A baffling season included a baffling transfer window:
– Biggest spenders in Europe? Newcastle.
– Biggest transfer fee paid in Europe? Stoke.
– Most expensive player globally? Ramires.
– Clubs in Europe to spend £10m+ on a player? Bournemouth, Stoke, Newcastle, Everton, Roma.
Thank f**k we didn’t do any transfer window predictions.
Stoke City and Premier League power
Further evidence for the financial power of the Premier League was entirely unnecessary, but Stoke provided it anyway with the £18.3m signing of Giannelli Imbula.
Look through their squad, for goodness sake: Jack Butland, Erik Pieters, Imbula, Ibrahim Afellay, Xherdan Shaqiri, Bojan, Mame Biram Diouf, Marko Arnautovic *Whistles*. They now have the central midfielder to match their ambitions in attack. No offence, Glenn Whelan and Charlie Adam.
Take this excerpt from the Guardian’s transfer column in April 2015:
‘Tough-tackling Marseille ball-winner Giannelli Imbula has long been a Chelsea, Arsenal and Juventus target and looks likely to leave the Ligue 1 side for pastures new during the summer. A box-to-box midfielder who has drawn comparisons with Patrick Vieira and Claude Makélélé, the 22-year-old French U-21 international has flourished in the Marseille first team under Marcelo Bielsa and reports today suggest Chelsea are pondering a £20m bid for a player who is eligible to play his senior international football for Belgium, France and DR Congo.’
Look at the words: Chelsea, Arsenal, Juventus, Vieira, Makelele, Bielsa! That player has just joined Stoke, who haven’t finished in the top eight of England’s top flight since 1975. Things might not have worked out that well at Porto, but reported interest from Chelsea and Arsenal was genuine.
Not sure if the Premier League is looking for a new tagline for its posters, but I’ve got one anyway – ‘The Premier League: Where Stoke can spend more on a player than any other team in Europe’. Too wordy. As ever.
Given the changing of the Guard(iola) at the Etihad, City were never likely to enter the January transfer market. The uncertainty over the manager’s future meant that any input from Pellegrini into new signings was foolish. It was clear that City would stick with their lot.
Pellegrini will therefore be delighted to wake up on February 2 to the news that none of Arsenal, Leicester, Tottenham or Manchester United significantly strengthened their squad either. One suspects that the Chilean would have bitten off your hand if offered an ‘as you were’ scenario on December 31.
Not as delighted as City supporters, though. They woke up on February 1 in the knowledge that their club would buy no new players, and with the lingering spectre of Manchester United hanging around Guardiola. By mid-afternoon, City had announced the signing of the girl all the bad guys wanted.
On the most dreary Deadline Day in living memory (or at least since the last one), City made the best signing of all. After years of desperately wanting it to happen, we must only wait six more months. Pep’s coming to the Premier League.
Of course they only signed Alexandre Pato and Matt Miazga, but it’s impossible to label Chelsea as anything other than big winners.
Confused, are you? Well then you have forgotten that Jiangsu Suning paid £20m to sign Ramires, a midfielder who had started 18 league games since April 2014. The most expensive player in the January window. In the world. Sheesh.
“We will test him physically in training and will see when he is available,” Guus Hiddink said after Pato’s arrival. “It will take him a while, but it’s not a gamble. Coming on loan makes it possible to have a good view of him, whether he’s able to adapt to the high demands of the club and the league. We’ll give him all the support, but it’s up to him.”
Named Serie A Young Player of the Year for 2008/09, Pato’s decline is not all of his own doing. Muscle injuries caused his Milan decline, while a loss of form hampered his progress at Corinthians. Brazil’s Next Big Thing has become their forgotten hope. Pato hasn’t even played for the Selecao since October 2013.
It’s clear that Pato wasn’t Hiddink’s choice, but the Brazilian would be stupid not to make the most of his opportunity. Having seen his career dwindle after early stardom, the forward has been given an unlikely reprieve. Fail this audition, and the phone will simply stop ringing.
Since August 2013, between the ages of 20 and 22, Lukaku has started 113 matches for club and country. He’s probably spending the morning poking Oumar Niasse on the arm to check whether he’s actually real or just a mirage. Finally, Everton have back-up.
