Trans­fer mad­house

DAN BILLING­HAM says the ob­ses­sion too far… for big-money sign­ings has gone

Late Tackle Football Magazine - - CONTENTS -

It’s gone too far...

FOOT­BALL may have the power to bring peo­ple to­gether and lead to end­less de­cent con­ver­sa­tions, but oc­ca­sion­ally I ex­pect we all hear views that make us just grin and nod out of po­lite­ness and then look the other way.

One such ex­change took place around Christ­mas 2006 at the Made­jski Sta­dium. Read­ing had just been beaten 2-0 by one of David Moyes’s strong­est Ever­ton sides. No shame there. Es­pe­cially not as Read­ing were seventh in the ta­ble half­way through the Premier League sea­son.

They were a side play­ing well above the sum of their parts who had stormed to pro­mo­tion against the odds in record-break­ing style the pre­vi­ous sea­son. A side that I des­per­ately wanted to see stay to­gether for as long as pos­si­ble.

I didn’t want any­one to leave, and nor did I want any­one to join when they hadn’t been there for the hard part.

The guy be­hind me as we waited to de­scend the stairs in the North Stand that day wasn’t as pos­i­tive.

“What a load of rub­bish,” he said to me.“We need three sign­ings min­i­mum in the trans­fer win­dow, ex­cept the chair­man doesn’t want to spend.”

That’s the prob­lem with foot­ball’s trans­fer win­dow. It of­fers ev­ery fan the hope their club could reach out and grab the so­lu­tion to any prob­lem – even prob­lems many of us don’t know ex­ist.

I un­der­stand the ex­cite­ment that a stel­lar new sign­ing can bring. The hope that they can trans­form a side or take them to a new level is some­times re­alised – I’m think­ing of Eric Can­tona or Wayne Rooney at Manch­ester United.

What ac­tu­ally hap­pens, though, at many of the 99% of clubs in no po­si­tion to win a ti­tle is that they grasp out in the hope of buy­ing a quick fix to more fun­da­men­tal prob­lems.

It’s the same phi­los­o­phy that leads con­sumers to think they just need to buy that flashy car or an­other nice per­fume and all will be well.

Just look at West Ham. A fine club that was long known for hav­ing one of the coun­try’s strong­est records of youth de­vel­op­ment have had the most scat­ter­brained trans­fer ac­tiv­ity in the coun­try in re­cent years.

This is a club that has signed 32 strik­ers in the past seven years yet has some­how al­ways been left sweat­ing on the fit­ness of Andy Car­roll.

Noth­ing summed up their trans­fer deal­ings bet­ter than failed sign­ing Si­mone Zaza be­ing sent on loan to Va­len­cia in Jan­uary after be­ing de­rided by Ham­mers’ fans and pre­ced­ing to smash an ab­so­lute worldie in against Real Madrid weeks later.

Did West Ham re­ally ac­ci­den­tally buy rub­bish strik­ers 32 times in a row, or were they just too quick to rush into the trans­fer frenzy? By which I mean sign­ing up which­ever pos­si­ble as­set be­came avail­able, mer­rily fol­low­ing agents’ sug­ges­tions in­stead of stand­ing back and think­ing about what kind of team they ac­tu­ally wanted to build.

This sum­mer we were told West Ham have had a ‘good win­dow’ by sign­ing ex­pe­ri­enced Premier League play­ers in Javier ‘Chichar­ito’ Her­nan­dez, Marko Ar­nau­tovic, Pablo Za­baleta and Joe Hart.

What is the point of judg­ing a trans­fer win­dow be­fore you see how it works on the pitch though?

New­cas­tle had a ‘good win­dow’ in the sum­mer of 2015, snap­ping up Ge­orginio Wi­j­nal­dum, Alek­san­dar Mitro­vic and Flo­rian Thau­vin. They were promis­ing play­ers who had starred on the con­ti­nent - who then played a part in tak­ing the club down the fol­low­ing sea­son.

Can any­one say with any cer­tainty that West Ham will be higher in the ta­ble at Christ­mas than Hud­der­s­field?

The Ter­ri­ers had what I would truly de­fine to be a good win­dow – us­ing a di­rec­tor of foot­ball to make ten sign­ings early in the sum­mer that were iden­ti­fied to fill the gaps in their squad and fit in with their clear style of price, and all for the same price of Chichar­ito and Ar­nau­tovic.

As each sea­son passes with English clubs be­ing out­shone in the Cham­pi­ons League, I be­come in­creas­ingly con­vinced that far from help­ing, the Premier League’s TV megabucks might ac­tu­ally hin­der its clubs.

