The Transfer Silly Season

When it comes to football transfers, few leagues are as captivating as the Barclays Premier League.

With the hugely entertaining Confederations Cup now several weeks past, the players involved have returned to their clubs and others have jetted off to their new ones.

It was widely thought before the 2012/13 season ended that most business would be done after the Confederations Cup finished – and those premonitions have been emphatically proven in England.

In recent weeks there have been a flood of deals concluded, thwarted and hijacked. Some clubs are beginning to feel the pressure too – notably Arsenal.

Having only signed Yaya Sanogo on a free transfer from Auxerre in this transfer window, manager Arsene Wenger has been keen to dispel the accusations that the North Londoners are featherweights in the transfer market.

The money is clearly there for Wenger to spend – the club have turned in successive years of profits – and he has confirmed this by bidding £35m for unsettled Liverpool striker Luis Suarez.

This first approach was robustly swatted away by Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers, but it did not deter Wenger, who sanctioned an improved £40m + £1 bid for the Uruguayan this week.

That triggered a release clause in Suarez’s contract which permits him to talk to the Gunners, but Liverpool want a figure in excess of £50m with Rodgers, somewhat justifiably, believing that Suarez is worth as much, if not more, than his compatriot Edinson Cavani, who was snapped up by PSG for a cool £55m.

Yet if Suarez moved to Arsenal, it would go against all the clues he has given as to where his future lies. He has publicly admitted his fondness for Real Madrid, but they have not made an offer yet.

That could be because Madrid are busy trying to lure Gareth Bale away from Spurs. A figure in excess of £85m is rumoured to be the price tagged on Bale’s services, but Spurs chairman Daniel Levy is reluctant to sell – for two reasons.

Bale has quickly become the face of the club – he features on almost every promotional banner and marketing strategy the club unveils, and secondly his value to the team is colossal.

21 goals and 9 assists in 33 games last season proves why he is coveted so fervently by Madrid, who have spent heavily as usual this summer.

Midfielders Isco (€24m) and Asier Illarramendi (€32.2m) have both signed deals at the Bernabeu, and a further outlay of €98.5m on Bale would be more than the €93.9m they paid for Cristiano Ronaldo in 2009.

Bale is the closest player on the planet, in terms of free-kick technique and running with the ball, to Ronaldo and it would be interesting to see how they would both fit into the same team.

Spurs fans will be hoping Bale doesn’t move but Spanish newspaper Marca, renowned for its close ties to Los Blancos, ran with a story on its cover this week with Bale rumoured to have agreed a six-year deal with his pursuers.

Marca have previous, which is why Spurs fans should be worried. They correctly broke the enormous Ronaldo and Kaka transfers and would not publish such a story without specific knowledge of the deal. There is no smoke without fire, and Spurs are likely to lose the Welshman unless they pull off something miraculous.

Bale has also been linked to Manchester United who, like Arsenal, have had a very quiet summer.

United have failed with deals for Thiago Alcantara and Cesc Fabregas – the latter the subject of two rebuffed bids of £25m and £30m – and have also seen fellow target Kevin Strootman opt to join Roma instead.

A £12m move for Leighton Baines has also proved fruitless and United fans have reason to worry with unknown Uruguayan right-back Guillermo Varela and Wilfried Zaha the only new signings so far this summer.

With United clearly on the hunt for a central midfielder, any approach for another midfielder could also be futile with the subject of that hypothetical bid being their third-choice behind Thiago and Fabregas.

United would do well to blood some youngsters though. Nick Powell looks mightily impressive at 19-years-old and is tipped to become an England regular in the future, while Tom Cleverley established himself in the first team last season with a string of composed performances.

But it hasn’t all been about incoming players at Old Trafford, as Wayne Rooney will testify.

The 28-year-old has been linked with Chelsea ever since returning manager Jose Mourinho made a bid of £30m for the England striker. That deal, United said, included the pick of Juan Mata or David Luiz, but that is likely a mischievous attempt to publicly unsettle Chelsea’s two most influential players.

Chelsea have bought well this season, adding German striker Andre Schürrle and Dutch midfielder Marco van Ginkel to their squad in deals totalling £27m. Highly-rated Belgian loanees Romelu Lukaku and Kevin de Bruyne have returned to Stamford Bridge and their presence will be similar to new signings.

