In life there are only a handful of things that are certain. You will watch Big Brother. It will irritate you. MPs will lie through their back teeth (and their front ones). Summer does make girls more attractive. And makes you feel less so. People who ring in radio stations with traffic updates are idiots.
And then there is the transfer window. That beautifully annoying invention that basically restricts trade in what should, theoretically, be a free market. That rumour-filled bearpit where the slightest whisper can suddenly become the dominant story, not just in football, but in society it would seem. MPs expenses or Ronaldo to Real? You decide? New series of Big Brother or David Villa’s future? Your choice.
The silly season is officially here, and if you listen to what you read and hear, there are more futures up in the air this summer than at an EasyJet recruitment convention.
Starting with the managers. Guus Hiddink had barely vacated his makeshift office at Chelsea by the time Carlo Ancelotti had arrived, laden with Versace luggage. The Italian will take command at Stamford Bridge officially from July 1st, but talk, incredibly, is already beginning to edge towards potential successors to his throne should he fail to deliver the kind of success Roman Abramovich apparently demands with such passion.
Elsewhere in the Premier League, Sunderland have moved swiftly to replace Ricky Sbragia- who departed tearfully minutes after his side had avoided relegation on the final day of the season- with Wigan’s Steve Bruce. Bruce’s Newcastle connections have been played up neatly by the media, but ignoring such playground mentality will enable Black Cats fans to see they have made what looks a very shrewd appointment. The fact that Bruce’s Wigan finished five places above Sunderland last season would confirm this. Certainly his appointment makes a lot more sense than the one touted by Roberto Mancini prior to Bruce’s appointment. One wonders if the former Inter Milan chief had received some sort of prank call as he gleefully announced that he was all set to arrive at the Stadium of Light, before being forced into an embarrassed climb-down only days later.
And for every departure, there must be an arrival of course. The Bruce-shaped hole at Wigan will be filled- metaphorically speaking- by Swansea’s Roberto Martinez, subject to the agreement of a compensation package. Martinez has made steady progress at the Liberty Stadium, but as a former Wigan favourite, and with his reputation significantly enhanced by the aesthetic qualities of his Championship outfit, the time seems perfect for a step up into the top-flight.
Even outside of the Premier League, things are looking strange. Steve Coppell’s vacation of the Reading hotseat in the wake of their Play-Off semi final defeat to Premiership newboys Burnley meant that chairman John Madejski had to act quickly. An approach for Peterborough’s Darren Ferguson was rebuked, so in sauntered Watford boss Brendan Rogers. Rogers had only just taken delivery of a personalised name-plate for his office at Vicarage Road before he was digging out his suitcase and zooming from Hertfordshire to Berkshire, having spent just five months at Watford.
And the Championship’s most illustrious disastrous club, Newcastle, should not be forgotten. Alan Shearer has already made the least surprising U-Turn since Sven-Goran Eriksson tried to walk past Ulrika Jonsson’s hotel room by announcing his intention to stay on as manager at St James’ Park, but the ownership situation on Tyneside has meant that such an appointment has been forced to stay on ice. Good news for Joe Kinnear then, who was set to sign a two-year contract this summer before the arrival of a sharp dressed messiah put him firmly in the shade.
And then there is Celtic. Wee Gordon Strachan, patronising nickname notwithstanding, decided the time was right to bring an end to his four year stay in Glasgow in the wake of a disappointing end to the SPL season, and will not be particularly missed by certain sections of Parkhead. But Hoops fans who have long questioned the credentials of a flame haired former Aberdeen man would be wise to remember the old adage “Be careful what you wish for” as former Wycombe & Portsmouth failure Tony Adams throws his hat into the ring for the role of Strachan’s replacement. Unless Adams has been receiving the same kind of calls as Mr Mancini- unlikely considering the pair’s background differences- it is a worrying situation for Celtic, especially with more suitable candidates in David Moyes & Owen Coyle distancing themselves from the inevitable speculation, and Tony Mowbray keeping an equally low profile.
So what about the players? Well the football world has been riddled skulduggery in the past twenty years anyway, but this summer things look set to escalate. If it isn’t nailed down it is unsafe, so it would seem. Cristiano Ronaldo’s will-he-won’t he move to Real Madrid this year may well be the most tiresome saga since, erm, last years saga of the same name, but with Florentino Perez targeting players like Big Brother contestants target fame, it is likely to rumble on long into the summer.
Real are not looking to stop at Ronaldo either, they have already secured Villarreal coach Manuel Pellegrini to lead the revolution, a notoriously ego-free coach in a notoriously egotistical club is a dangerous thought. Spanish football writer Sid Lowe was asked this week to predict Real’s starting eleven for next season, and incredibly went for this- Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos, Pepe, Bruno Alves, Gael Clichy, Ronaldo, Xabi Alonso, Lassana Diarra, Franck Ribery, Kaka, Diego Forlan/David Villa. Impressive to say the least, and such transfers would set in motion an incredible snowballing effect surely, with ripples felt as far north as….well, Manchester I suppose.
