“A perfect method for adding drama to life is to wait until the deadline looms large”
Another year, another deadline passes. In previous seasons the deadline day comings and goings of Ashley Cole, Wiliam Gallas, Robinho and Dimitar Berbatov have kept us all enthralled. But if one player summed up the rather tepid nature of yesterday’s deadline day it was Salif Diao.
On any other day, news of his return to Stoke City would be relegated to the lower depths of Premier League news. However, on deadline day the news was worthy of the eye-catching bright yellow ticker-tape and an exclusive interview.
For even if there is no action, the media contrived façade that is deadline day must try to live up to the hype. One of the bigger moves was Eidur Gudjohnsen’s arrival at Stoke City. The sight of Eidur Gudjohnsen and Tony Pulis together was apparently “absolutely extraordinary”. Gudjohnsen’s signing was a coup but lest we forget he spent time in the Championship with Bolton when he first arrived in this country. Yes he has played for two European giants but like Jenny from the block, he’s not forgotten where he came from. Elsewhere the rather excitable Sky Sports presenter Jim White was seen completely combusting when Franco Di Santo made another inevitable loan move back up north.
The truth is deadline day is failing to encapsulate the drama that it originally conjured up. We were all hooked when Dimitar Berbatov was held hostage by Fergie, when delirium kicked in at Eastlands and when Mark Hughes pretended that he was abreast of developments regarding Robinho. Since then, Benjani’s missed flight and Ryan Babel’s helicopter escapades aside, it’s all become rather dull and dreary despite the media’s best efforts.
There are plenty of reasons why deadline day is failing to live up to its hype. The season is already three weeks old, squads take time to blend and managers want to bed in new faces early. The 25 man squad rule has left managers needing to have a good idea of how their personnel will shape up. Clubs need to be astute rather than simply chopping and changing on deadline day (not including Harry “I’m not a wheeler-dealer” Redknapp). Prolonged pursuits like Berbatov’s can be cut short with a strong dose of petulance, as showed by Javier Mascherano. Then consider how many clubs seem to be less willing to part with money. Only Sunderland resorted to spending big to ensure a deal was made before the deadline. With their hand possibly being forced by the side-lined Frazier Campbell, they acquired Asamoah Gyan for a club record £13 million.
So it appears clubs have wised up when it comes to transfer windows. Leaving it to the last minute drives up prices as desperation kicks in. Deadline day is loaded with uncertainty for players too.
It is usually hard to feel too much pity for footballers. Doing what you love for a living and getting paid to do it creates little sympathy for the most part. But Rohan Ricketts’ tale of the uncertainity of deadline day is the other side of the coin as players face being jettisoned at a moment’s notice.
Meanwhile hype and hysteria will continue to grip White and his colleagues twice a year. But in truth clubs have failed to yield to the drama and excitement, in fact the last few have been rather mundane.
“If one day the opportunity comes obviously I would have to consider it very seriously”
Even with six goal thrashings, transfer deadline day looming and the vacant managerial position at Aston Villa, the England team never seems to stray too far from the headlines these days. The World Cup post-mortem continues with the future a hot topic for discussion.
Despite the fallings of Italian coach Fabio Capello, it seems the latest answer will also come from abroad. England are not just hoping to acquire inspiration from world champions Spain, they are also hoping to acquire their unwanted personnel.
Spanish-born midfielder Mikel Arteta has announced he would seriously consider representing England should they choose to select him. Arteta qualifies for England due to this FIFA ruling which states you can acquire a new nationality if:
“He has lived continuously for at least five years after reaching the age of 18 on the territory of the relevant Association”
After arriving in 2005, Arteta ticks that box and his name is now firmly in discussions regarding the next England squad.
The concept of nationality is a murky one. In the ever-growing, multi-cultural society we live in, nationality boundaries are blurred. I have no problem with a player representing a country if he has a biological link or if he has spent five years living on the territory BEFORE the age of 18, but the current ruling which Arteta may utilise throws up some serious issues.