Manchester City meanwhile, favourites alongside United and Chelsea for the title, have bought swiftly and impressively, signing midfield duo Fernandinho and Jesus Navas and strikers Alvaro Negredo and Stevan Jovetic for a combined £90m.

In signing four high-quality players, new manager Manuel Pellegrini has avoided what his predecessor Roberto Mancini did last season and bought well to improve the team.

While City have been very proactive in the transfer market, they have been outgunned by Sunderland, who have signed nine players so far as boss Paulo di Canio looks to refresh the team and exert his influence on the squad.

Southampton too, have bought with power, signing centre-back Dejan Lovren for £8.5m and Victor Wanyama for £12m. Some critics have pointed to what seem to be inflated fees for the duo but the signings are a signal of intent from manager Mauro Pochettino, who has been impressive since taking over from Nigel Adkins last season.

There will be more outrageous rumours, ballooned fees and surprising sales before the transfer window shuts in five weeks, but with the total amount spent by Premier League clubs currently bubbling at just under £300m, England’s biggest clubs will be keen to continue to splash the cash to show they can compete with Europe’s superpowers in the transfer market.  

If they don’t the danger of this great league becoming full of selling clubs, much like the scenario now seen in countries such as Holland, will loom ever larger – and that, for a league which boasts of being the best in the world, could be lethal.

A Game of Two Halves?

Throughout the aftermath of today’s lunchtime kick-off at Old Trafford between arch-rivals Manchester United and Liverpool, social media websites have been awash with outpourings of grief from Liverpool supporters.

Some felt their team had matched United and deserved a point, but in truth that is perhaps symptomatic of a rose-tinted perspective which unfortunately taints a minority of Liverpool supporter’s views.

In the first 54 minutes of a match which was undoubtedly controlled by United for expansive periods, goals from Robin van Persie and Nemanja Vidic had given the hosts a deserved 2-0 lead.

It was only after Daniel Sturridge’s simple tap-in from another David de Gea blunder that Liverpool managed to establish themselves in the game.

What followed was captivating, as The Reds poured forward in a mode of attack which had been inexplicably absent for the first hour of the match.

Liverpool tested United’s often wobbly defence throughout the final 30 minutes, and such was their threat United had to throw on Phil Jones and Chris Smalling as resistance, thanks in small part to what looked like a recurrence of Nemanja Vidic’s troublesome knee problems.

Sturridge was Liverpool’s game-changer, offering pace and a willingness to run directly at United’s defence as Brendan Rogers’ side searched for a once unlikely-looking point.

Yet, as some have suggested after his move from Chelsea, Sturridge lacked a clinical edge.

This was conveyed in the 86th minute when a loose ball presented him with a brilliant chance, only to sky his effort harmlessly over.

That sort of error would not have been made by the league’s in-form striker, van Persie.

The Dutchman’s first chance of the match was soon nestling in the back of the net following an incisive team move, and United went on to create several chances in the opening 45 minutes, notably when Tom Cleverley narrowly missed the target after connecting with a sweet volley that had Pepe Reina beaten.

Liverpool, though, were guilty of some poor defensive mistakes before Cleverley’s effort.

Both Reina and Joe Allen handed possession to United in the final third with careless passes but, on both occasions, the excellent partnership of Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel helped the Merseysiders escape with well-timed tackles.

The calm figure of Michael Carrick was dictating play in midfield, twice picking out Danny Welbeck’s intelligent runs into the left channel with looping cross-field passes, but United could not add to their tally before half-time.

The totemic van Persie, the difference between these old foes – just as he had been at Anfield earlier in the season – supplied what proved to be United’s winner when the unmarked Patrice Evra and Vidic combined at the back post to extend their team’s lead to 2-0.

That, in the end, was the crucial division between the sides.

So, was it a game of two halves? Perhaps not.

At times, United passed the ball with a superiority which highlighted the seven point chasm between them and the chasing pack in the Premier League table.

That said, Liverpool controlled the final 30 minutes – but they failed to emulate United’s monopoly of the opening half.

Perhaps, had United not resumed their dominance of the match after half-time, the ‘game of two halves’ cliche would have applied.

Yet, in a match where one team only starts to play their football after an hour, the cliche in question can rarely apply, and to use it here would have been forgetful of the complete prepotency that United exhibited during the first 54 minutes.