Manchester City are the kings of the castle, Manuel Pellegrini flicking Vs at his peers. Manchester United and Chelsea missed their chance, while Arsenal….oh Arsenal…
City acted in the transfer market in precisely the same manner in which they have started this season. They are quickly making clinical efficiency seem very sexy indeed.
Manuel Pellegrini had every one of his requests answered in the affirmative by his bosses. City have addressed their homegrown requirements in the form of Raheem Sterling, Fabian Delph and Patrick Roberts, whilst the arrival of Kevin de Bruyne and Nicolas Otamendi reinforces their position as clear title favourites.
Pellegrini’s position has been further strengthened by the inability of their rivals to push on. Last season’s top four signed seven players for fees of £20m+ this summer, and City accounted for three of those. Everyone wants some hundreds and thousands sprinkled on top of their cake; City opted for tens of millions.
In an era when the same elite group of clubs target the same elite group of players, it is incredibly rare that a club is able to tick off each of their primary targets without hiccup. That is exactly what City have done. It already feels like everyone else is playing for second place.
“We still have Rooney, he can play in the striker’s position, and all the media had written [he can] play there so I listened. Also Chicharito and maybe Wilson. Maybe there comes a surprise” – Louis van Gaal, July 19.
Surprise is right, Louis. With Hernandez sold and Wilson yet to make a match-day squad, it is left to Rooney and a 19-year-old with 11 career league goals to be the leaders of United’s attack.
Given United’s workload, that would be a risky business even if Rooney had started the season in impressive fashion. As it is, Rooney has had three shots on target in four Premier League matches. His touch looks clumsy, his passing rusty and his demeanour that of a man hampered by his own travails.
If United fans were frustrated with Rooney after Tottenham, Aston Villa, Newcastle and Swansea, imagine their exasperation when he first hoofs the ball into the crowd for his £300,000 after the window has closed.
A Deadline Day in which player power seemed to have been temporarily tempered, if not permanently diluted. John Stones, Saido Berahino, David de Gea, Jon Walters and Lewis Grabban all failed to get the moves that they so obviously desired.
Yet above all these, Sterling is sitting pretty. The manner of his Liverpool exit left a sour taste in the mouth, but the sad conclusion is that player and agent did what they had to do to in order to get the job done. With City starting like a train and Sterling reaping the rewards of a full pre-season with new teammates, who looks silly now?
2015 – Anthony Martial, Nicolas Otamendi, Angel Di Maria.
2014 – Angel Di Maria, Diego Costa, James Rodriguez, Eliaquim Mangala.
2013 – James Rodriguez, Radamel Falcao, Joao Moutinho.
Since his Gestifute agency began, Mendes has brokered deals worth over £1bn. Whenever a big transfer happens late in a transfer window, you can rely on the scent of Eau de Mendes hanging in the air. He’s either running or ruining football, depending on your point of view.
Players in: Darren Randolph, Pedro Obiang, Dimitri Payet, Angelo Ogbonna, Carl Jenkinson, Manuel Lanzini, Alex Song, Victor Moses, Nikica Jelavic, Michail Antonio.
Players out: Carlton Cole, Guy Demel, Juusi Jaaskelainen, Stewart Downing, Kevin Nolan, Modibo Maiga, Matt Jarvis.
That is a list of everyone who West Ham wanted to get rid of and did. They have been replaced by younger, better, faster, stronger and more motivated. Played.
Spending £7m on Connor Wickham still makes us feel a bit sick, but the arrivals of Yohan Cabaye, Alex McCarthy, Bakary Sako and Patrick Bamford act as the perfect remedy. Holding onto Yannick Bolasie is the best business of all.
Just over two years in the top flight and Palace have a better squad than Everton, who have been there since 1954.
Kept the players they wanted to keep, bought the players they wanted to buy. With Southampton, the complicated often seems so simple.
Swansea signed only two players for more than £1m, and yet it still feels like they had a hugely successful window. We’ll call that the ‘Andre Ayew effect’.
If you’d told a Newcastle supporter at the end of last season that by the end of the transfer window they would be rid of John Carver, have a new manager in place, spend £50m on four players and lose none of their star players, they’d have said thank you.
Actually they’d have probably said “Champion”. Funny breed.