Of those signings, Alonso looks unlikely. Liverpool’s owners may well be losing more money than Steve Claridge in Cheltenham week, but with Gareth Barry having swapped sixth placed Aston Villa for tenth placed Manchester City in a bid to secure Champions League football, Alonso is expected to stay on Merseyside. One man who resisted overtures from City, Kaka, is high on Madrid’s wishlist, and sources close to the club and the player claim a world-record deal is close to completion, despite rumoured interest from Chelsea.
Should Kaka leave Milan then it will give Silvio Berlusconi & Adriano Galliani license to spend some of their lucre in a more flamboyant manner, although the likelihood is that they will offer the lot to LA Galaxy for three more weeks of David Beckham. Emmanuel Adebayor has long been on their list, although English media reports suggest that Chelsea may make a bid to gazump them in that respect, providing they can wake the Togolese striker up from his twelve month slumber in the meantime.
Chelsea are supposed to be spending big this summer. After all, they only paid £14m for a right back to replace their £13.2m one last summer, along with £9m for a luxury midfielder, following a £25m splurge in the January 08 window. Small fry. Kaka & Adebayor aside, rumours abound that David Villa, Franck Ribery and….erm…Daniel Sturridge will be arriving at Stamford Bridge, though no concrete bid has been reported as of yet.
And what of Manchester United. Ronaldo and Tevez are looking able to leave, whilst Berbatov looks barely able to run, but Ferguson is a wily old fox. Having already added two Serbian stars in Zoran Tosic & Adam Ljajic in January, the man from Govan is likely to be looking bigger this summer, with Ribery, Lyon’s Karim Benzema, and even Arjen Robben spotted apparently. Should Ronaldo leave, the funds freed up would arguably cover two of those players, though little has been said by the man himself. He has left that to rent-a-quote Ronaldo.
Liverpool meanwhile are looking a little bit less adventurous in the wake of their owners’ confirmed £42m losses last year, a £2m bid for Portsmouth’s Sylvain Distin is unlikely to get pulses racing, and there are fears that they may be priced out of a move for Tevez, Valencia duo Villa & Silva, or even another Portsmouth defender in Glen Johnson. Still, Andriy Voronin is back from a loan spell in Germany, and Jermaine Pennant will return from Portsmouth too. Like having two new signings that.
At Arsenal, Arsene Wenger is scouring Football Manager searching for young talent. The signing of Andrey Arshavin in January may have bucked the transfer trend at the Emirates, but Wenger will be more concerned about rumoured interest in Robin Van Persie & Cesc Fabregas from Barcelona at the moment, with Thierry Henry & Aliaksandr Hleb doubtless whispering sweet nothings in their ears. Barcelona are looking to add a left back to their European Cup winning squad, so don’t be surprised to see Gael Clichy appear on their radar at some point also.
And what of Manchester City of course. Barry’s arrival, said Mark Hughes, will not be the last. They have already been linked with 4562 players, including Samuel Eto’o (unlikely), Xabi Alonso (very unlikely) and Carlos Tevez (ridiculous). Armed with cash, expect City to get hold of some eye-catching signings before August is out. And then expect them to still be inconsistent and self-destuctive.
Elsewhere there have already been some big moves, Bayern Munich’s response to missing out on the Bundesliga title was a big money splurge on VfB Stuttgart’s goal-machine Mario Gomez, to add to Zenit St Petersburg skipper Anatoliy Tymoschuk, moves which could well pave the way for Ribery to depart for Real, Barca, Manchester United or Chelsea. Two of their rivals have already been weakened then, Diego swapping the green of Bremen for the stripes of Juventus, who have also recaptured (and it isn’t hard considering how slow he moves these days) Fabio Cannavaro from Real Madrid.
Serie A champions Inter have already made moves to strengthen also, swapping Ricardo Quaresma & Hernan Crespo for Genoa duo Diego Milito & Thiago Motta, with doubts lingering over the future of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, although his wage demands and apparent lack of success in Europe may see him remain at the San Siro.
So with Ronaldo going to Real, meaning Ribery goes to United, meaning Hleb goes to Bayern, and Fabregas goes to Barca, so Kalou goes to Arsenal, so Villa goes to Chelsea, so Drogba goes to Milan, so Kaka goes to Real, so Van der Vaart goes to Arsenal, so Van Persie goes to Barca, so Eto’o goes to City, and so forth until we all experience an aneurism, expect the spectacular, expect the astonishing, expect the unexpected. Expect to get slightly bored by it all and start watching the Ashes. I know I will.