Posted by: mdegeorge | September 1, 2010

Starting XI Points: Close of the transfer window

It’s the most exciting (or disappointing) day of the post-World Cup soccer summer. It’s the close of the open transfer window in Europe, which always ushers in a flurry of rumors—if not always actual moves—to keep us scintillated and our heads in the clouds of fantasy personnel moves the world over.

So, after a day spent by my computer pretending to work while simultaneously boning up on my Spanish and Italian sports pages jargon (I’ve had to learn the phrase “in prestito”, Italian for “on loan” pretty well), here are my Starting XI points for the end of the transfer season.

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90 percent of soccer journalism is complete crap

That’s not bitterness or anger at the superfluous hype of the day; it’s actually pretty close to an actual number. ESPNSoccernet’s live chat—which kept me engrossed while ostensibly working—facetiously reported Lionel Messi to West Bromwich Albion, which wasn’t all that more outlandish than some of the other reports on the day.

I know the ebb and flow of excitement and possibility is one of the day’s defining characteristics, but it hasn’t to be taken with caution. That being said, I still used my desk notebook to scribble out all the chain reaction that would have had to happen for certain moves to occur. An example:

Mario Gomez to Livepool; Rafael van der Vaart to Bayern Munich; Ryan Babel to Tottenham; David Bentley to Fulham; Robbie Keane to Besiktas, Emmanuel Adebayor to Tottenham, Carlton Cole, Roman Pavlyuchenko to…the possibilities are endless in my fantasy world.

The discount market

As has been the case for most teams not named Real Madrid or Manchester City, the continuing economic recession and mounting piles of debt in the European game made for tight purse strings throughout the window. With the exception of Barcelona’s capture of Javier Mascherano, few deals topped the €10 million threshold. Arguably the highest profile moves in the final week, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, was a loan deal in which any big money wouldn’t be spent until the end of the season at the earliest, after eight months of on-field auditions and revenue to turn the tide of the global markets. A few large moves were rumored, but none of the outlandish moves came to fruition. Which leads me to…

Dollars and sense prevail

₤9 million for Ryan Babel? ₤9 million for Carlton Cole? With their backs against the transfer wall, teams at least briefly entertained such fanciful notions as these borderline comical pieces of business. Luckily, neither of these deals came to pass (yet) and it was more modest transactions (with the exception of the club-record ₤13.24 million for Asamoah Gyan to Sunderland) that were completed.

The waiting continues…While the window is closed, deals may still be completed as long as teams have agreed terms and only personal terms are still being sorted out. The most high-profile is the Tottenham’s pursuit of Rafael van der Vaart (though I can’t for the life of me find out where he’ll be playing a team that already doesn’t have space for Niko Kranjcar, Bentley, or Jermaine Jenas). Then there’s potentially outgoing Spurs’ striker Keane, who could be poised for a second loan deal in this calendar year with Besiktas interested. It could take another day or two to complete all the straggling deals.

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Misfiring Gunners

Perhaps the biggest disappointment of the day (at least among English teams) was the reticence of Arsenal to pull the trigger on the acquisition of a goalkeeper, a much needed commodity with Manuel Almunia, Vito Mannone, and Lukass Fabianski (to quote one of ESPN’s chat-masters, “Flubby-handskis”) failing to deliver the requisite competence between the sticks. It wasn’t for a lack of speculation, with almost every goaltender this side of David Seaman linked with linked with a trip to the Emirates Stadium. And I mean everyone. First it was Mark Schwarzer’s decision to remain at Fulham, then Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini’s decision to keep Shay Given as an insurance policy. From there, every other possibility—Maarten Stekelenburg of Ajax, Craig Gordon of Sunderland, Hugo Lloris (it was rumored the Gunners offered €14 million plus Almunia, a purely preposterous figure), Federico Marchetti of Cagliari, Fernando Muslera of Lazio. In the end though, Arsene Wenger elected to stand pat, much to the dismay of many Arsenal faithful and the delight of Premier League title contenders.

