The 2018 Premier League transfer window: The losers

For the happier, cheerier transfer window winners, head here.

The 2018 Premier League transfer window: The losers

The 2018 Premier League transfer window: The losers

 

The Premier League There are some sensible reasons for closing the transfer window before the season begins. It provides certainty, and allows managers to focus on what they’ve got – for better or worse – in the early weeks of the season rather than having to spin plates.

Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain playing against Liverpool at the start of the season and then joining them isn’t ideal. There is an inherent unfairness about a team that loses a player to serious injury on August 30 being able to do something about it while a team that loses player to serious injury on September 2 must wait four months.

So yes, closing the window before the season starts makes some sense. Just don’t introduce it in a World Cup year, and certainly not if you’re acting unilaterally.

Were this a UEFA-wide standard, things would make rather more sense.

As it is, several clubs have been left unable to complete their business due to the inability to offload deadwood to continental clubs in no kind of rush, and they don’t even have the certainty of knowing that the squad they have now is their squad until January due to the window remaining open for all other European clubs.

Maybe one fudged solution would’ve been an August 9 deadline for intra-league deals and the usual August 31 deadline for signings from abroad. That would at least solve the Oxlade-Chamberlain issue, while it would also likely lead to even more inflated prices for overseas players in the closing weeks of the window.

It’s also fair to make the point that this early closure probably only really affects the biggest clubs, and balls to them quite frankly. They are the ones with the big squads, they are the ones with players who may be tempted away by the European superclubs – the only ones now able to compete with even bottom-half Premier League cash. Rival fans need shed no tears for the big clubs’ woes.

But for the league overall it’s a self-inflicted wound. The early closure of the window makes it harder for the other big clubs to resist an era of Manchester City Premier League domination that would damage The Brand.

And it is the biggest clubs that define the league around the world. A Premier League winner of the Champions League is overdue given the league’s obscene wealth. Yet at a time when the Spanish domination of that competition looks flimsier than it has in several years, the early window has left two of England’s four entrants demonstrably weaker than they might have been.

The English have made a bad decision and put themselves at a self-inflicted disadvantage compared to the rest of Europe. When you do that, it’s best to just abandon the silliness before you do needless and irreparable damage to your country top-flight football.

 

Tottenham

“I have very clear ideas of what we need to do. I don’t know if the club will agree with me or not. We are going to talk next week to create the new project. It is a little bit up to Daniel and the club to agree with us.

“If we want to be real contenders for big trophies, we need to review a little bit the thing. We need to create dreams that will be possible to achieve. I think Daniel is going to listen to me, of course. You need to be brave. Being brave is the most important thing and take risks.”

The words of Mauricio Pochettino at the end of last season, before he signed a new five-year contract. Not unreasonably, that was taken as a sign that Spurs would do as he asked. And, as the man himself has acknowledged, they have. In a way.

Of the 19 current Premier League teams who didn’t win the title by 19 points last season, 18 have bought at least three new players. Tottenham have bought none. In so doing they become the first Premier League team to draw a blank in a summer transfer window since it was introduced in 2003. It’s certainly brave. And it’s certainly a risk.

There are excuses and mitigations. The rising costs of delivering a £1bn building project (that also currently looks to my admittedly entirely untrained eye some way short of completion barely a month out from its great unveiling, but that’s another matter) are one, the difficulty in improving an already over-achieving, over-performing squad is another.

Spurs have also – European vultures notwithstanding – retained all of their existing first-team squad as Daniel Levy finally realises the dream of the perfect net-spend summer. While fears of initial World Cup weariness are valid, it’s also reasonable to assume that a still young squad will ultimately be stronger for so many of its key components being involved so deep into proceedings in Russia.

If – and that word is doing much heavy lifting here – Toby Alderweireld and Pochettino are willing to rebuild bridges and trust then it’s arguably a positive window given the Belgian’s departure appeared inevitable all summer. Elsewhere, January arrival Lucas Moura has had a full Poch pre-season and might actually be – no, stop it – like a new signing.

And a club that has had far more misses than hits when spending big money (divide the current squad into ‘cost more than £20m’ and ‘cost less than £20m’ and see where you end up) was also right – brave, even – not to sign players for the sake of it at the end of the window. You don’t want another Moussa Sissoko on your hands.