The English don’t need to look far to see the benefits of acquiring ‘international’ talent. Anyone who has ever consumed a Sunday roast, performed a morris dance or listened intently to the queen’s speech has been considered for selection by the England Cricket Board. Kevin Pietersen, Michael Lumb, Craig Kieswetter, Matt Prior, Andrew Strauss, Jonathan Trott and Eoin Morgan were all born outside the country. Though the key difference here is they all have direct English relations (excluding Kieswetter who has a Scottish father), usually parents and in some cases grandparents. Mikel Arteta does not.
The football team itself have fielded players not born in England before. But they at least have an affiliation with the country, be it through blood (Owen Hargreaves) or through a move during childhood (John Barnes, Terry Butcher). Again, Arteta matches neither criterion.
Other countries do expose this FIFA naturalisation ruling but not as many as believed. Brazilians Deco, Pepe and Liédson elected to play for Portugal after they had moved there to play club football.
France’s successful campaign in 1998 had its fair share of questionable cases but they didn’t expose the same rule Arteta may do. Patrick Vieira, born in Senegal moved to France at eight, Ghanaian-born Marcel Desailly moved when he was four, Lilian Thuram and Christian Karembeu were born in French-ruled territories Guadeloupe and New Caledonia. The rest were born in France.
Indeed the Germans are frequently cited as an example of acquiring talent which isn’t strictly their own. However Miroslav Klose and Lukas Podolski have strong German ties through their families, Sami Khedira, Mesut Özil and Jérôme Boateng were all born in Germany and Marko Marin has been in Germany since he was two. Only Brazilian-born Cacau’s situation is similar to Arteta’s.
Germany and France possess players with different ethnic identities, but the country they represent has been a part of their lives for many years either through blood or residency.
Arteta’s proposed inclusion has many supporters. Dejected with England’s World Cup showing, Arteta is a clear upgrade on what England already have. He is technically sound, adept at preserving possession and has a good understanding of the Premier League. But he simply ISN’T English. In fact, he isn’t even English based on FIFA’s rulings, he is British.
There are also wider ramifications should Arteta choose to ‘become’ English. Arteta has UK citizenship meaning he is also eligible for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. If these countries elect to choose anyone who has a UK passport, Scotland and Wales could soon become England’s ‘B’ team. It is this conundrum which is also likely to be the sticking point in any call-up for Arteta. Nacho Novo found this out when he declared he would opt to play for Scotland should they so desire his services. SFA chief Gordon Smith said at the time:
“We have had discussions with the other associations in the past couple of days and I’ve found out that everyone is adhering to our agreement, and that, subsequently, we’re all going down the line that we will use bloodline as the basis for eligibility.”
You only need to look at the debacle that is Great Britain’s 2012 team to see how important the distinction between the four countries is to these associations. England’s loyalty to the gentlemen’s agreement will be tested this time and Arteta would be a precedent-setting pick which would break down the barriers between the individual British countries.
There are other dilemmas with this current rule. English clubs already take foreign players in at a young age, for example Manchester United have just signed Dutch teenager Gyliano van Velzen from Ajax. There is nothing to stop England effectively buying in and nurturing their future international team. Suddenly international football would develop a transfer system where the major countries could simply inherit the best young talent as they do at club level.
Players should have to reach one of two criteria to represent a country at international level. One would be that the player has a biological relation from that country, mother, father or grandparent. The second would be that the player had resided in the country for five years before the age of 18 to avoid countries farming in the top international talent to call their own when they mature. This rule would include Marcel Desailly, a child who immersed himself in French culture and was brought up in the French football system. However it would exclude Mikel Arteta, Manuel Almunia and Carlo Cudicini, players who were born and raised outside of England and whose only relation to the country is their current adult residency here.
“It looked to me as if the English have gone backwards into the bad old times of kick and rush”
Although he may have his detractors, Jamie Carragher is a very intelligent man and any interview with him is refreshingly candid. Last week he spoke with the Daily Mail about a variety of issues but the ones which were most intriguing were his thoughts on the state of the English game both at international level and at the grass-roots. The Liverpool defender believes the two are intertwined. He moans that at international level “there isn’t that spell of keeping the ball, just slowing the game down.” Then he points to the deficiencies of youth football in this country:
“My son is playing now and, the first thing in England is that you want your lad to get stuck in. Whereas a Spanish kid, you want him to be skilful.”
