There is no such thing as the perfect transfer window because, in an age where elite clubs have astonishing transfer budgets, you can always do more. Jose Mourinho wanted a player who was particularly adept at crossing the ball to service a striker who is wonderful in the air as well as with his feet. Ivan Perisic was the target, and Manchester United failed to get him.
Yet in every other area, this has been a brilliant summer for United, especially given the difficulty the clubs around them have had in improving their squads. Other than Manchester City, nobody did as much as them in the top six. Even Pep Guardiola’s squad has more obvious gaps than Mourinho’s.
Importantly, Manchester United did their business early. The scenes of chasing after Leighton Baines, Arturo Vidal and Ander Herrera in the last throes of the window are consigned to the past by a club now intent on having a transfer strategy to match their manager. Romelu Lukaku, Victor Lindelof, Nemanja Matic were all signed with a minimum of fuss once it became obvious United were interested, and the return of Zlatan Ibrahimovic gives Mourinho backup up front. The form of Henrikh Mkhitaryan allays concerns about Perisic not joining.
One thing is certainly true: There is no excuse for Mourinho now. He has been backed to the tune of over £280m since June 2016, and now has a squad that should be comfortable competing on their three major fronts. Only a serious title challenge, perhaps even victory, and quarter-final place in the Champions League will constitute a success. For now at least, all looks rosy.
You wonderful, baseball-capped man. We laughed when West Brom announced the signing of Gareth Barry for £1m, but we aren’t laughing now. Jonny Evans stayed, Ahmed Hegazi arrived for a bargain price and Oliver Burke provides the alternative to Pulis’ central obsession.
All that might have been enough, had West Brom not then signed a brilliant central midfielder from Paris St Germain. Relegation concerns? Pah. Anyone that says so gets headbutted in the showers.
For most managers, the delay in signing a top transfer target for a full year would be a disaster. The average length of a Premier League manager’s tenure is so short that he might expect his successor to feel the benefits of his good transfer work. Yet with Jurgen Klopp, is it different.
Klopp has managed three clubs in his coaching career, two for spells of seven years apiece and now Liverpool. He is a project manager more than any other in elite European football, intent on creating his perfect squad over a number of seasons, not one. Naby Keita’s arrival in June 2018 is therefore a huge fillip for Liverpool and Klopp.
The inability to land Virgil van Dijk changes this from a great to a good window for Liverpool, but they have still done fine work. The arrival of Mohamed Salah means that Klopp now has his perfect front three, while doubts about the lack of options in midfield have been alleviated by Philippe Coutinho staying, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain joining and Andrew Robertson allowing James Milner to move back into a more familiar role.
The concerns about a central defender list of Joel Matip, Dejan Lovren, Ragnar Klavan and Joe Gomez are valid, as is the uncertainty over the two goalkeepers, but to repeat the line from the Manchester United section: nobody has had a perfect window. Instead, Liverpool have improved their chances of retaining a top-four spot while simultaneously giving the squad added depth ahead of a Champions League campaign. Klopp will hope his inspiration does the rest.
‘I look through the list of signings and I don’t really know any of them,’ said Paul Merson when asked for his verdict on Brighton’s transfer window. ‘When you get promoted to the Premier League, you need to bring in a few seasoned professionals. This league will be new to almost everybody in that squad and for me that approach isn’t going to work. I’m not happy with that.’
‘Huddersfield have had a go,’ he continued. ‘They’ve brought in a lot of players and a couple of them look to be very shrewd. I don’t know all of the players they’ve brought in, but this club has come up into dreamland and they are having a good go at it. You can’t complain.’
The difference between the two clubs is not that Merson has heard of Huddersfield’s players (Tom Ince is the only signing with any Premier League experience), but that David Wagner’s signings look very good. If they are the difference between Huddersfield staying up and going down, he should be given the freedom of the town.
A truly excellent window for Marco Silva, who is clearly a manager capable of attracting players to sign. There was even time to announce two season-long loan signings from Udinese on the final day, for banter purposes. Three cheers for Watford.
The loss of Gylfi Sigurdsson and Fernando Llorente is potentially huge, but had been in the post for some time. If their exits were an inevitability, Swansea’s summer must be judged on how that money was spent. Squander it or leave it sitting in the bank, and relegation looked likely.