Fans of weirdness
Xherdan Shaqiri at Stoke. James Milner at Liverpool. Papy Djilobodji at Chelsea. Yohan Cabaye at Crystal Palace. Shinji Okazaki at Leicester. Adam Bogdan at Liverpool. Georginio Wijnaldum at Newcastle. Ibrahim Afellay at Stoke. Yann M’Vila at Sunderland. Heung-Min Son at Tottenham. Michail Antonio at West Ham.
This is all going to take a lot of getting used to.
Winners, but any celebration of that fact is tempered by their inauspicious start to the season. They are at the bottom of my pile.
Liverpool at least did their business early, avoiding the last-minute panic endured by many of their rivals. Roberto Firmino and Christian Benteke add impetus to last season’s faltering attack, whilst Nathaniel Clyne is England’s best right-back. James Milner adds a lot of James Milner to a squad that was lacking in James Milner.
Praise is due too for the manner in which Brendan Rodgers has shifted the personae non grata from his squad, with Mario Balotelli, Fabio Borini, Iago Aspas, Rickie Lambert, Brad Jones and Sebastian Coates all leaving. Even if only some of these are temporary farewells, the squad looks far less bloated as a result. Jose Enrique remains as the last of the ‘club don’t like me, I don’t care’ brigade. This felt like a thorough spring clean at the end of the summer.
Yet it is impossible not to add a ‘but’ as the suffix to these kind words (largely due to my staunch ABL bias eh, comments section?). I can squeeze these feelings into 145 characters: Liverpool have lost their most valuable asset and have spent £80m on making a squad that finished sixth look like a squad that will finish fifth.
It was the statistic of the transfer window. You have no doubt heard it already, but bears repeating: Arsenal were the only club in Europe’s top five leagues not to buy an outfield player.
If the phrase ‘peak Arsenal’ has become clichéd through its overuse, this was ‘peak Wenger’. When your Supporters’ Trust calls for inquiry into club’s transfer strategy shortly after the window has closed, things haven’t gone well.
“Winning the title is our target and we feel we have a chance in a very competitive league,” said Wenger on July 17, with questions already being asked about the lack of progress on new signings. “We are in a league in which it is very difficult to know how good our opponents will be, so it is important to focus on making sure we are as strong as we can be.”
If Wenger honestly believes that Arsenal are “as strong as they can be”, this is a bigger mess than we first thought.
Arsenal’s lack of progress is so immensely frustrating purely because they were so close. As the hackneyed saying goes, evolution was needed, not revolution. Yet Arsenal’s squad has not evolved. Petr Cech’s arrival was rightly celebrated, but it should have been the catalyst not the beginning, middle and end. Cech acted as the flour, eggs, sugar and icing of Arsenal’s transfer window, and the cherry on top too.
Wenger’s inaction (and we can only assume it was him applying the brakes) falls into two areas: Defensive midfield and a striker. For the former Wenger decided that Arsenal did not need; for the latter that Arsenal did not want, certainly not for the prices quoted.
The repeated argument from many supporters is that there were no available upgrades on Olivier Giroud. Edinson Cavani was too expensive given the lack of sell-on value, whilst Karim Benzema was never keen enough on a move for Arsenal to pursue things much further. Nobody else would do.
Even if you agree with that assessment (and I don’t), it seems a remarkably one-eyed view of the situation. With Theo Walcott an ineffective option as a central striker, Giroud is the only round peg for round hole. This was not just about improving on Giroud (although clearly that was the intention), but providing back-up, support and competition. Joel Campbell and Danny Welbeck now act as all three, which will make supporters gulp.
It is the defensive midfield position which should cause the most strife. A year ago Wenger was prepared to let Francis Coquelin leave the club for nothing, but the Frenchman is now the basket in which all eggs have been placed. Whereas Cavani and Benzema were unrealistic, Arsenal made the decision not to pursue Morgan Schneiderlin, a player who wanted to join. Hang your hat on that one, Arsene.
Despite these castigating words, true judgement should be saved until the end of the season. If Wenger again fails to ignite a meaningful title challenge from his Arsenal squad with money sitting in the bank, there is a strong case for finally strolling over to the DVD player and pressing stop. There’s only so many times you can watch Bill Murray presenting the weather.
Far from a complete disaster, with the arrival of Pedro the main positive move. There is a danger of equating Chelsea’s poor start to the season with a poor transfer window, but that is more to do with ill-discipline and the drop in performance of their key players.
