Here come the chequebook Charlies
It’s transfer-window time again, with all the fun of wondering who’s going to spend silly money on the wrong player.
It’s a truism of all agony aunts: it’s hard to sustain a relationship purely on the physical side. A burst of activity twice a week is okay – especially when thousands of people are watching – but what to fill the other hours with? You need something to talk about. Luckily, for those in a committed relationship, there is always gossip. And all that who-is-flirting-with-who chatter reaches its crazy climax in the transfer window.
The transfer window is meant to stop the unsettling process of big clubs snaffling good players from small clubs at the first sign of trouble. Instead, all that activity gets compressed into the period between seasons and one mad burst of activity each January. What it really means is that some teams will pay massively over-the-odds in the hope of securing a season-saving player or two. In the past, transfers could happen at any time of year up to a transfer deadline just before the final few games of the season. The newer system is almost certainly irrational, but it sometimes makes for good fun.
The first moves have already been made by my beloved Liverpool. In comes 2008’s ‘boy most likely to’, Daniel Sturridge (who couldn’t get a kick for Chelsea), and out goes 1999’s ‘boy most likely to’, Joe Cole (who couldn’t get a kick for Liverpool). In a fantastic example of the weird world of football economics, Liverpool are ponying up £3million to get Cole to go to West Ham because it will save them £4million over the remaining 18 months of his contract. If only there were someone out there who would be willing to give me £3million to piss off and never come back…
Other big moves in the offing include Newcastle’s bargain-basement signing Demba Ba becoming a bargain-basement signing for Chelsea thanks to a buy-out clause in his contract. This may provoke mutterings of disloyalty, but the Geordies got an excellent goalscorer for a season-and-a-half for peanuts, and still made a profit on the deal. Given that half of their team was funded by one of the truly great pieces of deadline-day madness – the £35million Liverpool paid for Andy Carroll a couple of years ago – they can’t complain too much about the vagaries of the transfer window.
Most of the other gossip this time around involves a lot of foreign players you’ve never heard of unless you’re a total football anorak, though the big boys are circling over Palace’s Wilfried Zaha. Nothing, as yet, to match the fun and games of Fernando Torres going to Chelsea for £50million (the deal that financed the Carroll fiasco), which has worked out at about £3.5million per goal in Torres’ case and £5.8million in Carroll’s case.
Which brings us to the big question that always get asked at this time of year: who is the worst transfer window signing of them all? Obviously, Torres and Carroll look like prime candidates. But great names like Alfonso Alves (£12.7million and sod-all goals for Middlesbrough), James Beattie (from England’s future at Southampton to goal-shy no-hoper at Everton to being shipped out to Sheffield United), and Ricardo Quaresma (rubbish at Inter, rubbish at Chelsea), are all strong candidates, too.
On the other hand, it’s not all doom and gloom. Luis Suarez was a January signing and after an iffy first full season (getting banned for eight matches didn’t help), he’s been one of the Premier League’s stars this season. Last year, Everton signed Nikica Jelavic from Rangers for the princely sum of three bottletops and half a packet of Smarties (okay, £5million, but that’s nothing) and he scored loads. Newcastle handily picked up Papiss Cissé around the same time for not much more, worth it for that goal against Chelsea alone.
Which only goes to show it’s not necessarily the time of year or the desperation of the buyers that’s the crucial factor. Whether a signing works out is down to good scouting, how players settle in, the rest of a team’s fortunes and a bit of good luck.
Whether transfer-window signings can really change the course of a faltering season is another matter. It’s hard to believe that a new player or two is going to save QPR or Reading this year. Chelsea’s season is probably buggered already, whatever Demba Ba does. In truth, the best place to be during the transfer window is sniggering on the sidelines, watching club chairmen and managers make fools of themselves.
Rob Lyons is deputy editor of spiked.
Duleep Allirajah is away.