The transfer activity at Old Trafford has been both a good thing and a bad thing for Man Utd fans. It’s good because according to Sky Sports pundits who’ve quickly checked Wikipedia, they’ve snapped up some of the finest young talent in England and Europe, but it’s bad because they’ve also let go of the opportunity to wear Norwich city scarves and moan about how the Glazers are ‘destroying the club’ that Bobby Charlton first built back in 1888 with only a comb, a tub of Brylcream and a shirtless Denis Law to help him. Going out the door are Edwin van der Sar (who’ll be missed), Paul Scholes (who’ll be missed by pundits trying to sound alternative by suggesting he’s the one really pulling the strings in midfield despite doing little other than giving the opposition flesh wounds) and Owen Hargreaves (who we could say pretty much anything about right now because he probably pulled up injured halfway through reading this sentence).
In his quest for replacements, Sir Alex Ferguson hasn’t been spending like a man who’s worrying about the repayments on a leveraged loan this summer. In signing Jones, Young and De Gea the much despised Yanks have pulled the old ‘estranged father who’s trying to cover up for the fact he doesn’t see the kids much by buying excessively expensive presents at Christmas time’ trick and it’s worked wonders on the faithful. The amount of money handed over for a couple of unproven players may raise a few adulterous monobrows around the United dressing room, but in reality it’s money that needs to be spent after league number 19 was won largely by not being as rubbish as everyone else rather than swashbuckling domination.
The snapping up of players with a questionable chance of success isn’t going to end there with Wesley Sneijder lined up to not quite fit into the midfield. The talk is he’ll play in the hole, but Wayne Rooney likes to play there and that’s not even a sex joke. And so can Ashley Young. United are going to have more people in the hole than a Chilean mine. Plus the history of players leaving Serie A and excelling in the Premier League is still something that could be documented on the back of a stamp and you have to wonder whether that’s worth risking nearly £40 million trying to buck that trend.
In reality, it’s the eventual spending of the Ronaldo money in a reasonably shrewd manner, but don’t be surprised if the cost of visiting Old Trafford next season goes from ‘around £40 a match’ to ‘your first born child a match’ and the quality of football doesn’t improve. That said, given the standards set by their rivals last season, it might still be enough to win another league.
It’s fair to say, Sunderland have been amongst the most active clubs in the summer transfer window. Now, ‘active’ is generally used in a way that implies positive connotations – governments frequently urge us to ‘get out and get active’ for fear that we might turn into blubbery lumps of tissue on the sofa; marketing gimps often tell us about the ‘active’ nutrients in shampoo and yoghurts that are really good for our health and not just lies that won’t stand up to the rigours of scientific analysis. ‘Active’ can also be a bad thing i.e. ‘the al-Qaeda cell were active for several months before attacking the headquarters of the Simon Cowell empire‘ or ‘we initially thought the volcano was dormant, but after we sent down that bus load of school kids, it turns out it was still active. Our bad.’
One definite win amidst all this activity is convincing Liverpool to part with around £20 million for Jordan ‘Pig In A Poke’ Henderson. That’s not to insult the player who looks like a useful prospect, but he’s precisely that – a prospect. He has shown flashes of potential, but remember – so did Francis Jeffers. Fans may not have liked it, but Sunderland did well to get that money for him because the list of English players who’ve had one good season followed by a decade of not living up to expectations is longer than the queue for handouts at the European Central Bank.
The rest of the transfer activity has an altogether more dubious look to it. The club have splashed some cash, but whilst fans may have hoped it was a spending spree to take in the most expensive fashion houses, it’s basically been confined to Poundworld. Kieren Westwood is an immensely talented keeper, but he’s also been known to throw in a couple of howlers throughout the season and with Mignolet and Gordon already more than capable of doing that on their own, you’d wonder why he was brought in. Connor Wickham is another exciting purchase, but the rest of the players snapped up kind of leave you with the feeling you get from landing a dubious bargain in low cost shops – great if you’ve managed to find a gem amongst all the borderline out of date produce and back of the lorry knockoffs, but if things don’t work out, at least you haven’t spent too much. John O’Shea has more positions than the Kama Sutra so he’s always handy to have around, but unless Wes Brown came with a time machine to bring us back to the early noughties, snapping him up considering his age and medical record looks ill-advised. Seb Larsson is the type of player that can create a moment of magic, but he’s also capable of creating even more moments of bad control and misplaced simple passes. Kind of encapsulating the ambivalence of much of their transfer dealings is the potential acquisition of Darron Gibson. The well-timed belter from 30 yards was enough to keep him in the United squad, but Sunderland will require him to contribute far more than several hoofs at goal with occasional success.
Maybe all the dubious gambles will pay off and Sunderland will have a great season. Or maybe they’ll look like aging Man Utd rejects. After Jordan Henderson was sold for £20 million, I’m prepared to believe anything.
Right now, every day must feel like bringing the car to the local garage for a service to Arsenal fans. You know you’re about to get bent over, but you’re just praying the damage won’t be too bad. Gael Clichy may not be the biggest loss, but seeing Samir Nasri leave would mean you’re relying on Thomas Rosicky’s legs to pull the strings around the penalty area and for the last couple of seasons you wouldn’t rely on Thomas Rosicky’s legs to get you to the top of the stairs, let alone the top of the league. With Cesc Fabregas’s tedious flirtation with Barcelona finally looking like it might end up with an overpriced transfer fee heading to the Emirates, the Gunners are only a couple of signings on the dotted line away from having a very threadbare looking squad.