Confirmation that there is no better thing in the world to be than the teacher’s pet of a Premier League manager. Grabban has started three top-flight matches in his career by the age of 28 and never been prolific, so why wouldn’t you spend £8m on him?
Finally got the loan move that he wanted, and avoided having to play for Aston Villa or Sunderland. Win.
Bordeaux are only four points off a Champions League spot in France. Help them into the top three, and Debuchy will hope that his European Championship dream is not over.
‘Whoever is most responsible for Townsend’s pronounced downfall is unclear; it’s more important that he is permitted to take the next step forward,’ we wrote on January 22. ‘To say that it’s now or never would be hyperbolic, yet the concern is that Townsend’s career is now in an extended purgatory. He is caught in a trap, overvalued but underused.’
Finally, someone is listening. Townsend has been released from his trap, and also significantly increased his (relatively) measly Spurs salary. Help Newcastle to stay up, and the sun may rise on a new dawn.
Scoring a hat-trick for Real Madrid to signing on a free for Crystal Palace in less than five years. Abebayor’s career has been so bizarre that this move still constitutes a massive win. Prepare yourselves for an Alan Pardew salute.
Can’t help feeling that his run of form came at just the right time to stop Manchester United splashing out. It will be amusing if he goes rubbish again now.
Released from his Manchester United hell, a very messy relationship comes to an end.
“I worked with Louis van Gaal during my time at FC Barcelona and to have the opportunity to work with him here at Manchester United is a dream come true,” said Valdes when he signed.
“I am delighted Victor has signed for the club,” Louis van Gaal said in response. “Victor is a very experienced goalkeeper and his record speaks for itself. I have said on many occasions that Manchester United will always be interested in the best players.”
Interested in signing the best players, but not playing them; Valdes started one game for United.
“We did our job and I think if you have to do your job, or any big business, today then in my opinion you are nervous or you do not know what you have to do, because in my opinion it is a little bit late,” said Koeman as Deadline Day dawned.
Our love for Koeman is reignited. Pointed words in the direction of a few of his peers.
Sunderland and Norwich
At least tried to buy defenders, and so should be congratulated for that. You might not have heard much about Timm Klose, Lamine Kone or Ivo Pinto, but that’s because shopping for Premier League experience became an impossibility. When you’re being quoted £10m for Micah Richards, it’s time to walk out of the shop.
Both Sunderland and Norwich have taken calculated risks on their January purchases, but neither had a choice. Their pre-window performances have made relegation a probability for one and a possibility for the other. Both must hope that Klose, Pinto and Kone settle into Premier League life quicker than Jan Kirchhoff.
Wanted to go to a club on the south coast, where his family and friends are based. Not only did Austin achieve that, he also earned a move to a Premier League club that’s going places and scored the winner on his debut at Old Trafford. You’d take that.
Steven Fletcher moved from Sunderland to Marseille. Hahaha.
This is actually the latest deal of one of football’s weirdest relationships. Having signed Lorik Cana, Djibril Cisse, Eric Roy and Chris Makin from Marseille, Sunderland have finally sent a player in the opposite direction. It’s as weird as it sounds.
Still, what a win for Fletcher. From Sunderland to the Côte d’Azur just as the weather is warming up after scoring 12 league goals in three years. Nice work if you can get it.
Some Newcastle fans will be quick to point out that the club’s transfer dealings aren’t quite as shiny as you think. Seydou Doumbia is to replace the awful Emmanuel Riviere and perma-injured Papiss Cisse. Henri Saivet replaces the soon-to-be-departed Cheick Tiote. Andros Townsend replaces Florian Thauvin, meaning Jonjo Shelvey is the only true addition to the squad. Newcastle needed defenders, and didn’t get them.
That said, there is no doubt that McClaren has been backed. Having somehow survived until February despite his own chronic under-performance, Newcastle’s signings will earn their manager at least a few more weeks in the job.
The pressure has been ramped up on McClaren following the club’s spending, but you’d rather be backed financially than not at all. Now to avoid a relegation that would surely spell the end of his top-flight managerial career.
Leroy Fer and Swansea
A third move to a Premier League club for a player who scored a winner in the 2014 World Cup. That now seems like a decade ago.