That’s why it was worth appointing a manager who has Carlo Ancelotti and Chelsea on speed dial. Renato Sanches’ loan signing turned Swansea’s window around, and was quickly followed by Wilfried Bony’s homecoming. Add in intelligent moves for Sam Clucas, Roque Mesa and Tammy Abraham’s loan, and Paul Clement has done very well indeed. A front six of Mesa, Clucas, Sanches, Abraham, Bony and Ayew sounds like an awful lot of fun.
Manchester City have spent approximately £720m over the last five years, and Ilkay Gundogan, Fernandinho, Yaya Toure and Fabian Delph are still their only central midfield options. One is perma-injured, another is 34 and a third isn’t wanted. Fernandinho is still inexplicably crucial to City’s hopes of success.
Just as Swansea were always going to lose Sigurdsson, same too with Everton and Romelu Lukaku. Nine players have arrived on permanent deals to add much-needed depth to Everton’s squad, including the best young English goalkeeper and one of the best young English central defenders. The rest depends on whether Sandro Ramirez and Nikola Vlasic can together make one prolific striker, but Ronald Koeman will be happy.
Engineered his big move and it paid off. He didn’t even have to tell tales to The Sun to do it.
Would have been higher up this list had Stoke signed a striker on deadline day. Kurt Zouma, Jese Rodriguez, Kevin Wimmer, Bruno Martins Indi, Maxim Choupo-Moting and Darren Fletcher demonstrate the club’s commitment to Hughes, thus making him a winner, but still can’t help but suspect that Peter Crouch will be their top league goalscorer.
Got the move he wanted, is still on big money, still relevant and didn’t even have to think about China or America. We’re not convinced Everton should be delighted with the financial strain of Rooney’s two-year deal, but the man himself should be delighted at returning home.
Got the big move his record at non-elite clubs merited. Where better place to establish yourself as one of Europe’s best strikers than a club where you are serviced by Mkhitaryan, Juan Mata, Paul Pogba, Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial?
N’Golo Kante’s greatest achievement was earning Drinkwater three England caps, or so the joke goes. Drinkwater’s chances of getting into England’s World Cup squad just increased with the prospect of another season of Champions League football and the chance to link up with Kante again.
An actual backup option bought, and one who doesn’t attract patronising cheers when he kicks the ball in a straight line towards the goal.
A chance to show that he was playing below his station at Swansea, and deserves better than the label of ‘set-piece expert’.
From third-choice forward at Southampton to West Brom’s main man. An England recall is not outside the realms of possibility.
It was on April 12 that we were first told of Arsenal’s extravagant plans for spending this summer. The Daily Mirror’s John Cross – who is regularly given information on the club’s intentions – gave us the majestic PR line:
‘Arsenal are ready to spend £200million in the next window to fix their squad… Targets include Lyon striker Alexandre Lacazette, Celtic frontman Moussa Dembele and left-back team-mate Kieran Tierney and Crystal Palace winger Wilfried Zaha.’
That figure was actually slightly misleading. What Cross actually said is that the club were planning to spend £100m on top of any money they brought in for players. As the excellent graphic below shows, that equated to £76m. So Arsenal would spend £176m.
What absolute rot. Anyone who honestly believes that this club and this manager was intent on such a spree deserves to feel silly for being duped into renewing their season ticket. Just like the coaching overhaul and the arrival of a director of football, Arsenal and their media leaks are a deliberate attempt to mislead supporters about the future direction of the club. Arsenal only have one transfer market mode: standing still. This summer they offered a wonderful demonstration of it.
Having finished in the top four so consistently, you could just about offer an argument for not spending lavishly over the last five years. Having finished fifth and stressed the importance of hanging on to the coattails of Manchester City, Chelsea, Manchester United and even Tottenham and Liverpool, there was no excuse this summer. We have witnessed three months of stagnation which will surely continue to bleed down onto the pitch.
A club which struggled last season, finishing far behind their usual rivals because the squad looked tired and relied too much on a select group of key players performing at their best each week, ummed and ahhed about the best course of action and concluded that making a profit on transfers and thus placing even greater emphasis on those key players, p*ssing them off in the process, was the right thing to do. It is like a piece of performance art.
So what are Arsenal left with? A new striker who was left on the bench for their first big game of the league season. A new left-back who has been found wanting in central defence. The departure of one key player and two more who will be counting down the days until they can leave. No new central midfielder. No new wide player. No new natural central defender. No new dawn.
