The Age of Desperation: From Chelsea to Arsenal, via Manchester, Liverpool, Tottenham and Newcastle

The transfer deadline day madness that resulted in Chelsea spending 70m+ and two new entries on the most expensive football transfers list had people wondering what had happened to the ‘age of austerity’ as brought about by the financial crunch and UEFA Financial Fair Play policy. It’s not every day that 24m and 27m buys (Bent and Dzeko) are a forgotten footnote in transfer spending.

What’s clear is that as football clubs across Europe are coming to terms with being responsible for what they spend, football club owners also realise that in order to achieve their targets they must go the extra mile. If that means spending 24m on Darren Bent to help haul Aston Villa out of a relegation battle, so be it (and if he succeeds, he would have paid back in transfer fee in under 6 months). If it means spending 27m on Edin Dzeko to revive the title challenge for Manchester City, it makes sense – especially if he can help City overtake United and Arsenal.

And if it means spending 75m to guarantee Champions League qualification, an outside shot at the title and a serious challenge for the Champions League, then it’s worth it. Chelsea on current form and with their new signings looks odds-on favourites to finish in the top four in May, although this could have been achieved with the current squad as well. What’s key here is that a) Torres, a long-term target, was finally available, so there was no point in mucking about it and b) Ancelotti wanted a young, quality center-back, and Roman backed his man when it counted.

Chelsea look to the future

Are Chelsea ‘desperate’? Hardly – both their signings make sense, especially that of Luiz. The transfer fee for Torres is less palatable, until you consider that a) they were buying from a rival Premier League club and b) Torres has a proven track record in the Premier League and will hit the ground running, unlike some of Chelsea’s previous striker signings. His injuries will remain a concern, but other strikers have successfully overcome dodgy injury records to perform consistently at the top level (Ruud van Nistelrooy is a classic example), and observers will agree that much of Torres’ poor performances in the last two years were down to his attitude, not his fitness.

If he’s happy, he’ll fight hard and score goals. The same can be said for the best of players – and although Chelsea concluded their transfer business in the final hours of the Janaury transfer window, both deals had been in the pipeline for a long time.

Chelsea have belatedly reinvested in quality players, accepting their error of judgment in the summer and they will be better off for it.

How they intend to satisfy UEFA is a different story, but you suspect that they will find a way to do so.

Manchester City and Manchester United

Edin Dzeko was the biggest signing of the transfer window till Jan 30 – and City look on course to qualify for the Champions League this season, proving that money can at least buy you a ticket at the top of the table, even if you don’t get to win anything. More than Arsenal or Chelsea, the team standing between them and the league title this season are city rivals Manchester United, who have defied critics and pundits alike for the last 5 years by consistently challenging for / winning the league title despite losing star players to other clubs / injuries / sex scandals.

For a club that needs reinforcement in all areas of the pitch, Manchester United are still top of the table, still unbeaten and despite tough away games to Arsenal and Chelsea to come, still the most likely team to lift the Premier League title this season. They will need to spend this summer, especially to replace Edwin van der Sar but also to bring quality and depth in midfield and defence, but considering how they have gotten away with spending less than most rivals, expect them to do more with less again.

Tottenham’s 20 Transfer Targets has a list of 20 (TWENTY!) players that Tottenham were interested in buying in January. For one reason or another, none of those deals materialised, and while Harry may claim that “…if we found the right player we would have done something…”, it’s clear that the lack of goals from Tottenham’s forwards and injuries to their defenders means that they needed to strengthen but couldn’t.

With City and Chelsea strengthening, it’s unlikely that Tottenham will be able to qualify for the Champions League again unless a serious meltdown occurs at one of the top four clubs. And while they will be sure to strengthen in the summer (will someone please sell them a center-back who can tackle AND stay fit?), their biggest concern will be how they can keep hold of Gareth Bale. If Bale can keep performing well over the next 4 months, his transfer fee could easy match that of Fernando Torres.

Newcastle’s Dilemma

Seeing that they rejected 23m for Carroll two days before the Liverpool bid, Newcastle were more than likely expecting higher bids for Carroll in the summer. On one hand selling your star striker on the last day is bad for the club, but how can you reject 35m for a player who is unlikely to command the same fee ever again in his life? Andy Carroll may turn out to be best striker England have ever had, but the most likely outcome is that he’ll be just a ‘very good’ player. 35m was more than Newcastle expected, and certainly funds that they needed to improve the squad.

Too bad they can’t spend it, although now Pardew’s brief is relatively more simple – keep Newcastle up in the Premier League till May, and then reinvest (or be sacked, in which case someone else will get to play with whatever is left of the 35m).

Liverpool save money despite spending 58m

As many bloggers have pointed out, Liverpool have spent a combined sum of £58m on Carroll and Luis Suárez. But while the Suarez deal was set to happen, they’ve used the Torres fee to neatly balance their books – Liverpool have earned £56m from selling Ryan Babel and Fernando Torres. Net transfer spending? £2m.

As Matt Scott points out in the Guardian, the wages are also a key factor here. Suárez and Carroll’s combined wages will cost Liverpool around £7m a year. On the other hand, Torres was earning £6.7m a year, with Babel earning another £2.5m. The wage savings will have covered the net transfer spending before next January’s transfer window opens.

Chelsea have effectively made three clubs in Europe flush with cash (Benfica, Newcastle and Ajax), while leaving Liverpool with two young strikers with great potential. Whatever you might think of NESV, they are very smart businessmen.

Can Arsenal Beat Manchester United?

They should. Arsenal have a golden opportunity to cash in on the uncertainty at the top of the table. Chelsea and City, even United and Tottenham, can expect to be better next season. Last season they more or less conceded the title after losing to Manchester United at home and then to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. This season it could be United’s turn, who have to play Arsenal at the Emirates and Chelsea (with Messrs Torres and Luiz) home and away.

Arsenal are a stronger team than last year. Manchester United arguably are not. If there was ever a time to capitalise on an opportunity for Arsenal, this is it. They could have done better in the transfer window by signing a defender, but Wenger’s faith in his players is not misplaced.

Whether they can deliver when it’s crunch time is all that matters.

English Premier League v Rest of Europe

Gavin Hamilton (World Soccer editor) put together a list of the biggest transfers in Europe (you should follow him on Twitter if you don’t already):

  • Spain – Atlético Madrid paid £6m for Elias of Corinthians
  • Germany – Bayern Munich bought Luiz Gustavo from Hoffenheim for £12m
  • Italy – Sampdoria’s Giampaolo Pazzini cost Internazionale £11m plus a makeweight player
  • France – Rod Fanni moved from Rennes to Marseille for £3.25m
  • Russia – Senijad Ibricic’s move from Hajduk Split to Lokomotiv Moscow for £4.2m
  • Netherlands – Wilfried Bony switched from Sparta Prague to Vitesse Arnhem for £3.4m
  • Turkey – Bogdan Stancu went from Bucharest to Galatasaray for £4.75m
  • Portugal – the undisclosed fee that took José Luis Fernández from Racing in Buenos Aires to Benfica did not exceed £5m.

Across these eight European leagues, the combined total of the most expensive transfers for this transfer window was £49.6m. Eight for the price of one?

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