Dis­rup­tion to a squad is a chal­lenge to any club – but while this hap­pens out of ne­ces­sity at a lot of Euro­pean clubs who need to sell to sur­vive, English clubs choose to chop and change play­ers in the con­stant hope of spend­ing their way to suc­cess.

Whereas some clubs on the con­ti­nent can per­form the re­mark­able balance of sell­ing big­name play­ers and get­ting bet­ter (I’m think­ing of Ju­ven­tus, Monaco or Ajax), the com­bined € 7bn that Premier League clubs have frit­tered away in trans­fer fees over the past five sea­sons has not brought them any closer to win­ning the Cham­pi­ons League.

At the lower end of the ta­ble, we are all aware of Brad­ford, Leeds and Portsmouth as the most se­vere ex­am­ples of many clubs over the years who have felt com­pelled to spend be­yond their means and suf­fered the con­se­quences.

While there have al­ways been sign­ings who have lit up suc­cess­ful cam­paigns, one thing that all win­ning teams have in foot­ball is a proper spirit.

That might sound log­i­cal, but it’s not some­thing that gets men­tioned enough, while the trans­fer busi­ness floods our at­ten­tion with price tags.

Not only is team spirit a bit of a naff term these days - as ev­ery­one puts it as a throw­away qual­ity on their CV along with that day they ended up col­lect­ing for char­ity - it’s also a very dif­fi­cult thing to quan­tify.

Spurs have plenty of team spirit, and so do Chelsea, but who has more? I couldn’t pos­si­bly say, but I know with­out check­ing who spent more.You could ar­gue that team spirit is ac­tu­ally much more quan­tifi­able than it used to be though – and just that no­body wants to write about it.

Clubs are crazy about us­ing per­for­mance anal­y­sis. There will be a few Premier League man­agers such as Jur­gen Klopp who were spend­ing the sum­mer think­ing their team had to run x% more or be­come that much quicker in tran­si­tions.

This is all quite in­ter­est­ing stuff – but jour­nal­ists still only want to write about one thing at this time of the year: you guessed it, trans­fers.

The Premier League pre­views put out by the pa­pers were packed with sug­ges­tions on how Mour­inho needs to add to his £150m of spend­ing to make a state­ment or how An­to­nio Conte is des­per­ate for more squad depth de­spite Chelsea hav­ing around 7,000 play­ers out on loan.

De­spite Manch­ester United’s great start against West Ham, I am doubt­ful that their sum­mer spend­ing will help them mount a ti­tle chal­lenge this sea­son as I reckon Mour­inho has lost some of his pre­vi­ous abil­ity to in­stil team spirit.

While I sin­gled out the ‘cheque­book fan’ at the Made­jski ear­lier – the club wasted £5m on Greg Hal­ford and Michael Du­berry the fol­low- ing month, in case you’re won­der­ing – it’s the me­dia who play the big­gest part in driv­ing the over-ex­cited trans­fer agenda.

They are the ones ask­ing man­agers at press con­fer­ences how many new play­ers they need. Trans­fer news is a handy way for in-the-know jour­nal­ists to land exclusives, and it keeps them very busy over the sum­mer.

It also now seems to have turned foot­ballers into walk­ing cross­word clues, as ev­ery­thing they say or do over the sum­mer gets in­ter­preted as a trans­fer hint.

Romelu Lukaku man­aged to make head­line news in June by fol­low­ing three Chelsea play­ers on Twit­ter, which was stupidly seen as a clear sign he wanted to join the club.

I’m wait­ing for the day a player is re­ported to want to leave be­cause he only used a smi­ley­faced emoji to cel­e­brate his team’s win in­stead of one with a big grin.

Trans­fer overex­u­ber­ance is an at­ti­tude that is wide­spread in the game though.

Danny Rose re­flected this re­cently in call­ing on Tot­ten­ham to sign some big names “you don’t have to Google” – which I don’t feel is nec­es­sary at a club who have done bet­ter than all oth­ers at build­ing a proper team in re­cent years.

The one good thing about the trans­fer win­dow is that it does slam shut.

You can re­ally sense ev­ery­one’s at­ten­tion turn­ing to the pitch in the days after that, which is where it should be all along. Trans­fers have al­ways been a part of foot­ball, and there’s no bet­ter al­ter­na­tive sys­tem I can think of, but they re­main just a part of a game which is a lot more thrilling than gossip and large sums of money are.

New boys: Manch­ester United’s Ne­manja Matic, left, and West Ham’s Chichar­ito

Ham­mer time: Joe Hart has joined West Ham

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