Yet the most instructive aspect of Arsenal’s summer is not that so few players arrived nor that Arsenal somehow managed to turn transfer profit at a time when everyone is swimming in cash, but that none of the players with expiring contracts who Wenger wanted to sign new deals have done so. That tells you all about where this club is heading, off the field and on it. There are plenty within this great club who should be thoroughly ashamed.
Arsenal, Alexis Sanchez and that Thomas Lemar bid
So let’s get this straight. We are expected to believe that all of the below happened:
– Manchester City bid for Alexis Sanchez for the first time in the final hours of the transfer window.
– Arsenal accepted that bid, because they were confident of signing Thomas Lemar.
– Arsenal then submitted a bid for Lemar with seven hours of the transfer window remaining.
– That bid was accepted, at which point Arsenal pulled out because they believed that there was not enough time to complete a deal.
– Arsenal supporters should be happy that the deal fell apart, because now Sanchez stays at the club.
– Sanchez staying is a statement of intent from the club.
It’s like that apocryphal tale of the man who turned up at the hospital with the tomato ketchup bottle inserted inside him and began to weave a yarn, forgetting the key detail that the bottle had a condom over it.
If Arsenal were worried about the time left to complete a deal for Lemar, why on earth did they make a bid in the first place? It isn’t as if Monaco delayed in accepting the £92m offer – quite the opposite. And why did they accept City’s bid for Sanchez if they knew they would not have time to complete a deal?
Forgive me for assumptions, but the most likely scenario is either:
– Arsenal accept Manchester City’s bid for Sanchez, confident of persuading Lemar to join. Lemar bid is accepted, but player rejects the move because he would rather join a club that doesn’t look like a bin fire. Stung by that, Arsenal decide to pull out of Sanchez sale, aware that selling him without a replacement would cause a mutiny.
– Arsenal accept Manchester City bid for Sanchez, after growing pressure from the player to sell, but do not want a deal to go through. They make a desperate PR mission by leaking information that a huge bid has been made for Lemar, which the club have no intention of completing. They pull out of Sanchez sale, aware that selling him without a replacement would cause a mutiny.
Either way, it takes an extraordinary leap of faith to suggest that Arsenal played a blinder with the Sanchez deal. They have a player who doesn’t want to be there and who had been led to believe that a bid had been accepted and he would be leaving. They failed to sign a replacement, and Sanchez will be able to negotiate a move away from Arsenal for free in January. They spent the whole summer saying that Sanchez would not be sold at any cost – and certainly not to a Premier League rival – and then capitulated in the final hours to accept a bid.
It’s one thing letting us down and letting the supporters down, but now you’ve let Wrighty down. And we won’t have that.
“I’ve confirmed to Rafa and Lee that they can have every last penny that the club generates through promotion, player sales and other means in order to build for next season” – Mike Ashley, May 10.
Now let’s assume that the vague “other means” refers to season ticket and merchandising sales rather than Ashley hinting that he might actually free up some more of his own enormous wealth. Newcastle’s broadcasting revenues will be at least £100m this season, assuming they finish bottom of the table and are on television fewer times than any other club (which will not be the case). So let’s conservatively assume that Newcastle gain £100m out of promotion, not including any player sales.
For Newcastle to end Deadline Day having failed to sign a single player is an unfunny joke of Ashley-esque proportions. To leave the best – and most popular – manager of your miserable ownership high and dry when he needed you most is negligence. Rafa Benitez was told to build a squad that would ensure Championship promotion, which could then be improved over the course of the summer. The manager kept his end of the bargain; Ashley didn’t keep his.
A fortnight ago, Ashley conducted an interview with Sky Sports News in which he apologised (with tongue in cheek) for Newcastle’s inability to compete with Manchester City, thus answering the question that nobody was asking. They just want to compete with Burnley, Mike. Nineteen of the 20 Premier league clubs have broken their record transfer in the past 25 months. Newcastle last did it in August 2005 for Michael Owen, before Ashley’s ownership began.
Reports from Newcastle now suggest that Benitez is understandably furious. The financial implications of his contract means that he cannot simply walk away, but he will surely instruct his agent to make it known that he is happy to entertain offers. West Ham should be straight in his ear.