That said, there is no doubt that Deadline Day itself was a total c*ck-up. Chelsea chased John Stones and Marquinhos; they ended up with Michael Hector and Papy Djilobodji. One has become the 33rd player loaned out by the club this season, whilst the other was rejected by Sunderland and Newcastle earlier in the window. Just imagine the look on Jose Mourinho’s face.
Given Chelsea’s previous ability to plug gaps in the squad with high-profile signings, this was a baffling time for that strategy to fall flat on its face. Even if Paul Pogba was never more than a pipe dream, the failure to recruit a single player in defensive midfield could be the defining point in Chelsea’s inability to retain their Premier League crown. The interesting question is whether it persuades Mourinho to walk away from the Bridge for the second time.
Let’s run through the list of Everton’s signings: Tom Cleverley, Gerard Deulofeu, Mason Holgate, Leandro Rodriguez, Ramiro Funes Mori and Aaron Lennon. Total cost: £16.4m.
Now try and remember those players whilst also reading through this quote from Roberto Martinez, made in February: “We want to win titles, we want to play in the Champions League. He [Kevin Mirallas] is no different to any player in that he has high hopes and aspirations.”
As I’ve said plenty of times this summer, keeping hold of John Stones was a positive move for Everton, but only if the manager had the remaining funds to invest meaningfully in his squad as a whole. If that £34m could have been reinvested on new players, selling was the logical move. Being a selling club is an admission of reality, not weakness.
The ideal squad contains two useful options for each position. Everton’s four central defenders are Mori, Stones, Phil Jagielka and Tyias Browning. Their four strikers are Romelu Lukaku, Arouna Kone, Steven Naismith and Leandro Rodriguez. That “titles” and “playing in the Champions League” ambition looks ludicrous – Everton will be battling for a top-eight place.
Also, they paid £9.5m for Mori. He would have been expensive at half the price.
If Levy truly did offer only £5m up front as part of Tottenham’s fourth and final bid for Saido Berahino, he deserves to be head boy at Ed Woodward’s School for Incompetent Boys.
Spurs’ stadium plans may have curbed much of their transfer window enthusiasm, but it is impossible to escape the sense that they have taken so very many steps back this summer. They did half a job, clearing out the deadwood from a squad teeming with termites, but then inexplicably stopped there, save dramatically overpaying for Heung-min Son.
Sarah Winterburn said it best in Winners and Losers the other week: Crystal Palace have a better bench than Spurs.
Harry Kane bailed out Daniel Levy and Tottenham in spectacular fashion last season, and the club’s response seems to have been to thank him for that work before asking him to do exactly the same again.
Kane must be knackered. He has played 67 matches for club and country since the beginning of last season, the majority as a lone striker, and was taken on farcical pre and post-season tours to Australia and America respectively. The Under-21 European Championships was sandwiched in between and Euro 2016 comes next.
Kane has scored one goal in his last 12 matches, and yet his club have once again put the responsibility for scoring goals firmly at his door. There were signs on Saturday against Everton that he is suffering from the pressure, trying to do everything himself. Son and N’Jie are forwards, but neither perform best as a central striker.
It is vital that a young player be given the opportunity to play, but just as vital that he is given appropriate rest. The likelihood is that this will be another 50+ match season for England’s Next Big Thing. Good luck, Harry.
Manchester United’s ‘Marquee’ Deal
It’s going to be Gareth Bale, isn’t it? It’s going to be Sergio Ramos, isn’t it? It’s going to be Neymar, isn’t it? It’s going to be Thomas Muller, isn’t it? It’s going to be Pedro, isn’t it? It’s going to be Antoine Griezmann, isn’t it? It’s going to be Karim Benzema, isn’t it? It’s going to be Edinson Cavani, isn’t it? It’s going to be Marco Reus, isn’t it?
Well actually, it could have been that last one, but Manchester United balked at paying £60m for Reus. Instead they will pay Monaco £36m for Anthony Martial, a fee that could rise to £58.7m. If it did, Martial would become the seventh most expensive player in history.
The issue is not that Martial is no good, because such a statement is utterly foolish. Nor too that he is frighteningly expensive, because Manchester United don’t really have transfer budgets. But did United really want Martial all summer? Was he really the original answer to their problems?
