Thursday, 3 September 2009

Deadline Day

The transfer window closed – sorry, SLAMMED SHUT – yesterday afternoon to the usual hysterical Sky Sports News/BBC Online fanfare. It’s something I and probably everyone who reads this look forward to at the end of August and January as it offers an opportunity for some genuinely exciting breaking football news. This time last year was the prime example with the incredible one-day takeover of Manchester City by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan and the audacious snatching of £32m Robinho from under the noses of a bewildered Chelsea – the taste of their own medicine predictably bitter.

The day’s narrative can unfold thrillingly, with Sky reporters at every ground studying the occupants of every car that arrives, online forums buzzing with often hilarious sightings (“My mate works in the doctor’s surgery Hull City use for their medicals and he just saw Sergio Aguero reading Heat in the waiting room”, “My restaurant just took a booking for a Mr. P. Kenyon and a Mr. F. Fabregas – coincidence?!”) and, presumably, footballers, sometimes, actually having meetings in Little Chefs and Airport Hiltons.

There is the other side of the coin, however. There is inevitably hype and a lot of noise made about what might happen on Deadline Day (Sky have had a countdown on screen for the last 6 weeks, as far as I can tell), but on the day itself we tend to forget that there have already been loads of deals completed, and that these have been so because they take a long time and aren’t decisions that are taken lightly by either side. What were we really expecting to happen? Cristiano Ronaldo already transferred to Real Madrid for £700 billion, Man City have already distorted the market with their huge (but actually rather sensible, for me) spending – plus all the European leagues’ windows shut the previous day on account of them not having had a bank holiday.

Could any deadline day deal really have surpassed the hugeness of Ronaldo’s, or the City saga of 2008? I doubt it, unless perhaps Harry Redknapp decided to take his current spending strategy to its ultimate conclusion and re-sign every player he’s ever previously managed including Rio Ferdinand, Shaka Hislop and Linvoy Primus.

As it was, the deadline day activity was a bit of a damp squib. Having followed the ‘action’ on the BBC website from 9am til 5.30, it seemed that their reporters at least were resigned to the fact that nothing particularly massive would happen – there were rumblings at Portsmouth and Everton, as most expected – and yet still, presumably under orders, hung on to the grim hope that a real ‘marquee signing’ would take place. So was I, of course.

Is this all that the window exists for? It’s hard to be sure that it’s of much further use. I read Gordon Strachan’s column in FourFourTwo this week and he suggests that while the window unsettles footballers and stresses out managers – albeit exciting the fans – it does in fact mean that when the window is shut players tend to focus on the job at hand (knowing they can’t go anywhere) and teams with a bit of money are less able to gain an unfair advantage by replacing injured players whenever they like.

Personally, I suppose I like knowing that the squads are as they will be for at least half the season now, making it far easier to analyse how teams will perform in the coming season, but I still find the idea of people just ‘not being allowed’ to change jobs whenever they like very strange and even slightly troubling – it couldn’t happen in any other industry, could it? (Of course, this could be said for a lot about the world of football).

This period, now that the window is shut until January and we’ve seen a few games played and teams start to take shape, is the only sensible time to start making any sort of tentative predictions. So I might make a couple.

As I’ve mentioned before, for me the most significant transfers of the summer have been, of course, Ronaldo and Xabi Alonso to Real Madrid – not because of the possible impact of the six-year-old’s Panini sticker fantasy team Madrid are assembling (again), but because of the effect on the teams they’ve left behind.

I predicted in an earlier blog that United would struggle without Ronaldo – for goals at least – but what seems to be happening, happily for them, is that Rooney is looking to be the man to step up his game from last season and prove to be the truly match-winning player we know he is capable of being. I also think that Owen will score lots more goals for them – finally getting the service in front of goal he’s been praying for for years.

Liverpool, on the other hand, have blown it in my opinion. This Aquilani chap is going to have an awful lot of pressure on him when he returns from injury – as the hole blown in the midfield at Anfield by Alonso’s departure looks pretty nasty. Sure, they won against Bolton at the weekend but they could very, very easily have lost – a rather harsh red card swinging things in their favour. Unless Aquilani really does turn out to be something special, and slot in with Gerrard and Torres nicely, you’d have to be mad to back them for the title this season – right now at least.

As far as the other ‘Big Four’ clubs go, Chelsea are looking great at the moment, the only caveat to their 100% start being that they haven’t really been tested. Hull, Sunderland, Fulham, Burnley – these are all clubs you’d expect the Blues to take three points from. The fact that they have, comfortably, makes them my favourites at the moment, however. I feel similarly about Arsenal – but as always their relative youth, fragility and susceptibility to injury makes them hard to back over a whole season. Time, and stamina, will tell on all fronts.

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