Beckenbauer’s ‘kick and rush’ comments may not have been wide of the mark after all. At the time, those within the England camp rubbished the claims but Carragher’s thoughts provide at least some evidence that the mentality in this country is way behind other nations.
It is not that England doesn’t produce players capable of carrying out Carragher’s wishes. If the F.A. wondered if the Scouser’s words should be taken onboard, they were left in little doubt when a certain Mancunian echoed Carragher’s sentiments with a masterful display last Monday night. Actions often speak louder than words and Paul Scholes’ performance against Newcastle was a delight to behold. It was a vintage display and a brilliant advert for maintaining possession, creating chances and completely controlling a football match. At the same time it was all very un-British.
The World Cup statistics show Carragher’s fears are founded. Looking at the pass completion percentages, England players don’t match-up well against other countries most notably the eventual champions Spain. England’s percentages, Frank Lampard 78%, Gareth Barry 75%, James Milner 65% and Steven Gerrard 64%, are pitiful when compared with their Spanish counterparts, Sergio Busquets 88%, Cesc Fàbregas 84%, Xabi Alonso 81% and Xavi 81%. Other major internationals have far more favourable stats too, Felipe Melo 90%, Gilberto Silva 86% and Javier Mascherano 80%. Even the more advanced players like Kaká 76%, Robinho 76% and Leo Messi 72% havefar better ball retention skills than England’s own Wayne Rooney 62%.
The only ‘major’ country who had similar stats to England was Germany, Bastian Schweinsteiger 76%, Sami Khedira 76% and Mesut Özil 71%. But consider that most of Germany’s goals and chances came from their electrifying counter attacks rather than prolonged build ups.
Paul Scholes didn’t travel to South Africa and his absence was clearly missed. As pointed out by Opta and on this Manchester United blog, Scholes was the Premier League’s most accurate passer with an 89.58% completion rate last year.
So when under intense pressure from an expectant media and fans, it seems the English players in South Africa did revert to type, the style Beckenbauer labelled ‘kick-and-rush’. Carragher himself acknowledged this:
“John Terry knocked it long to Emile Heskey into the box and I was thinking: ‘You wouldn’t have done that for Chelsea. You’d have passed it straight to Ashley Cole and just started playing again’.”
Certainly the players should know better. Enough of them play at the highest level to appreciate the importance of long periods of possession. But the system these players were brought up in is also flawed. The Spanish and the Germans have evolved but the English seem to be stuck in their traditional ways. Hard-tackling, lung busting midfielders are everywhere in England but we produce too few players of Scholes’ ilk.
Carragher’s comments this past week show that there is a concern among the professionals. Now the F.A. must look to rectify this at the very grass roots of the game.
“Prediction is very difficult, especially if it’s about the future”
On the eve of the forthcoming Premier League season I have, like many others, foolishly left myself open to mockery and abuse by predicting this season’s big winners and losers. Still given the dominance of the ‘Big Four’ and the belief that it’ll be the usual names in the usual places, it should be easy, right? Maybe I should have used this quote to open instead:
“The groundhog is like most prophets; it delivers its prediction then disappears”
If you don’t hear from me come May you’ll know why…
CHAMPIONS = CHELSEA
Last time around the pitfalls appeared greater. January’s African Cup of Nations was supposed to upset the applecart and if that didn’t Michael Essien’s injury looked set to. But they soldiered on and when the title race really got going, Carlo Ancelotti’s men found the extra gear first. Their form at the end of the season was sublime and it bodes well for this season too. Ricardo Carvalho’s loss won’t be felt particularly hard with the excellent Branislav Ivanović a more than adequate replacement. Essien’s return only strengthens the league’s best midfield which won’t lose its aura even with Joe Cole and Michael Ballack’s departures. Ballack’s performances were steadily declining and Ancelotti has never taken a shine to Cole. Ramires will surely be an upgrade on Jon Obi Mikel and look for Daniel Strurridge to push on this year too; he has all the raw attributes to be a great player.The interesting situation will arise at right back. Ancelotti’s diamond formation does hinge on the production of his two full backs and José Bosingwa’s return from a serious injury will be something to monitor. Question marks remain about his defensive capabilties but Ivanović has proved adept in that slot too should Bosingwa fail to make an impression.