Fer’s last two moves ended in Premier League relegation at the earliest possible opportunity. Swansea should have included a release clause in case they drop into the bottom three again.
Big clubs and the title
‘Yes but…the f**king title. The actual f**king title,’ the WhatsApp from Sarah Winterburn read at 11pm on Monday evening. ‘Why has nobody tried to buy it?’ We only swear at each other so we can be lovely to you, dear reader.
It’s a fair point. In August 2012, Alex Ferguson had seen Manchester City beat him to the Premier League title and responded by signing Robin van Persie. It was a move from a hardened manager; United promptly quietened those noisy neighbours, if only for a season.
Come January 2016, and the title is again there for the taking. Four clubs stand within five points of the summit with almost four months remaining. Each could have given themselves a mighty leg up by solving obvious problems within their squad.
Yet they didn’t. Tottenham didn’t sign a single player, while Arsenal only added a midfielder with at least one eye on next season. Leicester recruited a central defender and young winger, but left themselves lacking back-up options in other areas. Manchester City’s only permanent signing cost £250,000 and was loaned straight out to satellite club Melbourne City.
Although Ferguson deserves censure for the state of Manchester United when he left, his greatest trick during his time at Old Trafford was to improve an already excellent squad. To do that, he needed to eradicate sentimentality in favour of logic and reason.
Is that where the current crop of managers have failed? Is Arsene Wenger too nice, too considerate of the feelings of those players moved from centre stage? Does he care too much for Per Mertesacker to spend £25m on a new centre-back who could help the club win the league? Does the same apply to Francis Coquelin, hence a back-up option arriving rather than a superstar? The argument is a double-edged sword, of course, but worth discussing.
There are obvious reasons for each club to practice caution over carefree, but it still constitutes a shock. In this bizarre Premier League season, the title really is on the line. It’s like the four contenders had an unwritten agreement to stick with what they have.
The wilful blindness to buying defenders
The Premier League’s bottom five clubs are also the five teams with the five leakiest defences this season.
It’s a fairly typical correlation. We’re sick of saying it, but the team who scores the least goals quite often stays up; the team who concedes the most always goes down.
Between them, those bottom five clubs spent £86m during the January transfer window. Only £16.5m of that was spent on defenders. The full list of those defenders: Timm Klose, Lamine Kone, Ivo Pinto, Jan Kirchhoff, Rhoys Wiggins.
Compare that to the money spent on strikers, and a wilful blindness again becomes obvious. Sunderland and Norwich deserve marks for effort, but Bournemouth and Newcastle should hold their heads in shame. Both clubs have scored more league goals than Crystal Palace and Stoke this season. Clue: It’s not your attack that will relegate you.
“I felt he started a bit cautious and played a bit secure,” said Wenger of Mohamed Elneny’s performance against Championship Burnley. “He needs to adjust to the power of the game in the Premier League, but this was a good welcome today and certainly he has learned a lot.”
We have yet to see what difference Elneny will make to Arsenal’s 2015/16 but the suspicion is that, for now, he is third choice behind Francis Coquelin and Mathieu Flamini. His time will come, but probably not until after a full pre-season. If that is the case, Wenger has taken a huge risk.
This was Arsenal’s chance to surge ahead in the title race. With Manchester City waiting for Guardiola, Tottenham probably content with top-four qualification, Manchester United in disarray and Leicester without the resources or clout to take on Arsenal in the transfer market, Wenger could have reignited the belief that has ebbed away in recent weeks. The arrival of Guardiola and assumed re-emergence of Manchester United and Chelsea make this the season for Arsenal to land the title. It might not be now or never, but 2015/16 probably represents their best chance for a long while.
The obvious retort is that players have to be available in order to be signed, and it’s a fair point. Yet money makes the football world go round. If Wenger really wanted to sign an established star, Arsenal’s cash reserves would have coped. Comfortably, in fact.
None of this matters if Arsenal do win the title, and the announced departure of Manuel Pellegrini at City could well make them favourites again. Yet Wenger has piled all of his eggs into this basket. Having signed two outfield players (Elneny and Jeff-Reine Adelaide) in the last two windows combined, Arsenal are going for the title his way.
