The positives fail to override the negatives for Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester United and Tottenham. But Everton really look to have cocked it all up again.
The Premier League transfer window winners have been declared. Now for the rest.
Now for the boring bit of owning a football club: the actual games. How exactly is he meant to amortise them?
Michail Antonio’s hamstrings
What an absolutely astounding way to run a football club. Everton escaped relegation in spite of themselves last season. They pledged to learn from their mistakes, to avoid the same pitfalls. They conducted a strategic review into their own incompetence, producing a ‘roadmap for change’ which has led them careening off precisely the same cliff.
It is inexplicable that Everton have ended the summer weaker than when they started it. An almost unfathomable degree of ineptitude is required to examine that squad and make those alterations to it. Ashley Young on a free and Jack Harrison as a loan is broadly fine but Arnaut Danjuma, who publicly rejected the Toffees a few months ago before barely playing for Tottenham? Youssef Chermiti, a “future player” said by his own manager not to be ready yet? Beto, with his one-in-three record in Italy?
“I’ve been told there are certain things we can do and there’s lots of things we can’t,” Sean Dyche said shortly before a deadline day which saw the Toffees loan out Neal Maupay, make about £30m by selling Alex Iwobi and Thomas Cannon without ever coming close to reinvesting it, then cancelling the contract of a midfielder they signed for £25m, who played eight Everton games in four years.
If those were the ghosts of Everton’s transfer past and present, their future seems clear: Demarai Gray goes to Saudi Arabia, Dominic Calvert-Lewin gets injured on his return and Dyche fights for his life to keep the Toffees afloat again.
Total initial fees Everton spent on Gylfi Sigurdsson, Yerry Mina, Yannick Bolasie, Jean-Philippe Gbamin, Theo Walcott and Cenk Tosun – £156.7m
Total fees Everton received for those players – £0#EFC
— EFC Statto (@EFC_Statto) September 1, 2023
Perhaps the club’s best transfer window of the entire post-Ferguson era, which reflects dreadfully on those that came before more than it shines a kind light on this one.
There was a maturity, a serenity, an efficiency with which Manchester United completed their early business. Moves for Harry Kane and Victor Osimhen were deserted quickly once it became apparent neither were financially feasible in conjunction with other business. Which does invite intrigue as to precisely what calibre of player they could have been loaning on deadline day instead if purse strings were even tighter.
The deals for Mason Mount and Rasmus Hojlund were played out painfully publicly as per usual, with leaks on bids, payment structures and internal valuations from which the hierarchy would pointedly refuse to budge bizarrely rife. Precisely whose best interests those within the club feel they are serving with such briefings is a mystery, because it certainly isn’t their own.
Mount and Hojlund were eventually signed nevertheless, with Andre Onana a significant goalkeeping upgrade. But Manchester United have spent the last few weeks paying for their innumerable past transfer sins, as scrambling around for short-term emergency deals in the closing hours and failing to extract decent fees for any of their own players attests.
Just two years ago Gary Neville could not see a “plan”, “strategy” or “direction” behind Arsenal’s recruitment. Hindsight has not reflected particularly kindly on that criticism, considering Benjamin White, Martin Odegaard and Aaron Ramsdale have been imperative to the club’s transformation.
But the present issue might be in how rigidly Arsenal stuck to this summer’s well-established blueprint. Without context, Kai Havertz, Jurrien Timber and Declan Rice, with the opportunistic capture of David Raya, is an excellent window setting the club up for Champions League football without rocking the boat too much.
Yet the long-term injury to Timber changed everything. The jury will laboriously deliberate over Havertz for the next few months and Rice at least proved Arsenal’s capability to get a huge deal over the line, but this squad looks weaker than the one which ran out of steam last season, especially in defence.
In isolation, swapping a midfield of Fabinho, Jordan Henderson, James Milner, Naby Keita and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain for Alexis Mac Allister, Dominik Szoboszlai, Wataru Endo and Ryan Gravenberch, bringing the average age in the position down by not far off a decade over a matter of months at a cost of about £100m, is daring, drastic and dynamic. And they didn’t loan Arthur Melo, which automatically qualifies Liverpool for bonus points.
