Summer Splashes, Splurges and SilencesSeptember 4, 2015
The summer transfer window has come and gone and probably that’s a good thing ‘cause we can now just focus on the football without creating a thousand and one ‘if’ scenarios. The underlying question is whether the business done by the usual suspects for the Premier League title has shifted the balance, and if it has, then to whose favour? Let’s take a look and see.
At the beginning of the window the Gunners were viewed by many as the team which if made two or three signings would wrest the title away from the clutches of Chelsea. They only made one signing – Petr Cech from Chelsea for £10m. And even that was done sometime in June, as if to send a message that they knew what they wanted and got it early. The major departure was Lukas Podolski to Galatasaray (£1.8m) while Ryo Miyaichi and Abou Diaby were released. The likes of Chuba Akpom, Serge Gnabry, Carl Jenkinson, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Emiliano Martinez, Yaya Sanogo, Wellington Silva, Wojciech Szczesny, Jon Harper-Toral, Danny Crowley and Gedion Zelalem have all been sent out on loan spells.
What’s rather odd about Arsenal’s business is that for all the noise about the team lacking an ice-cold finisher and another midfield kingpin to add to Francis Coquelin, only Cech was seen to be needed by the club’s supremoes, in the process earning the club the dubious distinction of being the only club in Europe not to have signed an outfield player. Surely not the thing those who dream of being champions want to be known for. If you consider the fact that last season Arsenal created as many clear cut chances as both Manchester City and eventual champions Chelsea and if not for errant finishing could well have punched higher than the third position they managed, then the decision to not add anything to their strike force is more than just baffling. Terming it negligent would be being too kind.
In essence, Arsene Wenger has hedged the club’s fortunes on injuries being kind on his key players this season, an option which seems irredeemably naïve considering how Arsenal struggled against Liverpool just two weeks ago due to the sudden unavailability of first choice centre half pairing of Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny. For Arsenal to win the league this season, they are going to have to be very lucky and their rivals are going to have to endure many off days. No other way to explain this other than hoping for success based on divine intervention. They will pay dearly for this scandalously bungled transfer window.
This was the season when Chelsea were to assert their dominance on the English game while flexing their muscles alongside the big boys in Europe with just minor personnel tweaks. Then again the amazing thing about this game we love so much is that the football gods have quite the wicked sense of humour. And it could be seen, this plan, as the season rolled in. Only Asmir Begovic (Stoke City, £8m) and Radamel Falcao (Monaco, loan) had been brought in to replace Cech and Didier Drogba respectively. If the narrow 1-0 loss to Arsenal in the Community Shield was just a blip then the opening day 2-2 draw with Swansea City and the subsequent 3-0 decimation at the hands of favourites Manchester City proved just how off the mark Jose Mourinho’s evaluation was. Something had to be done, and be done with utmost expediency. Through the revolving doors at the Bridge came Baba Rahman (Augsburg, £21m), Pedro Rodriguez (Barcelona, £21.1m), Kenedy (Fluminense, £6.7m) Nathan (Atlético Paranaense, £4.5m), Papy Djilobodji (Nantes, £2.7m) while both Michael Hector (Reading, £4m) and Danilo Pantic (Partizan Belgrade, £1.25m) were immediately loaned back to their respective clubs. Quite some business, huh?
Before, it was pretty obvious that Chelsea’s success depended on the fitness of Diego Costa and (maybe) his backups, Loic Remy and (now) Falcao. But the first month of the season has brought to the fore the Blues’ real undoing – their defence. And it is no wonder they (publicly) pursued Everton’s young centre back John Stones all summer long. The fact that it did not materialize and they instead had to settle for Djilobodji gives a sense that it has been a rather underwhelming summer for the club. That some fans believed the Senegalese defender was actually a fictional character made up by Jose’s propaganda operatives only adds a comical dimension to Chelsea’s dealings. There was also a bid placed for the Juventus midfield maestro Paul Pogba, but club chief Beppe Marota wouldn’t countenance any of that. The player himself wasn’t interested either.
This may be contentious, but really, with the current squad (and maybe a few January additions) Chelsea have the resources to bounce back from the ashes and give Man City quite a run for their money. Key will be Mourinho’s boldness in his squad selection. For him to have paid top dollar for the Ghanaian left back Baba it means he holds him in high regard. Cesar Azpilicueta should be starting at right back and Baba on the left. That would give them more attacking impetus, and against the very high quality sides the importance of that cannot be overemphasized. Then again Jose is overly cautious by nature, so probably Baba will still be warming the bench. Upfront the addition of Pedro gives them not only pace, but the much needed cutting edge and directness, and with Oscar’s impending return, the offensive department looks ready. It is goings-on at the back that will shape the champions’ destiny.
Liverpool essentially represents the clutch of pretenders to the gate-crashing of the top four company…and by a stretch, the outside dark horses for the title. As the post Steven Gerrard era begins at Anfield the Reds have, in true Brendan Rodgers fashion, made a glut of new signings. Taiwo Awoniyi (Imperial Soccer Academy, 400k), Christian Benteke (Aston Villa, 32.5m), Adam Bogdan (Bolton, Free), Nathaniel Clyne (Southampton, 12.5m), Roberto Firmino (Hoffenheim, 29.5m), Joe Gomez (Charlton Athletic, 3.5m), Danny Ings (Burnley, tribunal), James Milner (Manchester City, Free) have all been brought in, with the club parting with around £80m for their signatures.
