Manchester United eventually improved but don’t forget the ludicrous journey. Arsenal and Liverpool both fell into completely avoidable traps.
There were plenty of winners, don’t worry.
An utterly humbling experience which would shatter that veneer of confidence if it belonged to any other individual. Fortunately for Cristiano Ronaldo, he is of requisitely thick skin and deluded enough cult following to believe the issue lies anywhere but within.
There was something incredibly satisfying in watching high-powered executives of elite clubs take it in turns to explain why it was an option they could not take. Oliver Kahn, Hans-Joachim Watzke, Cristiano Giuntoli and Joan Laporta were among those who offered public lip service before the customary “but” as the expected race for Ronaldo became a mess of bodies stumbling over each other trying not to enter.
Ronaldo and his representatives clearly felt news of his unrest would spark another grand pursuit akin to the one which prefaced his triumphant Old Trafford return 12 months ago. Yet the market for a 37-year-old disruption who will score goals as quickly as they destroy a wage structure no longer exists.
Ronaldo thought he could command his choice of Champions League clubs; the early signs are that he might spend his time on the bench before being rotated in for the Europa League this season.
It is a shame that Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha could not confirm what many suspected before deadline day, but circumstances dictated that the Leicester chairman’s explanation would have to wait.
Some supporters might well have rolled their eyes at his description of a ‘challenging transfer window’ but the honesty and clarity with which he imbued his programme notes ahead of the Manchester United game was welcome.
They exposed the reality for those who exist outside the gilded elite. How even the Premier League champions of six years ago, FA Cup winners of 2021 and regular Champions League botherers have to make ‘difficult, short-term decisions that protect the club’s long-term interests’. How last season’s choice not to fund squad renovation through the sale of a coveted first-team player for the first time in five summers meant they felt compelled to adhere strictly to sustainability regulations. How ‘building the club to a level where we are less reliant on player trading takes good management; strategic, sustainable investment; success on the pitch; and time’ when not blessed with a financial cheat code.
With suitors content to wait another 12 months for Youri Tielemans and Chelsea’s Wesley Fofana desperation levels not reaching critical mass until their defensive issues became too conspicuous to ignore, Leicester’s hands were tied. No outgoings meant there could be no substantial incomings.
Such restrictions left back-up keeper Alex Smithies and central defender Wout Faes as the only additions to a squad in dire need of rejuvenation. Leicester can only hope it will be enough and Brendan Rodgers is able to coax improvement out of a team no longer operating under a transfer cloud – if he takes a long enough break from painstakingly ensuring he is absolved of any residual blame while patronising fans by suggesting all they ever want is shiny new signings to drool over.
Scott Parker might have hoped that his defeatist post-Liverpool missive would cajole the board into action five days before the deadline. There was a response to his typical managerial gamesmanship, just perhaps not the one he expected.
Owner Maxim Demin spoke of a need to be “aligned in our strategy to run the club sustainably” but questions will naturally be asked when Bournemouth spend only £10m or so more than they did last season in actually earning promotion. The Premier League opens new doors but the Cherries were instead left inviting Jack Stephens to come in and make himself at home after the short journey south.
Parker possibly got precisely what he wanted. Bournemouth should certainly be praised for their frugality and control in difficult financial times. But they are at the very least a striker short and had a much stronger squad when they were relegated two years ago.
A familiar refrain from every fanbase each summer is that they would rather get their business done early. It stands to reason, giving new signings as long as possible to adjust and build relationships with their teammates, while the manager is afforded precious preparation time ahead of the upcoming season.
Aston Villa announced deals for Philippe Coutinho, Boubacar Kamara, Diego Carlos and Robin Olsen on May 12, May 23, June 1 and June 4 respectively. It felt like a positive start but almost actually represented the middle and end, too. Almost three months passed before another fresh face shuffled through the door in Leander Dendoncker, a middling player no longer required by one of their bitter rivals.
