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Transfer market descends into farce
Imagine if the transfer window was closed. Imagine how each club would feel about the season ahead if they knew that last-gasp deals would be finalized, and squads would be settled, in time for the Barclays Premier League to kick off on Saturday. It would be hair-tearingly frantic, for sure, but it would make considerably more sense than the current arrangement.
We have a situation where storm clouds still hover above some of the biggest clubs - even title contenders haven’t sorted themselves out - when the games are about to begin. And so, in the pre-match press conferences to preview the games ahead, managers face a grilling on players who they cannot honestly say will or will not be critical to their plans for the next 10 months. It’s ludicrous, really.
Andre Villas-Boas recently delivered the latest on Gareth Bale, who won’t figure for Tottenham’s opener against Crystal Palace. “A pain in the foot,” he said. David Moyes would be forgiven for choosing another body part to describe Wayne Rooney’s situation after this complicated summer. Likewise, Brendan Rodgers of Luis Suarez. Pain in the neck? Or a pain in the backside?
The season opens with only Manchester City, of last season’s top seven clubs, able to feel relaxed about their summer business. They are entitled to feel a little smug, having bolstered their squad weeks ago. Their four major new signings have had some adaptation time, and been able to get to know their new environment, teammates, coach, and way of playing.
As for the rest, the question marks remain in bold: Manchester United still need the midfield creator they craved in the shape of Cesc Fabregas. Chelsea appear keen for another forward after that open pursuit of Rooney. Tottenham have a possible departure of Bale to manage (although they have creditably pre-empted that loss with a string of encouraging new players). Everton must be nervous that vultures will strike late for Marouane Fellaini or Leighton Baines. Liverpool’s relationship with Suarez remains too shaky to be trusted. And as for Arsenal, well, it’s hard to know where to begin as they have failed with their targets and the squad looks vulnerably thin.
Arsene Wenger’s facial expression, when he was innocently asked on the eve of the new season a few years ago if he had enjoyed his summer break, spoke volumes. He looked as if someone had asked him how he might feel about cleaning out toilets with a toothbrush; or, making himself comfortable on a bed of nails. Notably, that was a summer where the critical issue for Arsenal was to try to keep hold of their best players. This season, the aim was to buy; they have millions in their pocket, but they haven’t had the wit to safely negotiate the dark alleys of Transferville.
If this one ends up with the four major sagas all coming to nothing (Bale, Rooney, Suarez, Fabregas) it will be a turn up. So why have the four biggest Premier League deals frozen?
There are a combination of factors: financial fair play is having a say. The Premier League has also had to swallow the fact that some new wealthy markets have been very aggressive. With Ligue 1 in France snaffling up two marquee strikers in the shape of Radamel Falcao and Edinson Cavani, whilst Ukraine’s giants have outspent most English clubs with Shakhtar Donetsk and Dynamo Kiev spending not far short of €100 million between them, it is by no means a given that England is seen by top players as a prime destination.
It has been intriguing to see both Manchester United and Liverpool, right from the top at boardroom level, do their utmost to resist player power. Both clubs have sent out the message that they have no interest in selling to a domestic rival. It is loud and clear.
How that resolves itself with Rooney and Suarez having to make a climbdown, possibly even a public apology, and then knuckle down to produce on the field, remains to be seen.
But you can’t help feeling that won’t happen with any certainty until the window is closed in September. Players who wanted away will have those bold question marks hanging over them until then. Especially when just one week into the season, United host Chelsea, pitting Rooney’s team against the one who has been courting him.
You never know, he might pick up one of those vague injuries, a pain in somewhere or other, for that.
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