Tuesday, September 02, 2014

...and breathe. The frenzy is over.

It's OK. You can come out now. The summer transfer window has closed. The madness is over.

All the wheeling-and-dealing has been done. Agents can hang up their multiple mobile phones, until January, and count all that lovely commission, reward for a job well done in providing sport's most ridiculous matchmaking service.

Yesterday's deadline day was no different to any other: like the outbreak of a war, full of rumours, crackpot theories and even the odd real development. Twitter only added to the confusion, with dodgy half-sightings of players at airports and helicopter pads, along with cheesy 'thumbs-up' pictures during medicals. Hats off, then, to broadcaster Danny Kelly for encouraging Twitter posts of back gardens, local grounds and city parks with reports along the lines of "no transfer activity here".

The only thing noticeably absent yesterday was the actual transfer window - the driver's-side portal of Harry Redknapp's Range Rover that football's very own Del Boy is usually seen leaning out of, declaring, optimistically, "well we think the boy is on his way, but there are still a few loose ends to tie-up". You know, like a contract.

The transfer window deadline day is football's equivalent of doing all your Christmas shopping at 4pm on Christmas Eve. Your purchases will, probably, bring momentary delight and fleeting relief. No disrespect to those bought in the final hours of yesterday evening, but some acquisitions were emergency colouring sets bought at the Esso garage in case of unexpected Boxing Day visitors.

This summer's window has seen a whopping £835 million spent by the Premier League clubs, with Manchester United shelling out more than £150 million alone - the highest gross transfer spend in a single window by any club, according to Deloitte - and seemingly reversing the resistance to "kamikaze" spending Sir Alex Ferguson once branded transfer window splurges of old.

Time will only tell as to whether Louis van Gaal has been spending his way out of trouble with Herrera, Shaw, Rojo, Di Maria, Blind, and - because clearly he didn't have enough talent up front - bringing in Radamel Falcao from Monaco on a season-long loan that will probably cost United well above the £300,000 a week they're paying Wayne Rooney to, now, sit behind him.

From one perspective, Manchester United is once more the envy of all clubs around it. But given the apparent resistance to van Gaal's methods so far this season, you have to wonder how he's going to gel together his own version of los galácticos, especially with questions remaining about their defensive capabilities. Unless Manchester United really are going to play all ten outfield players up front, that is.

As Falcao was arriving in the north-west, the Manchester-born Danny Welbeck was heading south-east, seemingly breaking the legacy of United nurturing homegrown talent, and providing another [legitimate] excuse for Arsenal fans to grumble about Arsène Wenger's apparent indecision.

If Welbeck's transfer to Arsenal had been the source of protracted, summer-long negotiations for a player long tracked by the club and then concluded at the 11th hour (reminiscent of Ashley Cole's 2006 deadline day move from Arsenal to Chelsea), then the last-minute nature of it would have been somewhat justified.

But with Giroud injured, and the club simply too late to gazump Chelsea's acquisition of Loic Remy from QPR, Arsenal only have themselves to blame for Welbeck being the closest yesterday's panic buying came to my Christmas Eve analogy.

Most will be sure that it wouldn't have been Welbeck's own preference, either, but for a player wrongly but inevitably associated with Manchester United's woes last season and the start of this, it could be argued that Arsenal have thrown him a lifeline. Then again, you could say Welbeck has thrown one to Arsenal.

And what of the others? Louis van Gaal's spree may have eclipsed all others, but that still leaves some £685 million spread across the Premier League's 19 other clubs. Down the M62, Liverpool have been cashing in on the Suarez by raiding Southampton for Adam Lallana (£25 million) and Dejan Lovren (£20 million), Benfica for Lazar Markovic (£20 million) and, perhaps, riskiest and most audacious of all, Mario Balotelli for a mere £16 million (though that doesn't include the cost of insuring him, fully comp...). And if Sunday's performance at White Hart Lane was anything to go by, Balotelli - if he can be kept away from fireworks and other distractions - could prove to be the missing piece of a very exciting attacking line-up indeed.

I can't help but feeling just a little smug about my own team, Chelsea. Some might say that is the nature of Chelsea fans in general, but Chelsea's transfer dealings this summer have arguably been the smartest of all clubs.

Diego Costa was already on his way from Atletico Madrid before he'd even left for Spain's disastrous World Cup campaign, and the Blues' smart approach for Cesc Fabregas not only plugged the creative gap vacated by Frank Lampard, but has already been instrumental in Costa's impressive four goals from three appearances.

No one realistically considers Didier Drogba's return to the club as anything more than one of affection, but with the snap purchase of Loic Remy to replace Torres, Chelsea have some presence again up front. It is, of course, far too soon, to talk of titles, but Chelsea's balance is at last pleasing. What isn't however, is their squad husbandry. Whereas most other Premier League clubs seem to have managed to loan out three or four players at the very least, Chelsea have a ridiculous 19 players being borrowed elsewhere.

Picture: The Times

Like Chelsea, Manchester City also did their business early and could benefit from the earlier settling in of new players like Eliaquim Mangala and Fernando, while accepting their Fair Play requirements, trimming their squad efficiently and quickly, or shoring up existing players to new contracts.

So what about elsewhere? It was certainly a fantastic day for Hull City, with Steve Bruce bringing in Uruguayan striker Abel Hernandez from Palermo, West Ham's Mo Diame, Southampton's Gaston Ramirez and Newcastle's under-rated Hatem Ben Arfa. Of course, for a club like Hull, with the acquisition comes the expectation but outside the notional Top 4, Hull's transfer window certainly caught the eye.

A fresh, £3 billion television deal has swolen the Premier League clubs' coffers, which goes to explain how this summer's transfer window in England was double that of  Spain's La Liga (£425 million) and almost quadruple that of Italy's Serie A (£260 million), with the German Bundesliga shelling out a similar amount. What a difference four years makes. 2010's transfer window was a considerably modest affair amongst all clubs in the so-called elite, as the global recession took its toll.

As to whether the good times are back again, spending's one thing, it's what the purchases do once they've been unwrapped that counts.

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