As incredibly unfortunate as the long-term injury to Carlos was, Villa played and lost three times between that and the eventual capture of his uninspiring stand-in, loanee Jan Bednarek. The current reality is that those nine dropped points could be decisive by the summer.
Steven Gerrard needed a couple more additions to a team which finished 14th and tailed off considerably at the end of last season. Their competitors to where they want to be – the top half and beyond – all had better windows and started from more favourable positions to begin with.
It turns out that those who feared the annual spend sanctioned by Roman Abramovich would be curtailed need not have worried. Shorn of one billionaire’s chequebook, they simply requested the signature of another.
Some of those deals are fantastic in isolation. Raheem Sterling for £47.5m is a genuinely brilliant signing. Kalidou Koulibaly is demonstrably not infallible but sinking £34m on him at centre-half is solid business. Marc Cucurella is a fine player, even if the fee involved is still being properly digested. Similar could be said for Wesley Fofana.
In a wider context, they make little sense when considered as part of one club’s grand plan. Chelsea clearly targeted youth but spent a decent whack on 33-year-old Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to fix a striker problem that doesn’t really exist. The Anthony Gordon chase will be a vague and curious memory this time next year. Denis Zakaria stinks of Saul: a mid-20s injury prone loanee cast-off from a European giant.
Perhaps the starkest aspect of Chelsea’s summer is the money generated through sales. A total of £38m for Timo Werner – sold at roughly half the price they signed him for from the same club – and Emerson Palmieri is relatively paltry: their lowest amount from outgoings in six years.
All in all, it’s patently obvious Todd Boehly wanted to make a statement. It’s just not clear what it was.
The destination should not be sniffed at. Manchester United signed five players who will reasonably expect to start for them, plus a sixth in Martin Dubravka who might fancy his chances in dislodging David de Gea. That in itself betrays the scale of Erik ten Hag’s rebuild, thus the inherent trials and tribulations involved.
But good lord, the journey.
The Frenkie de Jong saga was frankly embarrassing, pointing to either a lack of due diligence, a vastly inflated sense of self-importance or a combination of the two. The time, money and effort wasted on what always seemed likely to be a dead end does not bear thinking about.
The sudden switch to Adrien Rabiot as a midfield target was laughable, as though Manchester United simply picked up their European Super League phonebook and made a general enquiry for players in roughly the same position.
That same method just so happened to help them land on Casemiro, a 30-year-old Real Madrid were already planning to phase out but still procured £60m out of a desperate Manchester United for. A phenomenal defensive midfielder though he is, it never felt like part of the plan.
Long before then, links to Sergej Milinkovic-Savic resurfaced as the summer descended further into farce, with the Ronaldo situation admittedly largely out of their control but still not shining the kindest light.
Worst of all was the Marko Arnautovic pursuit: a genuinely baffling move from which Manchester United were forced into a humiliating climbdown over a fan backlash they somehow failed to anticipate.
Richard Arnold and John Murtough can take solace in the fact that their first summer in nominal charge – it remains painfully unclear precisely who is steering the transfer ship at Old Trafford – was better than Ed Woodward’s bow. But Christ, that is one low bar.
From ‘Don’t go to bed just yet… there is still work to be done’ before announcing the departures of Matt Smith and Dominic Poleon in 2014, to ‘Let s welcome Bamba Dieng and we will continue to work on Gapko’ in 2022. Leeds have an unrivalled transfer deadline day heritage.
On the one hand, this has been a fine summer in challenging circumstances at Elland Road. Raphinha and Kalvin Phillips were sold – albeit at remarkably low prices when compared to the rest of the market – and Brenden Aaronson, Luis Sinisterra, Tyler Adams and Marc Roca have already impressed in their stead.
Rasmus Kristensen is yet to convince and Darko Gyabi, in his defence, has not actually played a first-team game yet.
