Newcastle resorted to trolling supporters to close out a dreadful transfer window, while Arsenal, Liverpool and Harry Kane had tough summers.
Some might say you couldn’t write a script like this. The problem is that someone already did. For Newcastle to end a dreadful transfer window by copying the plot of Goal! with the signing of a Mexican teenager by the name of Santiago Munoz for social media traction was the final insult.
Steve Bruce, as an accomplished author himself, can appreciate a nuanced twist and impactful turn but the plot holes in his summer would be enough to drive any ordinary manager out of St James’ Park. The fans that chanted for that outcome during the draw with Southampton would still rather it happened, but perhaps more out of support than ill feeling after deadline day, so disastrous a crescendo the past few months reached.
The unpopular manager is a source for sympathy after being asked to survive on deliberately depleted rations. Newcastle finished last season strongly to move 17 points clear of relegation but fresh impetus was needed to stay ahead of the pack. There were no new additions as Joe Willock was added permanently to a squad deprived of Matty Longstaff and Andy Carroll, leaving it weaker than at the end of last campaign.
Bruce personally pursued the ready and willing Hamza Choudhury from the happy and helpful Leicester before discovering that path was blocked due to a reluctance to stump up a loan fee or a requisite percentage of wages. Talk of a centre-back joining led nowhere. The manager spoke in May of a “need” to bring in “at least three or four” new players and “a bit of quality to the squad” but that request has been ignored.
Mike Ashley will act in January if he needs to protect the club’s Premier League status. Bruce will be relied upon to make chicken salad out of chicken sh*t in the meantime, even if supporters find any dish served up by this particular chef to be inedible. A summer seemingly designed specifically to have numerous outlets write their ‘Inside Story’ on how farcical it was only exacerbates the multitude of issues bubbling away.
“I’m not afraid to say that I want to be the best. I’m not afraid to say I want to try to get on the level that Ronaldo and Messi got to,” Harry Kane told Gary Neville, the Tottenham striker so relaxed that he had his legs crossed, leaning on a golf club with one hand as his other nestled in his trouser pocket. He likely did not expect to be in direct competition with either player this season, unless brother Charlie had been keeping negotiations with teams in Italy or Spain secret.
It would be interesting to learn Kane’s thoughts on his agent’s actions this summer, to know if he felt his best interests had been prioritised, to understand whether he genuinely thinks he has a representative befitting his status as one of the world’s preeminent players.
Most of all, it would have been intriguing to see his reaction to Cristiano Ronaldo’s late return to the Premier League. Not in the sense that he has another elite competitor for the Golden Boot, but the way in which Jorge Mendes orchestrated the deal. He seemed to bring the Portuguese closer to the Etihad in a couple of whirlwind days than Kane ever ventured over a few months, before delivering the move Ronaldo had requested with remarkable efficiency.
It is a slightly simplistic comparison: the transfer fees were not remotely similar and Kane’s move never had the sort of emotional pull that made Ronaldo to Manchester United an easier negotiation. But even if one concedes Mendes had a head start, Charlie Kane still tied his own shoelaces together and jogged backwards.
The difference between an agent and a super-agent has never been laid so bare. Mendes created a market for his client and proceeded to manipulate it in his favour to secure a transfer. Kane’s confidence was never matched with any sort of cunning or craft.
Those myriad mistakes must be rectified when the time comes; do not rock up to Daniel Levy’s office next May brandishing a scrunched-up piece of paper with ‘IOU’ scribbled on it in his forged handwriting. Two years will be left on that contract but it will not be significantly easier to secure a release unless the situation is handled far better.
Then again, fate might dictate that this is the season the stars align, the apocalypse comes and Tottenham themselves manage to sate Kane’s trophy desires, presumably without him rushing back from some sort of muscle injury. That was Charlie’s plan all along and we are mere pawns in his game.
The moral high ground of never paying beyond the £60m mark for a player has disintegrated, although Jack Grealish has slotted in well. Manchester City were more reticent to meet the valuation of Harry Kane, which made their sudden Cristiano Ronaldo panic so uncharacteristic and unbecoming.
Ferran Torres might yet make the position his own; Pep Guardiola has numerous alternatives if not. But Manchester City’s naked desire to sign an established and proven centre-forward has resulted in little more than their shortage of options in that role being laid bare.
Mission accomplished, it should be said: the clip in question was tweeted just once by talkSPORT but has been viewed more than 400,000 times. Engagement is king and presenter Alex Crook was wearing the crown.
His unimaginative takedown of Norwich was immediately and summarily dismantled by supporters but it should be pinned up in the corridors of Carrow Road for the remainder of the season. Those points made on August 22 in the aftermath of heavy defeats to Liverpool and Manchester City should fuel the Canaries to prove a point.
“Are they a club who want to try and compete to stay in the Premier League?” Crook asked of a team “just sort of making up the numbers” who “come up and spend very little money”.
“I think in some ways it goes against sporting integrity when they are in a league where they have no real intention of competing,” he continued. “It’s almost like they are signing players for the Championship next season.”
Liverpool were once linked with Milot Rashica and Ozan Kabak fared well enough at Anfield for half a campaign. Josh Sargent and Christos Tzolis are relatively unknown quantities with the potential to excite. Billy Gilmour and Brandon Williams both arrive from the Premier League’s elite. Angus Gunn, Ben Gibson, Pierre Lees-Melou and Dimitrios Giannoulis plug gaps that needed addressing. Mathias Normann is a club-record signing in the making if his loan works.
Jamie O’Hara has since deleted his tweet of support for his colleague, advocating for the authorities to ‘revoke there membership’ and replace Norwich with teams ‘who actually want to stay in the Premier League and spend money’, presumably behind some of Just Banter defence. Or maybe he checked the numbers and saw the Canaries had made five of the 11 most expensive signings in their history this summer.