A really weird transfer window indeed. On the surface, United’s inability to sign a single player in January is extraordinary. This is a club that had pre-season title aspirations and top-four requirements, yet sit fifth in the table. Throw in a defensive injury crisis and greater resources than almost any club in the world, and a January splurge could have been predicted. This was ‘save our season’ time.
Yet not only did United fail to sign any players, they failed to be seriously linked to any players, certainly not outside the Daily Express/Metro axis of bulls**t, anyway. There were murmurs about the odd deal or two, but nothing of any substance. The pressure on Louis van Gaal’s continued employment created a transfer vacuum, where thoughts of the club signing expensive players became ludicrous.
Furthermore, there was not even any great demand for signings from supporters. Having grown hoarse through their demands for entertaining football and/or Van Gaal to be removed from his position, fans could not stomach any more disapproval regarding new signings. It is as if an entire support has been deadened by their club, dejected into silence. Compare and contrast the reaction to Arsenal’s quiet summer (having finished third) to United’s quiet January having slipped to fifth.
On the final day of the transfer window, another bitter blow for United. Hopes of Guardiola coming to Old Trafford always seemed in vain, but their worst fears were confirmed. The ‘noisy neighbours’ have the music turned up full blast.
At the centre of this United slump sits Ed Woodward, football’s Mr Bean. Not only has he masterminded the descent from title favourites to top-four challengers, he has also somehow made Old Trafford an uninspiring destination for big-name signings.
To pinch a line from the excellent Bugle podcast, Woodward is the Premier League reverse Midas. Everything he touches tuns to s**t.
“What I’ve heard and what my agent has said is that Chelsea, Juventus and PSG have made offers,” said Alex Teixeira in November. “Chelsea and Juventus have gone further in the negotiations. All three are big clubs. Wherever I’ll end up, I’ll be happy.”
“The team received one official offer from Liverpool,” the Brazilian then revealed in January. “It was rejected, I don’t know why,” Teixeira then said in January. “There’s only been one offer – €32m – and Shakhtar rejected it. I know my agent is still attempting everything possible to help get me to Liverpool. It was a great offer. It’s frustrating. But the manager and club president decided against it, so now I’m just waiting. Liverpool is a huge club and many great players have played there. It would be an honour to wear the Liverpool shirt.”
Forget the false promises of love for the club, Alex Teixeira just wanted a move, any move.
What he got instead was Shakhtar Donetsk playing silly buggers and every possible suitor saying “How much? He hasn’t even played for Brazil, y’know? No thanks.”
Saido Berahino and player power
A couple of years ago, I wrote a piece about how football had moved onto its ‘fourth age’, a shifting of power from one stakeholder to another. The first age was the era of the game itself as king, then clubs adopted the most power before players became the controllers. This hypothesised ‘fourth age’ was the growth of super-agents as the game’s most powerful players.
Now, Premier League clubs may be about to enjoy a renaissance of power, as seen in the case of Saido Berahino. If reports are to be believed, West Brom chairman Jeremy Peace rejected offers of £21m and £24m for Berahino on the final day of the transfer window. Given that the striker is seemingly unwanted by the club and only has 18 months remaining on his contract, it was a bizarre move.
Peace’s stubbornness may have regressed from admirable to plain odd, but football’s financial climate allows him to practice such obstinacy. With the vast increase in broadcasting revenue, West Brom are not coerced into selling a player against the club’s will. If they lose £10m on Berhaino, so what? That accounts for only 13% of their broadcasting revenue from last season, and that percentage is only going to decrease.
While a dilution of player (and agent) power will be seen as a cause for celebration in some quarters, it does create some fairly unpleasant scenarios. Players can be left on the shelf after alleged misdemeanours, careers stalled if not quite ruined.
West Brom may well be in their rights to keep Berahino, but there isn’t anything appetising about a young, English striker wasting a year of his career, frozen out by his manager and priced out by his chairman.
Tottenham and their back-up striker
‘A striker remains the principal requirement, with a club chasing Champions League football foolish to rely on Emmanuel Adebayor and Harry Kane, should Roberto Soldado return to Spain with tail between legs’ – Football365 transfer window guide, July 2014.