But this was nevertheless a chastening window in which a new Saudi Arabian threat threatened to derail Liverpool and still looms large, while their transfer omnipotence was shattered by the contradictory abandonment of interest in Jude Bellingham and the subsequent humbling hijacks of Moises Caicedo and Romeo Lavia.
This was not how the grand midfield rebuild played out in collective Anfield minds and no work was done to offset the upcoming defensive reconstruction either: inexplicably enough, the only centre-halves Liverpool have signed in the last 11 transfer windows – or since Virgil van Dijk joined to solve all their problems in that area for half a decade – are Ibrahima Konate, Ozan Kabak, Ben Davies and Sepp van den Berg.
The Reds have effectively weakened further in that position by loaning Nat Phillips out. If their players insist on getting sent off every week that will become a real problem. And this summer offers no hope of Liverpool engineering a seamless transition to their next central defensive regime in the transfer market.
The Harry Kane Window was always going to be a difficult one. And for a fair while, Tottenham navigated it well. James Maddison was an excellent signing. Micky van de Ven absolutely could be. The goalkeeper situation was finally sorted out and Brennan Johnson slots straight into Ange Postecoglou’s fluid attack.
But Tottenham sold just two players for fees in a summer of apparent deadwood shifting. Almost £100m was received for Harrys Kane and Winks but that is a miserable indictment on either the club’s negotiating skills or their recent signings, even if it has become difficult for all of the elite to move on their unwanted goods.
It has left Postecoglou with a bloated squad which still contains Hugo Lloris, Eric Dier, Davinson Sanchez, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, Tanguy Ndombele and Giovani Lo Celso, all of whom Tottenham were eager to sell but could not. And the can has been kicked down the road with those shuffled out on loan.
Combine that with one of the worst defences in last season’s Premier League adding only one new player in that area and for all the good of what Tottenham have done in unforgiving circumstances, they have left themselves one injury or suspension away from starting Dier or Sanchez. And one injury or suspension will not be far away with Cristian Romero.
The amount of signings Crystal Palace have made for a fee in summer transfer windows with Roy Hodgson as their manager, in chronological order: one, two, two, three. It’s… progress.
It is clear to see why Steve Parish likes his septuagenarian safety blanket but Hodgson is locking Palace in a doom cycle by being good enough to make do and mend. When survival is attainable on the most strict of transfer diets then what motivation is there to increase the intake?
Dean Henderson is a fine goalkeeper. Jefferson Lerma is a very good midfielder. Rob Holding is absolutely okay. Matheus Franca could come good, as the actual Ballon d’Or clause in his deal suggests. But failed late moves for Julian Draxler, Luis Sinisterra, Hugo Ekitike and Callum Hudson-Odoi provide a thin smokescreen, a distraction which barely worked on supporters for more than a few hours of initial excitement.
There is much to be said for extending Michael Olise’s contract and keeping Eberechi Eze, Marc Guehi and Cheick Doucoure. But not replacing Wilfried Zaha, having one first-team left-back, entering another season with Joel Ward as a starter and having three largely blunt strikers to choose from says rather a lot more. Mainly about how just staying up is the target for yet another season.
7/10: Lerma, great start
3/10: Zaha gone but will be replaced
6/10: França is Brazilian
7/10: Olise rejects Chelsea and signs a new contract
5/10: Is França actually a real person?
5.5/10: £20m on a backup GK…
-3trillion/10: Deadline Day https://t.co/txLL8l1HKZ
— Mayor Adam West (@EvilSashPioneer) September 1, 2023
They don’t have a lot of wingers or strikers, but do have so very many midfielder and can still count Joao Palhinha among them. Still, that is asking a lot of Raul Jimenez.
It must have been frustrating to see club-record moves for Brennan Johnson and Nicolas Gonzalez collapse, but responding to those setbacks by bringing Neal Maupay back is unforgivable, whether or not he was good for you before.