Off-season is perhaps the most frustrating part of the ardent football fan’s lifecycle. You wake up on Saturday mornings and suddenly remember that there are no Premier League fixtures in the evening, and that the only way you can follow your club’s progress is through tweets by journos and transfer rumours in newspapers. To your disappointment and ire, you discover that half the claims of the former are cooked up ‘In-The-Know’ predictions retracted quickly after a professional trade against misinformed sources, and the most of the latter are diplomatically worded passages carefully attributed to the very same tweets and journos and misinformed sources. Depending on the agression and ambition of the club, a dozen players are linked across the space of three months, and pundits on TV, now bereft of on-field action to dicsuss about, elaborate in intricate tactical details how a Ramos can rejuvenate a much maligned Manchester United defence, or how a Vidal, despite his injury-ridden season can add verve and spine to a Bayern Munich midfield. Valuations of title contenders and relegation candidates are made based on management changes and transfers, and a general air of hyped up expectation is built up towards match day. And though each one of us ardent fans is aware of this cycle, we still fall in line like moths flying into flames, joblessly logging on to goal.com and espnfc.com and club forums like redcafe.net or the theredandwhitekop.com to satisy the transfer muppets inside us. The rest of this article will be about my own jobless forays into the transfer season activities, focusing mostly on the English Premier League.
Champions Chelsea have been, quite understandably, relatively inactive in the market so far. Radamel Falcao has been signed on a season-long loan in order to repleace Didier Drogba (and, as some say, to appease Jorge Mendes, who just happens to be both Mourinho AND Falcao’s agent). Mourinho’s gamble over the once lethal Colombian ace, who looked a pale finished shadow of himself last year at Manchester United, is not too much of a risk considering Diego Costa’s exploits last year. Winger Juan Cuadrado had to be rescued from a legal tussle with Florentina over a loan-clause, and Everton boss Roberto Martinez had some unpleasant remarks to make over Chelsea’s public bidding for young English centre-back John Stones, who has been repeatedly declared unavailable.
Arsene Wenger is a man who never fails to split opinion amongst his fanbase. Arsenal, depite now being debt-free in the wake of stadium completion and new kit deals, still refuse to spend out big on a marquee signing. Chelsea legend and veteran goalkeeper Petr Cech was the only significant addition they made to the first team (more on his disastrous debut later on), and the decision to trust young Coquelin in defensive midfield instead of engaging United in a bidding war over Schneiderlin was indicative of Wenger’s philosophy. Every man and his dog seems to believe that Arsenal need a new striker and defensive re-inforcements, but Wenger, like always, has differed so far.
Manchester City have a new found muscle in the transfer market in the wake of relaxed FFP regulations, but they have failed to make as many changes as they would want to. Their dearth of the necessary home-grown players is well known, and selling clubs are eking out every extra penny for possible. Liverpool contract rebel Raheem Sterling was bought for 49m pounds, a mind-boggling amount that many believe is too much for mere potential, even though the player is perhaps the hottest English prospect since Wayne Rooney. Fabian Delph, ex-Villa captain, turned City down once before bizarrely changing his mind. Kevin De Bruyne is a name being repeatedly linked, but the player may have other ambitions and rich German owners Wolfsburg may have no financial incentive to sell. A front four of Silva, Sterling, Yaya Toure and Sergio Aguero is very scary, but the aging midfield and defence behind them is what City need to strengthen if they want to stake a serious claim to the title.
In the red half of Manchester, a money-driven revolution is underway at United, and exciting additions in the form of World Cup winner Bastian Schweinsteiger, Southampton defensive linchpin Morgan Schneiderlin, Dutch wonderkid Memphis Depay and Italian international Matteo Darmian have taken the United first XI up by a notch. The exits have been notable, too – with Falcao not being offered a permanent deal, Robin Van Persie being shipped off to Fenerbahce after two injury ridden disappointing campaigns and Nani’s high wages being finally taken off the books. Angel Di Maria’s bizarrely moody and inactive second half of his debut season proved to be the end of his United campaign, and though the British record signing’s magic, trickery and pace is well known, manager Louis Van Gaal doesn’t seem to believe that those are the skills needed to thrive in United’s possession based football, and was willling to take a 12m euros hit in order to offload him to French Champions PSG. The most notable aspect of United’s window, however, is United’s stance of negotiations over David de Gea, their two times player of the year, now involved in a transfer tussle with Real Madrid (read more about it here). Real Madrid president Florentino Perez has a reputation of having the money and motivation to get what he wants almost every time, but United executive Ed Woodward has decided to take the fight to Santiago Bernebeu with negotiations for vice-captain Sergio Ramos, who is reportedly unhappy with his contract. Manchester United are no way close to the finished product yet, with key positions in GK, ST and CB unresolved, but they are at least on the right track for another top four challenge.
Liverpool are another club who have been very active in the window, having utilized the Sterling money to buy Villa striker Benteke, Burnley ace Danny Ings, Brazilian playmaker Firmino, City wantaway Milner, free agent Bogdan, and exciting Southampton right back Nathaniel Clyne. After a disappointing post-Suarez campaign which saw legend Gerrard leave for the MLS, they now have a renewed desire to break into the top four using relatively negligible resources compared to the big four above them.