Benitez’s exit would cause a mutiny like nothing we have seen before at Newcastle. Supporters are mistrustful of Ashley by default and regularly outright angry, but if his parsimony again forces this club into manager-less crisis from a position of such potential, he can expect their collective wrath. Never has a football club owner been so unfathomably prepared to undermine all chance of progress.
Finally, an apology. On June 28, I wrote this piece in which I feared for Newcastle if Ashley wasn’t prepared to accept the reality of football’s altered financial climate. Sarah Winterburn headlined it as ‘sleepwalking to relegation’, but I requested a change as I felt that was too strong. So yeah, sorry. Because that’s exactly what Newcastle have done.
They wanted Antonio Candreva, and didn’t get him. They wanted Romelu Lukaku, and didn’t get him. They wanted Virgil van Dijk, and didn’t get him. They wanted Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and didn’t get him. They wanted Ross Barkley, and didn’t get him. They wanted Fernando Llorente, and didn’t get him.
Chelsea’s squad is not as paper-thin as some would have you believe, but this summer emphasises why many supporters feel that technical director and transfer guru Michael Emenalo should be clearing his desk. Conte asked for a box of truffles on Deadline Day and was handed the last selection box left in the petrol station on Christmas Eve. Chelsea have some serious making up to do.
Philippe Coutinho, Virgil van Dijk and Alexis Sanchez
Oh boys. You pushed and pushed, and for what? This was not a good summer for players attempting a power play. Clubs have got too much money to be bullied.
‘To try and halt the dread that is encapsulating and suffocating everyone at the club like a poisonous smog,’ was our assessment of what West Ham needed on the final day, instead hypothesising that ‘the owners will sign some players they have heard of, rushed deals for individuals who don’t have any affinity for the club but are instead passing traffic in this lay-by of football despair’.
They didn’t even do that. In years to come, West Ham fans will look back on August 31, 2017 and remember that on a day when their club needed a PR quick win, a striker who they have been trying to sell for 18 months rodded off to France, stopped on his way back to watch some horse racing and ended the day being offered a new contract. Incredible scenes.
Nine senior players have left, Pablo Zabaleta and Joe Hart look past their best and there are gaping holes in a squad that looks low on morale, motivation or both. Nobody does it quite like West Ham.
They did get Mamadou Sakho over the line eventually, but that doesn’t change an illogical transfer window into one that suddenly makes sense. Palace’s lack of spending intimates that money is tight, but if that is the case why on earth would you appoint a manager with a totally opposite philosophy to his predecessor and thus one who would need to spend.
Palace have given a budding artist two potato halves and a tray of red and blue paint and asked him to create a masterpiece. They have no points, and all but one of the summer signings are defenders. This doesn’t end well.
Not quite sure if he had the medical or didn’t, wants to be at Chelsea or doesn’t. But Barkley is now likely to spend at least four months as Everton’s persona non grata before he can engineer his exit.
Chris Hughton and his strikers
Brighton have made some intriguing signings in key positions, but their inability to sign a single striker over the course of the summer is truly bizarre. Hughton will count himself unlucky that several targets didn’t come off, but those excuses can only go so far. Glenn Murray, Tomer Hemed and Sam Baldock as a Premier League strikeforce is unlikely to cut the mustard.
Signed the full-backs and goalkeeper he wanted and added Bernardo Silva as a little treat, but why oh why didn’t City sign a central defender or central midfielder? Add in the failure to land Alexis Sanchez – their top transfer target – and Guardiola will be a lot less content than he was a month ago, despite the arrivals.
A strong start to the season, but Burnley lost Andre Gray and Michael Keane this summer. Chris Wood might be able to replace the former, but a central defensive pair of Ben Mee and James Tarkowski, with no natural cover on the bench, looks incredibly thin. Plenty of work for Tom Heaton to do, you’d think.
Watford’s fringe players
Because Watford are Watford, they recruited 12 players into an already bloated first-team squad. By my reckoning, they have 33 players to fit into a 25-man Premier League squad, of which only four meet the under-21 criteria. A few players are set for a quiet four months.
The little boy who nobody wanted.
All ready to go but with nothing to do, like me at the end of every night in fresher’s week. Maybe when Sky Sports’ yellow-tinged palaver eases down on the hyperbole, the last hours of the transfer window might not be such an anticlimax.
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