Monday, January 31, 2011

Inevitability = Mid-Season Transfer Deadline

It's the proliferation of owners crying poor that make this year's transfer deadline yet another sign, in the immortal and notorious words of disgraced presenter Richard Keys, that the football "world's gone mad". According to ESPN Soccernet, English clubs spent a combined 214 million pounds this January, more than seven times what was expended at the same time last year. Chelsea sunk a reported £45 million into Liverpool striker Fernando Torres; which the Merseysiders then re-invested into a pair of front-men: 22 year-old Newcastle leviathan Andy Carroll, who's presently injured, and Ajax Amsterdam's Uruguayan World Cup supervillain Luis Suarez. Abramovich's deep pockets also reportedly funded the transfer of Benfica's ball-playing centre back David Luiz for 21 million.

The greatest feeling on transfer deadline day wasn't a sense of opportunity, though Chelsea and Liverpool fans probably disagree there. The sense was probably more one of resignation for clubs losing impact players. With the obscene amounts of money bandied about there was little to no question that any of those ballpark bids would be rejected out of hand - the risk in selling is much less than the risk of keeping. Unless the player is one fo the top five in the world (ie. Messi, C. Ronaldo, Iniesta, Xavi etc), when initial gambits are north of £20 million mark, any refusal to sell isn't met with an outright "No" but a valuation of their player based on everything working in their favour: "We know he's worth 35 million at least", conveniently forgetting that player is any/all of inconsistent, injured, demotivated, undergoing criminal proceedings or a bad influence in the locker room. This allows a manager to transmit that they aren't really interested in selling, but also also provides the bidding club with more information. If they then choose to return with a figure approaching that speculation, then perhaps business can be done. Every player has his price.

Also adding to the sense of inevitability was that so many of the stars rumoured to be market items handed in transfer requests. With the sums of money suggested for all of the deals above - including Blackpool captain and virtuoso puppeteer Charlie Adam - once a bidding team's interst has been registered both with the club and player, they then begin agitating - publicly or privately - for a move whether for the increased club stature, better competition, a hefty chunk of extra cash in their pay packet or perhaps finally for a possible/probable 10% cut of a multi-million pound/euro transfer fee. That desire to leave is reflected in the number of transfer requests we've seen this period: of all the big-name players rumoured to change teams during January, all handed in official requests to be transferred except Luiz. This can work both for and against a selling club as it can partially mollify any fan anger at management sabotaging their ambition by selling their most important players. With Andy Carroll's 35 million pound move from Newcastle United to Liverpool, popular opinion has the Tyneside club's ownership saying there was such a request simply to pacify a vocal and thoroughly irked supporter group, rather than because Carroll actually wanted to leave.

Selling clubs can both appreciate and fear this time as needy teams pay vastly overinflated prices. However by selling late - and not having control over when unknockbackable bids are registered - they find themselves in a dichotomy that by selling those players so late it robs them of the chance to replace them with more reasonably priced alternatives. Cue more fan anger and a rapidly worsening vicious circle.

Another inevitability was the involvement of Liverpool in three of the largest deals of the period. Unsurprising as they've been horrible this year and their marquee guy, Fernando Torres, has looked more and more disheartened. Like a snakeskin, Torres has only resembled the killer he was in prior Premiership seasons as his last eighteen months has been destroyed by injury and poor form. When healthy he gives the league's best Centre-Half (Vidic) fits the like of no other, but has been neither healthy or invested and looked as if he felt it was time do like the Beatles and leave Merseyside before the stank becomes difficult to remove. Once his head was turned by Chelsea last week, a deal was indomitable. Luis Suarez joining the Reds was always likely but became nailed-on when Torres started flashing his big blues at London's Russian quarter, but the Carroll bid came from left field and may well be the single biggest splash for the month.

Carroll, a Northeast local, is emblematic of the tariff placed on all English players. While the fees this window have been striking, the money that's been demanded for British talent, proven or unproven has exceeded all previous precedents. If, as most right-thinkers believe, Fernando Torres is one of the League's top three forwards - and probably the best - based on results, then Villa and Liverpool are suggesting that their new purchases: Bent, Suarez and Carroll are worth respectively 55%, 50% and 78% of Torres's value. And Bent's record in consistently banging in eighteen-goals-per-year justifies this; Carroll's worth comes down to his undisputed potential. A young man whose raw physique and rare combination of abilities (imposing aerial abilities, gut-running and instinctive ball-skills) have helped him score eleven times in his nineteen Premiership starts this year. His value to the Reds is in being able to recreate some of the successful lineups that the Anfield club ran with during the 1980s - a little and large show, with Suarez playing off the gargantuan ex-Magpie's grunt-work. If he only has to be three-quarters of Torres as a player, Liverpool have made the correct investment.

Money talks much louder than a manager's press conference, perhaps even more so than a manager on the sidelines. When he agreed to join Liverpool, Carroll became the seventh most expensive signing of all time (which was then surpassed by Torres) and the two joined the 35 million club alongside Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka, Zidane, Crespo, Figo and Ibrahimovic; each a great of the game. The fee - a record for an Englishman - was sure to get Kenny Dalglish's objectives accomplished.

Again, once the sums of money became too great to ignore, Newcastle's hand was forced in Carroll's record move, the sums too much for owner Mike Ashley to resist. With only last year's powerful Championship season and an excellent August-November period to back up that huge wodge of cash, it was inevitable (I said: inevitable) that the Tyneside Hulk would leave. The World's Most Unpopular Football Manager - and he has some pretty stiff competition - Mike Ashley is looking for any returns on his initial investment and as such felt the need to pocket the 35 million and risk another spell in English football's second tier. As soon as fees over 20 million were mooted, it was certain in the minds of Toon supporters that their man would be leaving the club whether he wanted to or not. It's assumed he will free up only a little of the monies received to buy new talent, especially replacements as the Magpies are now left to hunt for goals with the uninspiring trio of Ameobi, Best and Lovenkrands, almost exactly the lineup which saw them relegated two years ago.

Carroll's preference is unknown at this time and most assume he wasn't angling for the move, but with the Reds dangling a 167% wage increase in front of him and the chance to join the an elite list of 35 million-plus players (and the percentage of that fee he may have received as part of the deal). As certain as it was that Ashley would sell, also sure was how the Toon Army would react - calling for Ashley's head on a platter. Their anger is directed at ownership with reason - selling one of their own perhaps without reinvestment - but surely they must understand the principles of buy low, sell high and that these prices may never be repeated? There is every chance that Carroll could flop and to be known as the guys who turned down 35 million only to then sell for 4 million (link to Sunderland/Bent story) would be undesired in the extreme. The fans have every right to be disappointed - especially in the timing and paucity of Carroll replacements - but should forget they managed to secure one of the bargains of the transfer window, picking up Stephen Ireland from Villa on loan for a song. Not a like-for-like replacement, the bald one may well provide a creativity that those noted creation-shy types like Lovenkrands and Ameobi need to flourish.

It was inevitable given UEFA's Financial Fair Play rules that this could be the last big splurge of some serial offenders like Chelsea. But perhaps the best way to sum up the craziness of the mid-season transfer window goes to Darren who posted on Soccernet: "Mesut Ozil + Sami Khedira + Rafael Van der Vaart + Javier Hernandez = Andy Carroll".

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