by Peter Ames
Once the dust had settled and someone had switched Jim White off at midnight on Friday there was time for reflection upon another intriguing transfer window. It was particularly exciting for those teams who finished around the top in the last campaign who pounced on the readily available, and relatively cheap, attacking talent: Robin Van Persie and Shinji Kagawa were snapped up by Manchester United and Chelsea signed playmakers Marco Marin, Eden Hazard and Oscar. Yet could both of these teams be accused of approaching this window in the manner of children in a sweet shop; drawn to a host of attacking talent but, with each only purchasing a full-back, neglecting less-glamorous positions that were arguably more in need of strengthening? Furthermore, could any of the top teams be said to have had a completely successful window, and if not, who did deal particularly well?
The core of the European champions seems fairly weak: Frank Lampard is ageing, as was Michael Essien before he left for Madrid, and John Obi Mikel resembles an Oak tree not just in stature, but also in speed and potency. Similar problems are to be found at centre-back, which was evident in the European Super Cup on Friday evening when the sublime Radamel Falcao took something of a wrecking ball to Chelsea’s back four. This was not a great surprise to those who have seen the Colombuian in action (nor to those who have seen Chelsea defend) but what is a surprise is that Chelsea, despite their vast financial resources, have not chosen to bolster these most vulnerable areas. For all the technical brilliance that their new recruits will add alongside the quicksilver Juan Mata, there is still the fear that Chelsea may yet lack a little grit. Questions also remain as to who will score their goals if the rejuvenated Fernando Torres is sidelined through a freak headband injury.
Similarly Manchester United’s eyes have been drawn to the shining gems that are Robin Van Persie and Shinji Kagawa who, bought for a collective fee of around £40 million, add an ominous level of quality to the club’s already impressive attacking options. Yet, like Chelsea, they have not bolstered two comparatively weak areas of their team: centre midfield and centre-half. Michael Carrick is having to deputise in defence and therefore leaving the midfield, to which Paul Scholes had to be hastily restored last season, more stretched than ever. Their inability to handle Marouane Fellani, reminiscent of their ‘look panicked and run away’ approach to Yaya Toure, showed the weakness in these two key areas. Michael Carrick was unable to best him and his flying elbows in the air, with Paul Scholes and Tom Cleverly resembling Subbuteo players as they circled ineptly around him.
One player who could have been a perfect fit is the imposing Javi Garcia. Manchester City’s final-day signing is a man who Portugese-football ‘expert’ Ian Dowie claims “brings more physicality than Nigel de Jong”; a delicious prospect. Yet, deep down, manager Roberto Mancini may be disappointed that he was not welcoming Daniele De Rossi instead, and with prudence and sustainability being the key words in the upper echelons of the Eastlands hierarchy this summer, City missed out on other major targets: Hazard, Van Persie and former Bilbao midfielder Javi Martinez. Instead Scott Sinclair, Jack Rodwell, Matija Nastasić and Maicon are not disappointing, but perhaps not the expected acquisitions. Richard Wright, however, is expected to set the world on fire.
At Tottenham Hotspur Andre Villas Boas seems to have been allowed to fully unleash the madness we glimpsed during his ‘project’ at Chelsea. It is impossible to say how his new-look Tottenham will fare: there is quality in Dempsey and Dembele, but is it enough to replace the supreme talent of Luka Modric? It is also impossible to say how soon the new-look Spurs will gel. Their North London Rivals briefly seemed to be getting the best out of the market. Santi Cazorla is blessed with natural genius to rival the best in the league. Similarly Lucas Podolski brings experience up front and Olivier Giroud adds something of an agricultural option who might be particularly useful against the more boisterous tactics of Pulis, Allardyce et. al.. It all fell apart with the sale of captain, goalscorer, and apparent only hope, Robin Van Persie. He has left a goal-scoring gap that the Gunners have not managed to fill in the early season, and pressure is building on the likes of Podolski and Giroud.
Thus, at the top, business was perhaps not as good as it would first seem. For a truly successful summer in the transfer market, we must look to South Wales. Swansea had a brilliantly successful debut season in the Premier League and the first, most difficult, task was to replace Brendan Rodgers and the philosophy that he had instilled. Michael Laudrup is showing to be an ideal replacement. He has continued where Rodgers left off, with his managerial style already showing the influence of his playing days at Ajax and Barcelona.
The transfer window could also have been difficult for the Welsh side with key players such as Joe Allen, Gylfi Siggurddson and Scott Sinclair leaving, having had their heads turned by supposedly brighter lights. The removal of players who did not want to play for the team was the first good move. Then they were not merely been replaced, but arguably upgraded in the form of the already-impressive Michu, and winger Paulo Hernandez of Valencia; the club that previously brought us David Silva and Juan Mata. The loan signing of midfielder Jonathan de Guzmán is astute, and new centre-back Chico is brilliantly named at the very least. Just as Laudrup was a well thought-out managerial appointment, such clearness of vision is evident in Swansea’s transfer business, which represents a triumph of harmony between ambition and execution; of knowing your model and firmly adhering to it. They may not be one of the ‘top’ teams, but if they can continue their early-season form there is no reason to think they cannot finish strongly in the top half, perhaps even with an outside chance of making the Europa League.
Of course, clubs cannot scout everywhere and dig up every hidden gem that would be the perfect addition to their side. Similarly with UEFA’s Financial Fair Play Regulations coming in, it is an increasingly difficult time for top clubs to pay vast sums on the select few players that would improve them in the required positions. Yet, there is still the air of a slightly strange window at the top of the league, and perhaps a few managers may be a little jealous of the smile of contentment that must surely be on Michael Laudrup’s face.