CHAMPIONS LEAGUE PLACES = MANCHESTER UNITED, ARSENAL, MANCHESTER CITY
Chelsea’s challengers remain strong but are still half a step behind. It is United who look likely to be their closest threat once more. For all their positives they did look frail and toothless when Wayne Rooney was out of the side last year. The hype around Chicarito is intoxicating but Dimitar Berbatov needs to finally justify his hefty price tag. Sir Alex Ferguson has done little to strength the midfield which may be their downfall. Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes cannot play every week and Owen Hargreaves’ continued absence meant Ferguson really needed to purchase an attacking midfielder and/or a strong anchorman. I expect Nani to really excel this year and some predictions indicating that they will fall outside of the top four are wide of the mark.
Arsène Wenger has addressed a glaring weakness by getting Marouane Chamakh and IF Robin van Persie can stay fit, they could be Chelsea’s biggest contenders. However I still have question marks about their ability to beat the big sides. They can’t win games ugly, they are susceptible to counter-attacking football and the naivety which has haunted them in the past shows no signs of leaving just yet. United, Chelsea and Barcelona all tore them to shreds last year. They remain a young, inexperienced team and even though they have kept hold of Cesc Fàbregas they still lack the leadership and know-how of Wenger’s previous title winning teams. The purists would love them to be crowned champions but they lack a steely resolve to beat the very best.
Preseason predictions and Premier League discussions never seem to veer far away from Manchester City. Few seem to be tipping them for the title but there are plenty predicting they can break into the top four and cause serious problems for the very best. I am among the believers. They have surpassed Aston Villa and Everton (taking some of their best players in the process) and now they have bigger fish to fry. City simply have too much money and too much talent to miss out on the Champions League again. After missing out on Kaka, Roberto Mancini has rightly targeted the next tier of quality players. Jérôme Boateng, Mario Balotelli and Aleksandar Kolarov are all young talents with blossoming reputations. Yaya Touré and David Silva, along with Balotelli, have been around extremely successful teams and know what it takes to win trophies. Time will be the biggest obstacle in Mancini’s path because it is a luxury he isn’t afforded. The owners have proved they are willing to pull the trigger quickly and Mancini needs to make sure he’s in prime position by Christmas or he could endure the same fate as Mark Hughes.
EUROPA LEAGUE = LIVERPOOL, TOTTENHAM, EVERTON
Liverpool will be better under Roy Hodgson but this may be more of a rebuilding year as Hodgson clears the deadwood. Spurs have done little to improve on last year’s team and you have to think City will overtake them particularly with Tottenham enjoying Champions League football and all its trimmings. Everton could do even better than 7th with Mikel Arteta and Phil Jagielka back this year. Goals may be a problem though, Louis Saha has persistent injury problems, Yakubu blows hot and cold and I’m not sure Jermaine Beckford is Premier League quality. The uncertainty of both player personnel and the next managerial appointment at Aston Villa should result in a drop in performance.
SURPRISE PACKAGE = BOLTON WANDERERS
Bolton are always a tricky team to beat and they have a good nucleus. Jussi Jääskeläinen, Gary Cahill, Fabrice Muamba and Kevin Davies represent a strong core and manager Owen Coyle looks destined for big things. Matthew Taylor had a superb season last year and the free signing of Martin Petrov adds some real creativity and an attacking threat. There’s little chance Bolton can achieve European qualification but a top half finish looks very achievable. Of the group of those who dodged relegation last season they look most likely to make the next step up. Coyle is certainly a shrewd operator and I believe Petrov could well go on to be the best bit of business a Premier League side did this summer.
RELEGATION = BLACKPOOL, WEST BROM, WIGAN
The critics are unanimous in their belief that Blackpool are merely on a sight-seeing tour of the top tier. Some sides, like Hull and Wigan, have stayed up and defied the odds but Blackpool’s squad possesses no Premier League experience (excluding Jason Euell) and their manager is a novice here too. Ian Holloway will ensure they are plucky and fight in each game but I don’t expect them to spring any surprises.