The major piece of business done by Rodgers centred on the activation of Benteke’s release clause from his Villa contract in a bid to address the chronic lack of goals that dogged Liverpool last term. In addition to that, Ings and Firmino have also been brought in to help the Belgian shoulder that responsibility, not forgetting Divock Origi being recalled from his loan spell at Lille. In the middle of the pack Milner brings his wealth of experience and effectiveness to replace Gerrard whereas Clyne and Gomez are the new full backs albeit with reservations about a right footed Gomez from the Championship (Charlton Athletic) being mandated to man the left side of defence. It will be interesting to see if and how the youngster responds to these doubts.
It could be said that Liverpool haven’t done that badly in the market and should be able to improve on the abysmal showing of last season. The jury is still out on them.
The champions-in-waiting and indeed, their activity in the window clearly shows that they want it so bad. Those who aspire to claim glory do their business in the way the Citizens have. City had a plan, and they executed it with as minimal fuss as they could manage. It helps that they have been the quickest off the blocks immediately the season began and one does not need to look further than the 3-0 annihilation of champions Chelsea on Matchweek 2 for proof. In fact, it could even be that probably in the end they’ve bought more than they actually needed for the assault at the title. Man City have brought in Kevin De Bruyne (Wolfsburg, £51m), Fabian Delph (Aston Villa, £8m), Nicolás Otamendi (Valencia, £34m), Patrick Roberts (Fulham, £11m), Rubén Sobrino (SD Ponferradina, £200k), Raheem Sterling (Liverpool, £49m) and Enes Unal (Bursaspor, £2m) who has subsequently been loaned to Genk. That’s roughly an outlay of around £155m, mind. Maybe Sheikh Mansour and Khaldoon Mubarak be like ‘they must know!’ And sure, we know and recognize.
The likes of Dedrick Boyata, John Guidetti, Frank Lampard, James Milner, Matija Nastasic, Micah Richards and Scott Sinclair have either been sold or released with misfits Edin Dzeko and Stevan Jovetic being shipped off to loans in Serie A to Roma and Inter respectively. That aside, it has been splendid business all round and the fans of the blue half of Manchester must be licking their lips at the prospect of Otamendi partnering captain Vincent Kompany at the heart of the defence, a rejuvenated Yaya Toure driving from midfield, and an attacking trio of Sterling, David Silva and De Bruyne with Sergio Agüero at the tip of that attack. Scary, no doubt! Anything less than the Premier League title and at least a semi-final berth in Champions League will be deemed a failure of epic proportions.
Enter, the league’s erstwhile entertainers – and really, there was never a dull moment at Carrington during the summer. From manager Louis van Gaal admitting publicly that Pedro was exactly the type of player he needed before Chelsea somehow managed to prise him away from the Dutchman’s clutches, to David De Gea’s much touted move to Real Madrid collapsing at the death, to United signing Monaco prodigy Anthony Martial just before deadline for a world record fee for a teenager, it has been a ‘never miss a moment’ kind of summer at the club.
They approached the transfer window like a house on fire and most of the deals were sewn up early. Matteo Darmian (Torino, 12.9m), Memphis Depay (PSV Eindhoven, 25m), Anthony Martial (Monaco, 36m*), Sergio Romero (Sampdoria, Free), Morgan Schneiderlin (Southampton, 24m) and Bastian Schweinsteiger (Bayern Munich, 14.4m) have all joined, though with the asterisk on the Martial fee which could well rise to £57.5m if some conditions in the add ons were to come to fruition. Quite a sum for a 19 year-old with no senior caps for his country as at the time of the deal. You get the feel though that the best pieces of business have been done in acquiring Darmian and Schneiderlin to plug the holes in United’s problem areas of right back and defensive midfield. Basti represents a shrewd gamble with the potential to prove a masterstroke or an epic fail. That the Germany captain and World Cup winner is of the utmost pedigree is not in doubt, but it is for his lack of fitness that he lost his place at Bayern so it remains to be seen what kind of a signing he turns out to be.
So far United’s major problem has been a sheer inability to score goals and the sales of Robin van Persie and Javier Hernandez plus the loaning out of Adnan Januzaj to Borussia Dortmund brings back that issue into sharp focus. Depay may have top scored in the Eredivisie last season, but the Premier League is a huge step up from that and Martial really hasn’t done much so far in his career. That leaves captain Wayne Rooney as the sole out and out striker who will be looked up to for goals, and plenty of it. There’s also the issue of him not being that explosive goal-getting arch-picker of opposition defences that he was earlier on in his United and England career, and also of his suitability to Van Gaal’s system not forgetting his on the red age. This only puts more demand on the likes of Juan Mata and Marouane Fellaini to more than chip in with the occasional goals. Oh, and the small matter of Daley Blind’s makeshift stint at central defence seemingly becoming permanent – what’s up with that?
One thing that is guaranteed with this Manchester United side, and indeed as with the one-month old Premier League season is entertainment. You are never going to want to let a moment pass you by.