing of Kylian Mbappe (who officially remains a Monaco player until next season at the earliest due to financial fair play regulations) puts PSG right into contention to win the competition this season – though they may still have the scars of the 6-1 collapse at the Nou Camp last term, to Barcelona nonetheless.
However, despite this huge outlay from PSG, they still didn’t top the Champions League spending table over the summer transfer window, with another man well known to Barca sealing top spot.
Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City weighed in with a transfer spend of over £222m, with the likes of Benjamin Mendy, Kyle Walker and Bernardo Silva costing the English club dear.
Guardiola’s first season at City could probably be called a disappointment – the Spaniard came third in the Premier League, and was surprisingly knocked out of the Champions League by Monaco in the round of 16.
Like PSG, he’s been well backed by his middle eastern owners, as they too attempt to win the European Cup for the first time.
That £222.3m spend puts City at first place not just this summer, but as the most expensive single transfer window outlay in football history.
English clubs have dominated the spending table all round, with five of the top 11 spots taken up by Premier League sides.
Given English teams have just two semi-final appearances to their names in the past five seasons, they too have taken the view that spending big is the quickest way to success in Europe this term.
Contrast that attitude to Real, who come in 16th in the spending table, having taken an ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ approach.
Whether the increased transfer spend from the challengers can knock Real off their throne remains to be seen.
One omen that might count against Real is the curious recent trend of non-champions winning the Champions League.
None of the last six winners of the European Cup had won their domestic title the season before, with Barcelona the most recent team to do so, in 2011.
Real have won the last two editions of this tournaments, having finished in second place in La Liga the season before each victory, and Barca entering the Champions League as the Spanish winners.
However, after Real won La Liga at a canter last term, Zidane will hope to end that trend by picking up the big eared trophy in Kiev next season.
That too is bad news for Chelsea and Antonio Conte, who won the Premier League last season.
Reigning English champions have had a notoriously bad time of it in this competition, with no sides making the semi-finals, and only Leicester and Manchester United reaching the quarter-final stage.
After the Blues missed out on the Champions League last season, Conte will hope that curse doesn’t apply to his men either, as Chelsea hope to become the first English winners since they themselves lifted the trophy in 2012.