Playing great football and earning all the plaudits, West Brom will lure us all into a sense of déjà vu as they head straight back down again. Roberto Di Matteo’s squad is packed full of players who look like world beaters in the Championship but fail to make the step up. It would be nice to see them buck the trend but they are still miles behind West Ham, Fulham and Birmingham and Mick McCarthy has enough knowledge of relegation dog fights to ensure Wolves don’t get dragged under again this time around. Once again West Brom will live up to their yo-yo tag and cash in those all too familiar parachute payments. Of course they’ll be back in 12 months with the same crop of players, the same style and the same results.
Wigan really look like relegation fodder this time around. I stated last year that I believed they would be one of the more fascinating teams to watch due to Roberto Martínez’s arrival. Wigan over-performed under Steve Bruce and without Amr Zaki, Antonio Valencia, Emily Heskey and Wilson Palacios; I thought Martínez faced an uphill struggle. He did well to keep the team up but they were wildly unpredictable. They lost 9-1 to Spurs, 8-0 to Chelsea and 5-0 to United despite beating Arsenal and Chelsea at home. They also had the worst defensive record of a team ever to stay up in the Premier League. Had it not been for Portsmouth’s financial issues they may well have joined Burnley and Hull City in the Championship this year. Only Liverpool and Manchester City have more foreigners in their squad than Wigan right now, an issue they must resolve before September swings around. Titus Bramble and Paul Scharner, both regulars last term, are gone. Meanwhile Charles N’Zogbia has applied the stamp and is licking the envelope which contains his transfer request. Even if they manage to keep hold of Hugo Rodallega and Maynor Figueroa, they look likely to drop out of the league.
So there you have it, my tips for the top, the bottom and the surprising package in-between. It’s always interesting to see just how wrong you are when May comes around and these predictions make you look rather foolish. So I’m off to put money on Wigan sneaking a Europa League place and Bolton imploding on their way to the Championship. There’s nothing quite like hedging your bets.
“The key to success is often the ability to adapt”
This weekend provided an intriguing insight into the possible future of the England team under Fabio Capello. The retirements of Paul Robinson and Wes Brown were both bizarre and untimely. They may have little impact on Capello’s team selection but they were further examples of the communication problems emanating from the England camp. Capello’s face will have turned a shade of scarlet after these premature retirements but he would have been even more frustrated at the Wembley snubs from both Ashley Cole and Michael Carrick.
When facing the music this afternoon, Capello admitted that he needed to improve the mindsets of the players. The withdrawals of Robinson and Brown, coupled with the chilly receptions from Cole and Carrick have simply reaffirmed this. The problem is, Capello stated he simply doesn’t know how to. It is a massive admission from a man who commands £6 million a year to concede that he sees no way to improve the attitudes of his own players.
He should begin by looking squarely in the mirror. What was painstakingly obvious from this summer’s debacle was that Capello had lost his own dressing room. When he accepted the England manager’s job we were led to believe he was a disciplinarian. He would command the respect of this country’s elite and was supposedly a breath of fresh air after Steve McClaren who was more of a mate than a manager.
The initial signs were positive. A highly successful qualifying campaign brought back the lofty expectations that come around every two years. But as soon as the squad came together in South Africa things started to turn sour. The players were isolated, bored and unhappy; this manifested itself onto the pitch where England embarrassed themselves continually. The most poignant moment was a John Terry press conference where he called for immediate changes; Capello was being undermined.
For the record, I don’t believe Capello is to blame for England’s pitiful showing in South Africa. Any post-mortem should focus on the absence of a winter break. It was not just England’s players but the majority of the Premier League’s finest who toiled away in South Africa. The entire England squad faced a rigorous year in the Premier League whilst the majority of their counterparts enjoyed lengthy breaks midway through the year.
For now Capello can do nothing but lament the current schedule and hope a change comes soon enough. In hindsight, he should have lobbied harder for a mid-season break when he signed his initial deal. No doubt the large sums on offer were enough to dissuade him from pushing the issue further.
Aside from the scheduling concerns, Capello must address the internal problems. In this situation, if he wants his students to change, the teacher himself must adapt also. Players like Terry enjoy far more leverage at club level and more than likely they had more sway under McClaren and Sven Goran Eriksson too. The laid-back style of these two previous English coaches may have failed but it appears Capello’s head teacher-like style isn’t paying dividends either. Capello needs to discover a happy medium.
