It’s the end of another summer of ridiculous amounts of money changing hands between various European football clubs. Apparently, English Premier League clubs spent the most money on bringing in new players with a whopping £835m, followed by La Liga clubs with £425m. Italy’s Serie A clubs were next on £260m, the Bundesliga then follows on £250m, with France’s Ligue 1 on £100m.
What does it all mean? Well that depends on who you ask.
Fans of the Red Devils were extremely happy with the players arriving at the club during the transfer window. Radamel Falcao and Angel Di Maria are two extremely highly-rated players who were in high demand from a number of European clubs. The fact that Manchester United managed to acquire the players’ services without the lure of Champions League football speaks either to the attractiveness of the Manchester United brand or the silver tongue of Louis Van Gaal – or perhaps a combination of the two.
Also coming through the door were defender Luke Shaw (most expensive teenage signing), midfielder Ander Herrera, midfielder Daley Blind and Argentine defender Marcos Rojo. There were a lot of jokes doing the round on social media at United’s expense about having an abundance of attacking talent, whilst failing to address the central midfield and defensive failings of the squad.
The key difference between the forgettable David Moyes era and the start of the Van Gaal era is that the Dutch manager has been decisive and bold. The change of formation and the new personnel will take time to gel but at least there is a plan and Manchester United have an experienced hand at the till now.
Arguably one of the winners of the transfer window is Jose Mourinho and his Chelsea side. He managed to offload David Luiz to PSG (for a record fee!) and most importantly managed to shift the under performing Fernando Torres off to AC Milan. In addition, he coaxed a great price out of Everton for Romelu Lukaku. Into the squad come Diego Costa (coming off the back of a fantastic season for Atletico Madrid), Cesc Fabregas (the former Arsenal lynchpin who had been relegated to a bit-part role at Barcelona) and Filipe Luis also from Atletico Madrid. To prevent the striking problems of last season from recurring, Mourinho brought in his favourite son Didier Drogba and Loic Remy from QPR to add firepower to his squad.
All in all, Chelsea look to have a very strong squad and have adequate cover to replace the departing Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole, both of whom had been shifted down the pecking order at any rate.
There wasn’t much broken at the defending Premier League champions, so they didn’t try to fix too much. Defensively, they managed to get rid of Joleon Lescott and brought in Bacary Sagna from their feeder club, Arsenal, as well as Eliaquim Mangala from Porto to shore up the defense. In order to confuse the commentators over the course of the season they also brought in midfielder Fernando (not to be confused with Fernandinho) from Porto to beef up their squad. City let go of Alvaro Negredo who went to Valencia – apparently his family was not settling in well in the city of Manchester.
City’s main focus is to continue to improve in the Champions League and they have a lot of depth in their squad which should help them in this regard.
The departure of Luis Suarez was a big blow for the Merseyside team. As I’ve noted before, Suarez was not just a great goalscorer but one of his biggest attributes was his work rate and his willingness to work for the team. The biggest fear following the announcement of the Uruguayan’s departure to Barcelona was obviously that Liverpool would “do a Spurs” and try to replace the talents of a superstar with a number of mediocre signings.
Brendan Rodgers has brought in nine players into the squad, including three from Southampton alone. A lot of the transfer business was wrapped up well before the frenetic deadline day madness, with one big signing happening late in the day – the arrival of the unpredictable Mario Balotelli. Many managers have tried their hand at taming the combustible Italian and pretty much all of them have failed at these attempts. It remains to be seen how (if?) Brendan Rodgers will be able to succeed where others have failed.
Liverpool’s biggest challenge is at the defensive end. Last season, the goals were raining in from all sides (led by Suarez and Sturridge) but the key problem was that a lot of goals were conceded as well. Keeper Simon Mignolet has come in for a lot of criticism but I also feel that playing with Glen Johnson as one of your “defenders” means that you are effectively playing with a back three. Liverpool need to tighten up at the back and the signing of Dejan Loveren will hopefully help their cause.
Poor Arsene Wenger can never win with the Arsenal fans.
The start of the summer was fantastic as Arsenal captured the talents of Alexis Sanchez from Barcelona, which is a fantastic signing for the North London club. Lining up alongside the underrated Mesut Ozil and the Welsh genius of Aaron Ramsey, the fans were salivating and already talking up their title credentials. However, the fans still cried out for another striker as they were not convinced by the attacking talents of Olivier Giroud, Lukas Podolski (who plays more as a winger), Theo Walcott and the inimitable Yaya Sanogo. Eventually, Arsene hears the pleas of the masses and signs Danny Welbeck from Manchester United and then there is much wailing and gnashing of teeth because he is apparently not good enough for some fans.
The key problem for Arsenal is the same one they have every year – injuries. Arsenal players seems to suffer more long term and recurring injuries than any other team, based on my high level intuitive analysis. Abou Diaby has suffered more than most, but it seems to be a recurring problem for the Gunners. If the squad remains relatively injury-free then the prospects are good.
Real Madrid have always had a strange transfer policy – it always seems to involve signing the best attacking talent and then leaving the incumbent manager high and dry in trying to find a way to fit them all into one team. This season is no different – the Spanish club signed the World Cup sensation James Rodriguez from Monaco and World Cup winner Toni Kroos from Bayern Munich. As the club now had one too many midfielders they decided to offload Xabi Alonso to Bayern Munich and Angel Di Maria to Manchester United.
Xabi Alonso is one of the best passers in the game and is able to provide the ability to control the tempo of a game. It is rumoured that manager Carlo Ancelotti was unimpressed by the decision to sell Alonso as was team mate Cristiano Ronaldo. I think it’s a big loss for Madrid, but as ever the club president seems to know what’s best when it comes to buying and selling players.
What a difference a couple of years can make? Alex Song was arguably one of the players of the season during the 2011/12 year for his club Arsenal. For reasons best known to himself he decided that the opportunity of playing at Barcelona was too good to pass up and moved at the start of the 2012/13 season. Fast forward to the present day and after two years in a very marginal role, he has returned to England to play at West Ham. Unsurprisingly Barcelona had many talented midfielders and Song was surplus to requirements – when he did play it was often out of position filling in at centre back. It’s a great signing for the Hammers but it is frustrating (to me at least) that a player of his talents is not playing at an elite club.
What does the future hold?
Whenever new signings are announced the immediate reaction from fans, supporters and pundits is to make an instant decision on whether or not player X will fit into the side, whether player X was a bargain or overpriced. The problem with this snap decision is that players and teams alike have all been pre-judged with hardly a ball kicked in anger. The football season is long and there are many permutations to take into account before we can conclude on who is a success and who is a failure.
Some players will have a great start to the season and will blend in seamlessly with their new teammates during the opening four months of the season, until winter sets in and there is no Christmas break like they had at their former clubs – and then their form will decline in the second half of the season. Other players may start slowly but improve with each game and then only make a bigger impact for their team in the final games.
There is plenty of football to be played, and plenty of chances for new (and old) players to make their mark.