Benventi al’Inferno

The honor of most bullish close to the transfer window had to go to Milan and the forward house-clean they held. They offloaded Klaas-Jan Huntelaar for €14 million to Schalke (just €1 million less than they signed him for last year, a respectable piece of business after the worst season in Huntelaar’s career) while recouping value for Marco Borriello from Roma with the option to get the full amount back at the end of the season. They turned that around with the capture of both Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Robinho, two controversial but explosive figures who are clear upgrades over the previous two. That, along with the acquisition of Kevin-Prince Boateng several weeks ago (more on that later), makes the Rossoneri a favorite to make amends for failures near the top of the Serie A table last season. If nothing else, the front line of Ibrahmovic, Alexandre Pato, and Robinho with Ronaldinho on the bench is among the most formidable units in the world, especially for the catenaccio-inspired, defensive-minded Italian league.

Transfer market Italian style

I often marvel at the shady dealings, co-ownership schemes, and alleged (not to mention actual) graft transpiring beneath the table in Italy. But some of the arrangements this season defined even Serie A’s tenuous concept of logic. First, you’ve got Boateng’s transfer from Portsmouth to Genoa, which was then turned into a loan to Milan that later became a co-ownership deal. Both Ibrahimovic and Borriello made their moves as initial loan deals with views to outright purchase at season’s end. Numerous swap deals (including Kaladze for Fabio Grosso and Julio Baptista for Borriello) were discussed, while Inter Milan, Lazio, and myriad other teams (including yet another move for Roberto Acquafresca) occurred.

Germany’s the place to be

For a moment, it looked like Germany was the place everyone wanted to be. Huntelaar made his move to Schalke, Mauro Camoranesi gave up Juventus and offers in Greece and England to join Stuttgart, and young star (though it feels like he’s been around since he was 12) Gylfi Sigurdsson joined Hoffenheim from Reading. Gomez also elected to stay at Bayern Munich, while plenty of other players also looked to be on the way to the Bundesliga, including van der Vaart to Bayern. Maybe it’s the beer…or the open style of play.

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All quiet from the Big 4

Paul Konchesky does not an exciting deadline day make for the Big Four. Liverpool was the only one even appearing active in the market, though their failures to land a litany of strikers (Cole, Gomez, etc.) while simultaneously having to keep what many portray as dead weight (Babel, Lucas) and losing arguably their third most valuable player (Mascherano) isn’t exactly inspiring. It’s mitigated by the promise of Raul Meireles, but it’s still not enough to get the KOP chanting for a Premier League title this season. Chelsea’s wings appeared to be clipped slightly by the snub by Neymar, though they have plenty of reason not to tinker with a darn thing. Manchester United maid their acquisitions early on, leaving the only question to be which youngsters would be shown the loan door (yes on Tom Cleverly to Wigan; no on Federico Macheda.) And Arsenal stuck by their perpetual pledge to youth by not recruiting any reinforcements for either their shaky goalkeeping situation or attack after Robin van Persie’s semi-annual muscle injury.

Statements from the middle of the table

Quite a few teams in the middle of the pack in the EPL made a last minute push for recognition. Stoke City opted for the journeyman route, bringing in Eidur Gudjohnsen and Jermaine Pennant alongside young Portsmouth parolee Marc Wilson, but at least they offloaded Dave Kitson and Liam Lawrence for Wilson as a counterweight to the moves. Sunderland splashed out an obscene club record for Gyan. And Birmingham opted for reinforcements in the form of Chilean Jean Beausejour, Martin Jiranek, and the man who misses London more than anyone in history, Alexander Hleb. Whether any of those moves will vault these teams into the top half or European contention, we’ll see.

A decent week for the Americans

There wasn’t much movement on the American front, but a couple favorable moves did come to pass for members of the Red, White, and Blue. The most obvious is the signing of DaMarcus Beasley to Hannover 96 in Germany in an attempt to jump start his career (in his fourth European league) with fellow American and team captain Steve Cherundolo at his side. The loan move of Kaladze jettisons Oguchi Oneywu up the pecking order at AC Milan. And there may be light at the end of the unemployment tunnel for Jay DeMerit, who is reportedly close to joining an undisclosed team, most likely in England, in the next week or so.

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