If he doesn’t, expect another repeat of this summer’s abysmal showing because if the players don’t want to play for their manager there is no chance success will come. Although it is certainly a more extreme case, one can’t help but look at the mess that erupted on the other side of the Channel. France’s Raymond Domenech didn’t command an ounce of respect from his players and the effects were mortifying. The French team is stacked with talent but without any motivation, they were merely a laughing stock. Brian Clough is another case in point. Clough remains one of the finest to have ever managed but even he was primed for nothing but disaster the moment he walked into that Leeds United dressing room back in 1974.
Capello’s relationship with his players is not as strained as these examples but it is also far from perfect. The man who was once held in such high regard has become an outcast. Unless he changes his ways and regains that respect, Capello will continue to fail with this group of players.
“Your future is created by what you do today, not tomorrow”
With untold riches, Manchester City’s relentless pursuit of instant gratification is understandable. But even with their wealth, it has not been easy. Unlike Chelsea, who provided the blueprint for quick success, City started from a lower rung on the ladder. Chelsea finished fourth the season before Roman Abramovich weighed in; City only achieved ninth place before the Abu Dhabi United Group arrived. The squad needed reinforcements and the new recruits could not be guaranteed Champions League football. Two years on and the same problems exist. To cure this ill, City have again delved into the transfer market.
The worry is that assembling a team of global superstars will come at the expense of their own fledglings. The academy has been praised in recent years and rightly so. Few English clubs have produced players of the calibre of Micah Richards, Nedum Onuoha, Stephen Ireland and Daniel Sturridge. The academy won the F.A. Youth Cup two years ago and two of that victorious team, Dedryck Boyata and Vladimír Weiss, have been on the fringes of the first team. While Sturridge willingly opted for pastures new, Richards, Onuoha and Ireland have struggled to establish themselves as mainstays in City’s revolution. Jérôme Boateng’s arrival this summer could result in departures for his psychical prototypes, Richards and Onuoha. Meanwhile Ireland continues to be linked to a host of other Premier League clubs. Shaun Wright-Phillips, back for a second spell at Eastlands, has Adam Johnson ahead of him in the pecking order. Even Joe Hart, England’s brightest young goalkeeper, faces a spell as Shay Given’s understudy.
It is a problem which has caused concern over at Stamford Bridge after Chelsea’s initial triumphs. They pumped money into their academy and Frank Arnesen was installed to bring through the next generation. No longer would Chelsea rely solely on Abramovich’s millions, rather they would look to their own to step up. Up until now, the exercise has been a colossal failure but with the forthcoming homegrown rule about to come into effect, its importance cannot be overstated.
The blame shouldn’t lie squarely on manager Roberto Mancini’s shoulders. He needs to build a successful team and quickly or he will face the axe just like his predecessor Mark Hughes. Those who have worked their way through City’s ranks may not be Champions League standard just yet and Mancini needs established talent if he is to go one better than last time around. His first priority is not to develop future stars; it is to bring in trophies. By jettisoning too many of their own, City may struggle to find leaders and long-term servants. These types of players not only help create a club’s identity but they also spearhead long term success.
Across Europe the top sides all have these players, men who have become synonymous with their clubs. Xavi, Iniesta and Puyol at Barcelona, Del Piero at Juventus, Totti at Roma and before his retirement, Maldini at Milan. At the revolving door that is Real Madrid, Iker Casillas has out-lasted two waves of Galácticos and until his recent departure; Raúl was an ever-present figure since he broke through 16 years ago. Inter Milan’s Champions League winning squad included few Italians but the man who lifted the trophy in Madrid, Javier Zanetti, has been captain for over a decade. In England it is no different. Giggs, Scholes and Neville are a part of the furniture at Manchester United, scousers Gerrard and Carragher make up the fabric of Liverpool. Chelsea’s turnover of players has been greater than most in recent times but John Terry is still a figurehead for the West Londoners. Even Arsenal, with their foreign legion, possess Cesc Fàbregas who epitomises the exciting, young attacking side Arsène Wenger is honing.
