So the circus is nearly over. We can almost revert back to picking up a newspaper and reading about injuries and “bust-ups”, goals and “romps”, rather than the usual regurgitation of half-baked half-truths that the tabloids, and actually the broadsheets too, dish up on a daily basis.
The January transfer window has always grated with me. It’s first season- 2002/03- saw a few big transfers, mainly due to the financial meltdown at Leeds United as Jonathan Woodgate & Robbie Fowler held their noses and jumped from the top deck into the grateful arms of Sir Bobby Robson & Kevin Keegan respectively (and in Fowler’s case, literally).
And since then there tends to be the odd big move in every window, as expected. From Jose Antonio Reyes & Jermain Defoe in 2004, Nicolas Anelka in 2005, Theo Walcott, Nemanja Vidic & Daniel Agger in 2006, Anelka & Defoe again in 2008, and now 2009, which has seen Tottenham & Manchester City almost dual-handedly fill about five sports pages a day with their scatter-gun approach to transfer dealings.
Let’s start with Spurs. Not a day seems to pass without that genial gent Harry Redknapp declaring innocently that “we have made a bid for (Player X) but his club do not want to sell, and that’s their business” Honest, some might say. Deliberate attempts to destabilise a player, say others.
Either way, it worked for Redknapp with Defoe, who completed a £14m switch from Portsmouth, twelve months after he had made the reverse switch for half the money. Spurs apparently were owed money for both Defoe’s original transfer, and that of Younes Kaboul (if you ask me, it should be Pompey demanding money off in that respect), which means that the £14m price tag is not really a £14m price tag, and with Defoe already among the goals at White Hart Lane, that particular piece of business is hard to find too much fault with. Particularly when you look at the current striking options at the Lane.
Roman Pavlyuchenko has a poacher’s instinct, he showed that at Euro 2008, but he also seems to have a major communication issue on the pitch with his team-mates- Aaron Lennon in particular looks baffled by the Russian’s movement- and appears to lack real conviction in anything he does, whilst Darren Bent has hidden behind the “he is a confidence player” for way too long now, and even if he is a confidence player, Redknapp’s post-match analysis will have shredded that for him.
As anyone who has watched Wigan Athletic or Spurs over the past twelve months will tell you, Spurs have also acquired themselves a midfielder who can not only pass the ball in the much-feted “Tottenham Way”, but who actually has something approaching a physical presence and footballing brain. Wilson Palacios.
A lot has been made of the fact that Palacios cost £14m, just a couple of years after landing on these shores wrapped in a bargain bin, but Wigan fans will tell you how good he is, and Tottenham fans should tell you how bad Didier Zokora- the man he should replace in the Spurs midfield- is. Palacios is Zokora with talent, a player who can motor around the pitch non-stop for 90 minutes, feed the ball out to either flank, or drive with it through the middle, and win it back too.
In short, he is the poor-man’s Michael Essien. Which is no bad thing. Especially as Spurs currently have the poor man’s Michael Carrick (Tom Huddlestone), the rich man’s Salif Diao (Zokora), and….er….Jermaine Jenas. Palacios will add bite and drive to a midfield that thinks bite and drive is a new version of the McDonalds drive-thru. Good signing.
However, if Defoe & Palacios represent steps in the right direction- and Carlo Cudicini is a shrewd free transfer albeit a couple of seasons too late in my opinion- the re-signing of Pascal Chimbonda just six months after the Frenchman departed for Sunderland, has me a bit baffled.
Ok so Spurs have injuries and form worries with their full backs, Alan Hutton has been missing for most of the season through injury and Gareth Bale’s assured early performances for club and country look a long way away now, but these are temporary issues. Hutton will return from his foot injury to find competition for the right back slot in the form of the impressive Vedran Corluka (arguably the only summer signing to really prove his worth at WHL so far), youngster Chris Gunter, and now Chimbonda. Ok fair enough Redknapp may wish to use Corluka at centre half- especially with Ledley King now becoming too much of a gamble to place any faith in, long-term- or Chimbonda at left back, but to me the signing of the full back- 30 next month- represents a strange move.