As is customary in business, Arsenal will receive a sizeable chunk of money for the inconvenience of having to build a new team. It means Arsene should have a big war-chest to spend, but will he be able to work his magic in the transfer market in the same way he has in the past? He has built teams around unheralded bargain basement purchases, but with each passing year he’s become ever more mainstream with his spending. Plus, there’s the eternal question of whether or not he’ll spend it on what he really needs. For the last couple of seasons, he’s done the football equivalent of buying a boob job when what you should have done was get a heart bypass. The lack of quality cover in the Arsenal defence and midfield has been obvious for the last couple of years, but some of his biggest spending has been on attack-minded players. Gervinho will be a welcome addition to his attacking options, but unless Wenger has a plan to convert Juan Mata into a no-nonsense centre-back, you’d have to wonder if he’s again addressing the weaknesses within his squad.
Knowing Wenger’s modus operandi, you’d have to think he’s simply playing his cards close to his chest before making several moves to replenish the ranks. If not, you’d have to fear that once again the Arsenal season will peter out disappointingly around March time and – perhaps even worse – Denilson will be a regular starter.
It says a lot that the most exciting English prospect to emerge from Liverpool in recent years has been John Bishop, but sadly jokes about a working class upbringing on Merseyside don’t win you league titles. With UEFA waving the 6+5 policy around menacingly like the Iranians with a nuclear program, there’s been a scramble around the corridors of Anfield for indigenous talent and that’s led to some cheques for some questionable amounts heading out from the boardroom. Henderson is going to have to win a lot of Carling Cups to justify his price tag. Charlie Adam for £7 million isn’t a risk of the same magnitude, especially when you consider he’s a player with experience of winning leagues. Sadly that league was the Scottish 1st Division with St. Mirren.
Also set to join Liverpool for a few million more than you’d normally consider fair market value is Stuart Downing. One of the major talking points of silly season involved Downing, a Liverpool scarf and some nifty photoshopping work, which was less a foreshadowing of events that would eventually transpire and more about sports journalists having little to write about during the summer. Again the sum of money involved strays onto ‘more money than sense’ territory, but again he’s English and the bonus that comes with that is he’ll never be at an international tournament past the quarter-finals so should get a decent chuck of rest every summer.
The cliché may tell us that the return of Alberto Aquilani after a season on loan in Italy will feel like signing a new player, but in reality, it will feel more like a relapse of genital warts – a constant reminder of an expensive mistake you made a couple of years ago that will never fully be healed. It’s not all bad however, as Joe Cole may be on his way. Who would have guessed that the immobile and ineffective Cole who glossed over his shortcomings with the occasional deflected goal we saw towards the end of career with Chelsea would go on to be the immobile and ineffective Cole who hasn’t glossed over his shortcomings with the occasional deflected goal at Liverpool?
The arrivals at Anfield will mean hopes of landing their first league title since the Jurassic period will be unjustifiably high, but that’s pretty much the case every summer. Even that year when they signed Harry Kewell.
Across North London, the transfer market isn’t doing Tottenham much favours either. Luca Modric was roundly praised after apparently holding his tongue about Daniel Levy denying him a move to Chelsea, but it turns out he wasn’t being the type of gentleman so rarely seen in modern football, he was waiting to vent his spleen to a Croatian journalist. How bizarrely patriotic, but incredibly sneaky at the same time. With Michael Essien being ruled out until some time when Chelsea’s title challenge will be hanging by a thread, Roman Abramovich is likely to pay even more over the odds than the already over the odds pricetag.
A huge profit on the player would cushion the blow of losing their playmaker. Obviously Harry with a few million quid is like McGyver with an elastic band, a toothpick and jar of Vaseline and he may somehow be able to pull a few surprisingly good signings out of the bag, but even if he does, it will take some time for the side to gel and the momentum of recent seasons could be lost. Even though he looks set to hang on to the vast majority of his remaining prized assets, there are question marks about how they’ll perform. Rafael van der Vaart was a revelation and he consistently did some remarkable things throughout the season. Sadly for Spurs fans, the most remarkable thing he did in the closing months of the campaign was to become the only player in history to suffer second season syndrome in his first season. Likewise Gareth Bale can be almost unplayable when he’s at his marauding best, but that marauding best was only really seen for about two weeks in early winter.
Perhaps the best signing will be one that doesn’t involve any money. Bringing in Brad Friedel means he can relegate Gomes to letting shots squirm by him for the reserves and if he can dupe anyone into thinking they’re signing Mario Gomez, maybe even get rid of him altogether. Other than that, talk of who might be arriving at the Lane is pretty thin on the ground, which surely means Harry is busy scouting the seventh tier of Croatian football. There will undoubtedly be some arrivals before the season kicks off, but whether or not Harry can mould them into a solid unit or even knows what country they’re from remains to be seen. If even Spurs do land some top class bargain basement talent, they’ll be hard pressed to break into the Top 4. Champions League football may soon become a distant fond memory to the club along the lines of the Ossie Ardiles era.
What do you think about this summer’s transfer shennanigans? Stick your comments below.