Imagine if they had any intention of competing…
Timing is everything. As Chelsea stepped up their pursuit of Saul Niguez and Manchester United finalised a move for Cristiano Ronaldo, Liverpool supporters waited impatiently for something – anything – from Anfield. Perhaps a surprise was in store, maybe not planned for but accelerated due to the injury Roberto Firmino had sustained.
The final two days of the transfer window instead brought news that peerless sporting director Michael Edwards was expected to leave the club next summer, before the announcement of new contracts for Jordan Henderson and Nathaniel Phillips rounded off Liverpool’s business. Newcastle were the only other club to sign just one player; at least Ibrahima Konate comes with the aura and excitement of someone new.
There is plenty to be said for their approach to the summer. A squad that has stayed almost completely intact for at least three years would typically only need tweaking and the circumstances of last season have restored the hunger throughout Liverpool. Virgil van Dijk’s return has stabilised them and allowed the wholesale shuffling of the team to be reversed.
The new contracts given to the Dutchman, Alisson, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Andy Robertson, Fabinho, Harvey Elliott and Henderson were also necessary moves in isolation, if frustrating in the context of them welcoming only one new teammate. Considering the panic over their captain in particular, such measures had to be taken. The hope is that Mo Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino all follow suit soon.
But the decisions not to directly replace Georginio Wijnaldum with a similarly experienced midfield option, or reinforce a strikeforce that will be pushed to its physical limits even before two-thirds of it departs for the Africa Cup of Nations in the winter, are monumental risks that did not need to be taken.
Jurgen Klopp and FSG are banking on Elliott and Curtis Jones continuing to develop beyond their years in the middle. They are gambling on Takumi Minamino and Divock Origi being able to plug gaps that Diogo Jota alone cannot up front. They are taking a chance on Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, on Naby Keita, on 2019/20’s lightning striking again and the injuries of 2020/21 not returning.
But those are almighty wagers that, on the face of it, did not need to be made. Liverpool continue to excel in terms of player sales yet generating more than £40m for Harry Wilson, Marko Grujic, Xherdan Shaqiri, Taiwo Awoniyi and Kamil Grabara, while shedding the wages of Wijnaldum, leads to understandable exasperation when the money is not properly reinvested.
Liverpool’s squad is only marginally stronger than at the start of last season, if at all. Standing still is not necessarily a dreadful thing but when their three main title rivals have all taken bigger steps to improve it looks a little like moving backwards.
It could have gone considerably worse. There are legitimate questions to be asked over the wisdom of handing a struggling head coach the biggest summer transfer budget in the club’s history but Arsenal have backed their horse and no-one can say Mikel Arteta did not receive enough support in the market.
The incomings are positive: six first-team signings between the ages of 21 and 23, players young, malleable and talented enough to be moulded either by this coach or his replacement.
Points could be made over the fact they cost an average fee of £25.1m despite the apparent lack of competition for any of those signatures but the selling clubs set their valuation and Arsenal met them instead of scrambling for cheaper alternatives they did not want.
But Arsenal failed to spin more than one of their transfer plates. They were not the only club across Europe or even in the Premier League who struggled to shift players as the financial impact of a global pandemic continues to wreak havoc. They were one of few to make it look ludicrously difficult.
Willock was their only sale, aided by the desperation of Newcastle and itself coming with the frustration of an academy product with genuine affection for the club being let go when he had proved his worth.
Sacrifices had to be made for Arsenal to fund their plans and he was the only lamb ready for slaughter. Matteo Guendouzi, William Saliba, Lucas Torreira, Hector Bellerin and Reiss Nelson were all loaned out with no obligation for the clubs in question to buy, thus running down another year on their respective contracts and diminishing their eventual worth. No suitors could be found for Cedric Soares, Sead Kolasinac, Mohamed Elneny, Granit Xhaka, Alexandre Lacazette and Eddie Nketiah, while the Ainsley Maitland-Niles situation reflected terribly on the club. Willian saved them further embarrassment as well as wages when he did not have to.
The amount of work that was required made it impossible to complete efficiently in a single window. The needle is finally moving in the right way but this summer exposed just how precarious Arsenal’s position is.
A return to Porto would have been wonderful and a Milan sojourn is something few would turn down yet James Rodriguez came to terms with neither. Everton thus had their chances of bringing Luis Diaz in from Portugal scuppered and Rafael Benitez keeps a player he has made expressly clear there is no real room for in the squad.
It will be a long season at Goodison Park for Rodriguez, who will see out the remaining 12 months of a contract worth more than £200,000 a week on the fringes; it seems unlikely that Everton will take up the option of a third year. The Colombian turns 31 in July and his career will peter out.
Jesse Lingard and Amad Diallo
As much credit as there can be for backing yourself, Jesse Lingard might have just made a mistake not doing so elsewhere. Daniel James started two of Manchester United’s first three games of the season and was deemed surplus to requirements, accepting the ostensible step down to Leeds for more playing opportunities.
Lingard has been on the pitch for all of four minutes and is at the back of a burgeoning queue of attacking options. He earned his place in the summer shop window with five excellent months at West Ham but is back in the stockroom by September.
The League Cup minutes and substitute cameos might sustain a player delighted to be with his boyhood club – that is worth noting.
But there is sympathy for Amad Diallo, whose move to Feyenoord collapsed due to an injury serious enough to turn the Dutch side’s attention to Reiss Nelson. The 19-year-old needs minutes to develop into the £37.2m talent Manchester United had hoped. The hope is that such a setback does not derail him.
Should probably have scored some of those chances, fella.
Yves Bissouma was *right there*.