It is a key ingredient that City lack and it is not something which should be underestimated. He need not be a local boy and as Fàbregas and Zanetti have shown, he does not need to come from these shores. What he does need to be is a player who embodies their club’s style, a leader who works harder than most and can be called upon in the toughest situations. Even in pursuit of short-term success, City need to find their own Terry, Giggs or Zanetti, their own heartbeat. It is something which should be taken under consideration when in their quest for glory; they contemplate offloading their bright, young hopes to free up room for the more household names.
“Many of us believe that wrongs aren’t wrong if they are done by nice people like ourselves”
Every now and again, Sir Alex Ferguson will come out with a piece of pure hypocrisy which surprises me. Usually it will involve the F.A. or referees. This time, it involves transfer fees, wages and the new lofty heights they continue to reach:
“The enormous amounts of money that are paid, not just the transfer fees, but for salaries; I don’t think it rests easy with supporters.”
This truthful titbit comes from the Manchester United boss who has smashed the British transfer fee for Gary Pallister, Roy Keane, Andy Cole, Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Juan Sebastian Veron and Rio Ferdinand. Add in Wayne Rooney, the world’s most expensive teenager at the time and Dimitar Berbatov, who would be Britain’s most expensive player were it not for Robinho. Last January, Ferguson agreed to pay Fulham £10 million for Chris Smalling who had only made three Premier League appearances at the time of the transfer. Moreover, the biggest winners of inflated prices were the club who profited from the sale of Cristiano Ronaldo, the world’s most expensive player. That club and the beneficiaries of £80 million were Manchester United.
Ferguson isn’t in a position to complain about escalating fees. More than any other manager in the Premier League era, he has raised the bar for transfer fees and wages. But now with Manchester City, Chelsea and Real Madrid all able to freely spend, Ferguson claims he has been “hamstrung” by the competitive market. What the Scot is experiencing now is a taste of his own brutal medicine. The rest of the Premier League have been continually frustrated when United have ramped up the prices. Roles haven’t entirely reversed but Ferguson certainly feels belittled by City in particular.
Even in a World Cup year, there is a good value to be found in this transfer market. Joe Cole, held in high regard by Ferguson as a teenager, was available on a free. Germany’s young World Cup stars Mesut Özil and Sami Khedira were available on the cheap as both had only one year left on their deals. Khedira may well have rebuffed any approaches from England as soon as Jose Mourinho and Real Madrid threw their hat into the ring. But Özil’s name continues to be linked with a plethora of European giants and the playmaker, who tormented England at the World Cup, is reportedly available at somewhere between £10-£15 million. United need a goal-scoring, creative midfielder along with a dominant holding player and all three of these players would fill voids in Ferguson’s team without breaking the bank. Wesley Sneijder has been linked with a move to Old Trafford but he was superb value 12 months ago and Ferguson missed out. There is a real danger that in a year’s time, Özil could be the next one that got away.
If you can’t keep up with the market, you have to be happy with what you’ve got. This is where Ferguson, an expert at handling the media, comes into his own. He claims he is very happy with his young charges. It would be wrong to question Ferguson’s faith in youth. Nobody has dared attempt to do so since Alan Hansen scoffed humble pie back in 1996. If nothing else, we know these players will have a winning mentality drummed into them. But will this next batch of youngsters reach the same heights as the class of 1992? There have been flashes of brilliance from Danny Welbeck, Gabriel Obertan, Fabio et al, but replacing club legends like Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Gary Neville is a tall order.
Perhaps Ferguson has been stung by his last acquisition to carry a large price tag. I remain a big fan of Dimitar Berbatov but he was grossly over-priced at £30 million particularly considering his age. Perhaps, as most fans believe, Ferguson’s hands are tied by the heavy debts that the Glazer family have burdened the club with. Perhaps Ferguson hides behind the ‘no value in the market’ line to protect his employers. It is a theory which Ferguson frequently rejects much to the fans’ dismay.
Whatever the case, Ferguson’s criticism of inflated transfer fees is hypocritical. He is right to insist that fans are dismayed at transfer fees and wages but this phoney empathy has never stopped him breaking the bank beforehand.