He was frozen out at Sunderland in favour of Phil Bardsley, he left Spurs because he simply wasn’t the best right back at the club any more and knew it, what has changed so dramatically? A lot of Spurs fans feel that any swoop down at Sunderland should have involved the effervescent Steed Malbranque, a player whose creativity and versatility would have gone down very well at WHL this season I’m sure.
Manchester City next, and first and foremost may I just say- NO MORE KAKA’ TALK. It didn’t happen, so let’s concentrate on those that did. Starting with the more low key acquisition of Wayne Bridge at left back.
Bridge is not the first quality player to fall foul of the complexities of modern-day “squad football” Scott Parker, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Damien Duff, Carlo Cudicini, even Hernan Crespo found it tough to establish themselves as automatic first-teamers at Stamford Bridge. But Bridge has had enough football in the past few seasons, and impressed enough in the process, to suggest that he will not take as long to rediscover his form as, say, Duff or Parker.
Behind Ashley Cole, Bridge is still the best left back England has in my opinion, and though some scoffed at the £11m+ price tag, I feel that this is a purchase that City will be remembered fondly for.
Ditto, their signing of Nigel De Jong from Hamburg. Ok so the fact that they were unwilling to wait until the summer, when they could have acquired the Dutchman for £1.8m, is absurd. But look deeper into the De Jong signing and you can see the logic.
Until now, Vincent Kompany has been performing the holding midfielder role at City, when to my eye he is a far more accomplished centre half. With Richard Dunne’s performances dropping off, and Tal Ben Haim failing to find any semblance of form since his summer move from….you guessed….Chelsea, Kompany is not just better in the centre of defence, he is needed in the centre of defence. Which leaves a hole in the midfield.
Michael Johnson may be a precocious talent, and Gelson Fernandes may have promise, but Johnson is unfit and Gelson is not yet ready to be compared favourably to De Jong, who passes the ball neatly if unspectacularly, and possesses great energy levels for a midfielder. He could also fill in at full back, if City continue to see Pablo Zabaleta as a midfielder. It is a no-brainer. De Jong is 24, will improve, and could even, whisper this, have a bit of re-sale value too.
Unlike City’s third, and probably biggest, signing. Craig Bellamy. It is 8 clubs and counting now for the Welshman, and most of them have been left behind with a sour taste in the mouth.
At Coventry Bellamy declared himself above First Division football- despite only six goals as the Sky Blues were relegated- at Newcastle there was Souness-gate, at Liverpool there was the Welshman-hits-Norwegian-with-golf-club incident, and then finally at West Ham all the headlines were of how he had been on strike and refused to play for the club until they allowed him to move (a claim that Bellamy denies, hopefully correctly as it would be a shocking way to repay a club that had only benefited from 21 league appearances, and 7 goals in a season and a half).
Bellamy has a reputation for petulance, for being mouthy, for being injury prone. Mark Hughes knows that better than anyone, having worked with the striker at Blackburn Rovers, and also for the Welsh national team. But Hughes also knows the 29 year-old’s value to a side. Arguably Bellamy’s most successful season (barring his debut season on Tyneside) came under Hughes at Blackburn.
City have struggled for goals this season, particularly on the road, and have had to rely on Robinho & Stephen Ireland heavily for those. Bellamy has the pace and intelligence to give Hughes a much more diverse option than, say, Darius Vassell or Benjani, who have the physical attributes but not the technical ones. It can be argued that playing Bellamy alone as a forward is ambitious, but with free spirits such as Ireland, Robinho & Wright-Phillips roaming behind, Bellamy is sure to get chances. And as he, predictably, showed last night against Newcastle, he is a damn fine footballer when given a chance.
The £14m fee may have raised eyebrows higher than The Rock’s, but this isn’t your run-of-the-mill £14m fee. To City, this is loose change. Imagine Bellamy’s fee as more around the average side’s £2m transfer, and then reconsider your opinion on whether he is value for money. He probably paid back half of his fee last night with the winner.