‘A new striker is the top priority with Roberto Soldado still struggling for form and Harry Kane likely to burn out if he doesn’t get a rest at some point’ – Football365 transfer window guide, December 2014.
‘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. 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’ – Football365’s transfer window winners and losers, September 2015.
And still the wait goes on. There were many moments of surprising inaction during the January window, but Spurs’ refusal to bring in a back-up striker to lighten the load on Kane was the most notable. Berahino was too much, Moussa Dembele became too complicated and Shane Long and Sandro Ramirez were ignored.
“We have offensive players who can play like Harry. There is Sonny or Chadli or Clinton – they can play like a striker,” Pochettino said in December. “But maybe it’s true. I recognise they are not specifically strikers so maybe we will work to try to find such a player we can add in the next transfer window or in the summer to try to help the team.”
Pochettino will now resort to that ‘false nine’ plan in times of Harry Kane emergency, and supporters’ disappointment will be tempered by the lack of signings from their top-four rivals.
Yet, as with Arsenal, it is impossible not to conclude that this was (another) chance missed. All eggs are again placed in a basket marked ‘H. Kane’.
Remi Garde, January 1: “The situation is not the best one you could dream to speak with players about, but what I have done already doesn’t show me that nobody wants to come to this football club. You have a lot of players who are clever or smart. They might look at the next two, three or four years – the best project may be this one, despite what can happen. That’s because of many reasons and many things around the football club.”
Garde, January 31: “It’s not only finance but for sure it’s a financial position [why Villa have struggled to sign players]. It’s also because we are in a bad football position in the league and for players we are not attractive. It’s not only one reason.”
Garde, February 1: “I understand that you cannot carry on doing the same things when you have not been as successful as you have wanted. I cannot say the club hasn’t done everything they could. It wouldn’t be fair. I’m not happy about this situation. I am not stupid and saying we need nobody. Some people have to be brave enough to say what have we done wrong in the past and what we should be doing now to stop that and to be better, maybe not in the next months but the next season or in two or three years.”
Bloody hell. It sounds like Garde is reading the club its last rites.
Newcastle’s lop-sided squad
The players on Newcastle’s books:
Central defenders: Coloccini, Taylor, Lascelles, Mbemba – 4
Full-backs: Dummett, Haidara, Janmaat, Mbabu – 4
Central midfielders: Colback, Anita, Tiote, Shelvey, Saivet, Birgirimana – 5
Attacking midfielders/forwards: De Jong, Gouffran, Sissoko, Wijnaldum, De Jong, Obertan, Aarons, Perez, Townsend, Marveaux, Sammy Ameobi, Thauvin, Cabella, Vuckic – 14
Strikers: Cisse, Mitrovic, Toney, Riviere, Doumbia, Armstrong – 6
More impressively still, Paul Dummett, Massadio Haidara, Steven Taylor, Fabricio Coloccini, Jamaal Lascelles and Kevin Mbabu are six of the 12 weakest players in Newcastle’s squad. Look forward to the astonished look on Steve McClaren’s face when they keep conceding goals. “But we bought all these attacking players?” he’ll think. Yes, yes you did.
Desperately wanted a striker. Didn’t get a striker.
Given that Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez were never going to leave (whatever the papers may have said), this was a window for Leicester to take advantage of their new-found success and attract players to the club to sustain their title (or top-four) bid. Daniel Amartey and Demarai Gray both arrived, but we still thought Claudio Ranieri would do more.
It was assumed that Liverpool would be quiet in January. Jurgen Klopp was always likely to give his squad until the summer to impress (or otherwise), and July and August promise to be very busy indeed.
In addition, the club did well to stay away from Alex Teixeira at that price. Teixeira would have been the club’s record purchase, and his CV simply doesn’t warrant that.
That said, when you look down your squad list and the only new face is Steven Caulker, it’s impossible to label a side winners without feeling bilious.
Having played 20 times for Fulham in 2014/15 (when aged 16 and 17), Roberts has managed 54 competitive minutes since. Being sent to play for Celtic might not sound like a complete disaster, but after six months without any action Roberts has been sent to a level worse than where he started.
Turning 19 on Friday, this is a crucial time in the player’s development. I just wish he’d stayed at Fulham for another two seasons.