If so, why did United not target him earlier this summer when Tottenham made him their top target? The understanding at that time was that the player was available for £18m, but chose to sign a new contract instead. United have ended up paying at least double that price. More importantly to them, he arrives in a new country without any pre-season work with his new team-mates. Rooney had never even heard of him.
“I am delighted Anthony has joined Manchester United as I believe this is the right club for him to continue his development as a young player,” said Van Gaal. “He has all the attributes to become a top football player; however we need to give him time to adjust to his new environment and the rhythm of the Premier League.”
Any hope that Van Gaal has of such patience is hugely misguided, because the pressure is on Martial to perform instantly. Despite being ten months younger than Adnan Januzaj and a year younger than Raheem Sterling, the Frenchman is United’s only back-up to Wayne Rooney. Patience is a rare virtue when demand is so great, so there is very little scope for acclimatisation. Wearing the No. 9 shirt only adds to the pressure.
The initial conclusion is that Martial would be a superb addition to United’s strikeforce as a long-term option, playing second fiddle for his initial months at Old Trafford. Should United reach the quarter-finals of their cup competitions, they will play 56 matches this season. Their options in the final third now consist of him, Rooney, Memphis Depay, Juan Mata, Ashley Young and Marouane Fellaini. Second fiddle is an unavailable luxury.
Alex Neil did a wonderful job in securing Norwich’s re-promotion, but his squad needed significant surgery in both defence and attack. The sum total of their Deadline Day activity was to loan Dieumerci (Thanks, God) Mbokani and Matthew (Hew, Matt) Jarvis whilst selling one of their best midfielders to the Championship.
“To give ourselves a chance, we have to be competitive in terms of positions, so there has to be at least two players for every position to get the best out of each other, and that is something I am trying to make sure we address,” said Neil on July 21.
Robbie Brady was the only permanent arrival after that date. Neil’s requirement of two players for every position looks lost. Their entire defence consists of Steven Whittaker, Andre Wisdom, Russell Martin, Sebastien Bassong, Martin Olsson and Ryan Bennett. Championship, Championship, Championship, Championship, Championship and Championship.
It’s a shame to reduce things to money, but therein lies the reality of Premier League survival. When a promoted club buys only two players for a fee, relegation is the only logical eventuality.
The worst time to throw your toys out of the pram and at your own club is the one time at which nothing can be done to resolve the situation.
Like Morgan Schneiderlin last summer, Berahino must transform this negative into a positive. The Frenchman turned a move to Spurs into a move to Manchester United by enhancing his reputation after disappointment. After using social media to express his frustrations in a similar manner to Schneiderlin, Berahino can do the same.
With a European Championships on the horizon, Berahino cannot afford to be rotting in the reserves at West Brom, even for four months. He must now put his frustrations to one side and focus on scoring goals. In that regard, his and West Brom’s ambitions are aligned.
David De Gea
Whilst Real Madrid and Manchester United spent time offering slurs and accusations regarding the other’s sloppy administration, it was impossible not to enisage De Gea’s glum face as he realised he would be return to Manchester for at least the next four months.
There is no sign that the relationship between De Gea and Louis van Gaal has deteriorated beyond reparation, but at the same time it is clear that the move completing would probably be the best situation for everyone. United supporters may hope that De Gea has been once bitten and twice made shy by Real’s inability to get the deal done efficiently, but the problems of his family and girlfriend living in Spain aren’t going to disappear.
Without a replacement for De Gea, Van Gaal will presumably bring his goalkeeper straight back into the fold, particularly after Sergio Romero’s mishaps against Swansea. The Spaniard has the length of the international break to make peace with United, Van Gaal and his own situation. It’s all a bloody mess.
He’s never started more than 19 league games in a season, and he’s only reached double figures twice. Coquelin is Arsenal’s only viable option in defensive midfield and he’ll have to start more than 50 matches.
Both of his principal strikers (Rooney and Kane) will be run into the ground this season, whilst Berahino doesn’t want to be at his club and Theo Walcott won’t start enough matches. With a European Championships just round the corner, it’s not a good look.
So desperate for a move that his Dad was touting him to any agent or club who would listen. Waking up under his Tottenham duvet cover and turning on his Tottenham bedside lamp, Lamela may have allowed a single tear to roll down his cheek. What a bloody waste.