With a little foresight, the Bamba Dieng anger might have been channelled into something more constructive. Leeds knew the situation well in advance: Patrick Bamford could not be relied upon to carry the centre-forward can and a left-back was needed. The latter never did materialise and thrilling though a deal for Willy Gnonto may be, he is 18 months younger than Joe Gelhardt and was declared “not Premier League ready” by Jesse Marsch less than a fortnight ago.
It could have gone far worse but after bursting out of the blocks, the sense is that it should have gone far better.
“We will need to do some, yes. We need more players, more competition, more options, we need different profile of players and we will try to do it. I know that we are doing our best. If we find a player that we want, we will see if we can make it happen.”
Patrick Vieira was speaking following the draw with Brentford, after which the only business Crystal Palace conducted was to loan 20-year-old Rob Street to Shrewsbury Town. It’s not exactly what the manager requested.
There is a vague whiff of the Roy Hodgson era around this window. Thirteen clubs invested a greater fee on a single player than Palace did overall for Cheick Doucoure, Chris Richards, Malcolm Ebiowei and Sam Johnstone, while only Bournemouth and Leicester spent less; the Foxes were alone in making fewer first-team additions.
It’s likely necessary cloth-cutting after the relative excess of 2021, but still a reminder of the fact that clubs like Palace so often need a substantial player sale to help them properly improve the rest of the squad. There are consequences to keeping Wilfried Zaha.
It’s better than Ozan Kabak and Ben Davies at least. Liverpool’s contingency plan for an injury panic is improving and that is not to be sniffed at.
But it was just so patently avoidable. Jurgen Klopp and his team are aware of Thiago, Naby Keita and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s fitness issues; listing them in his options while publicly shooting down the idea Liverpool needed more midfield bodies was disingenuous.
Keita, Oxlade-Chamberlain and James Milner are on contracts which expire at the end of this season. A midfield transition will be required in June so Liverpool had every excuse to expedite it. They were either too stubborn or too married to their ideals of waiting for the absolute No. 1 target. Admirable though that is, there needs to be flexibility when circumstances demand it. The pressure on that pursuit of Jude Bellingham is now overbearing.
The injury Jordan Henderson picked up against Newcastle appears to have pushed the Reds over the edge but Arthur Melo is most similar in style to Thiago – and even that is generous. The Brazilian loanee lacks the physicality and intensity to fit into a Klopp system but this is the bed they have inexplicably made.
And quite frankly, the jury has to remain out on Darwin Nunez for the time being. Actual teenager Fabio Carvalho is their highest-scoring new signing currently.
“If you ask me what I want it’s 22 outfield players and three goalkeepers,” said Mikel Arteta in April. Arsenal tried their damnedest to fill that final spot with Douglas Luiz but Aston Villa would not budge and the Brazilian’s chauffeur had a wasted trip.
For the second consecutive transfer window, Arsenal have ensured they are stocked up on quality while sacrificing quantity. Gabriel Jesus and Oleksandr Zinchenko have been spectacular signings. Matt Turner and Marquinhos fill out the squad somewhat. Fabio Vieira is an unknown at this point, and very possibly the player whose basket will be required to carry many of Arteta’s eggs.
But existing on the perennial brink of an injury crisis with the loss of one player is an almighty – and entirely unnecessary – gamble. Arsenal seemed to realise that with those three Luiz bids but they came far too late and now Arteta has shown his hand.
The Gunners have European football to balance and a mid-season World Cup to account for, yet their squad is smaller now than the one that failed to defend a healthy advantage in the Champions League qualification race earlier this year.
It begs the question: would Arsenal have made more signings late in the window if they hadn’t started the season so well? If the answer is yes – and it really does feel as such – then that speaks to a volatility and degree of transfer panic they seemed to have outgrown.
Get to January in a strong league position, with a major international tournament out of the way and domestic and European requirements clearer, and it has been a genius move. But as with this past winter, it seems like a risk they did not particularly have to take.
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