Spurs’ biggest problem this summer was ultimately their inability to correct the errors of previous windows still clogging up Hotspur Way. At time of writing, Vincent Janssen remains a Tottenham player, for Christ’s sake. Don’t add more to it.

But it’s still just really, really weird isn’t it? Not one signing. Not one! In a whole (admittedly curtailed) summer!

There are two things. One, the idea starting to float around that Spurs’ squad is unimprovable at their budget. It doesn’t wash. There are other areas where improvement could have been made, but there’s a big neon flashing sign with ‘CENTRAL MIDFIELD’ written on it.

Jack Grealish was clearly a target, and Spurs bungled it by not getting that deal done early in the window before Aston Villa’s takeover by some of the richest men in the world changed the balance of power somewhat. But did a Premier League scouting network truly conclude there was nothing that could be done to improve on Eric Dier, an ageing Mousa Dembele and injury-prone duo Harry Winks and Victor Wanyama?

Spurs have some outrageously talented youngsters coming through, but when Sissoko appears in central midfield – and he will – the idea that Spurs’ squad could not have been augmented is going to be an interesting position to adopt.

More importantly than the specifics is the mood of the place. Tottenham fans can expect little sympathy from outside. They are about to move into a stunning new stadium to watch a likable side play lovely football. They’ve been had, though. The season-ticket prices at the new stadium are some of the highest in world football. The cheapest junior season ticket is almost £400. Most season tickets at the new ground start around the £1,000 mark.

When these were announced to grumbles from the fans, the need to compete financially with the biggest clubs was part of the club’s justification. Had the club said at the end of the season that this summer would be spent focusing on tying down current players to new deals, backing the youth system and delivering a world-class new stadium, perhaps making a signing or two along the way if the opportunity arose, then fans would likely be more understanding today. But when season tickets were being purchased and memberships renewed they were promised bravery and risk-taking. Their expectation that it was not this kind of bravery and risk-taking was reasonable.

Pochettino was right to make the best of the situation yesterday and build up his (excellent) existing squad and express hope that youngsters can step up. But Spurs cannot pretend this was the plan all along. Something’s gone wrong. The fans deserve a proper explanation.

 

Manchester United Jose Mourinho may be annoying, but it doesn’t make him wrong. Not always, anyway.

Signing a player called Fred the Red is very correct even if he turns out to be bobbins, which he probably won’t. But United are playing a serious game of catch-up and have failed to back their manager.

There are plenty of possible reasons for this, none of them good. The first – and the speed with which the apparent Ed Woodward post-window briefings made it to press suggests this is the one – is that the United board don’t particularly trust Mourinho. It’s understandable. This is his third season and he is being very grumpy.

Seasoned Mourinho watchers – and, bless us, that’s all of us now whether we like it or not – will be sensing a pattern repeating. Even if it’s not naked mistrust of Mourinho’s long-term commitment, there is clearly a disconnect between the board and the boss. At its simplest is the fact that Mourinho (and the players, and the fans) want to win titles while the board want to make money. United have reached a point of such financial might that on-field performance is now all but irrelevant.

However, the board’s financial concerns can marry with on-field concerns. They are clearly far more reluctant to cast out relatively young players – Anthony Martial being the most striking example – on Mourinho’s whims when the next manager may be able to get the best from him. And the fact that two of the centre-backs Mourinho currently deems unsuitable were signed by him might be an argument against the strength of his own position but again doesn’t necessarily mean that his assessment right now is awry.

And it’s disingenuous to suggest that Mourinho’s wish-list was unreasonable for a club of United’s vast wealth. Toby Alderweireld has been one of the best, if not the best, Premier League centre-backs of the last four years. He was available, albeit at a hefty price befitting that status, and is 29. Alderweireld may not have had much sell-on value for the balance sheet, but nor is he over the hill. Injuries are a concern, but it’s not outlandish to think that in the position he plays Alderweireld’s best years could be ahead of him.

Manchester United had the means to get him, or any other centre-back to improve on their current flawed options. What they lacked was the will.

 

Newcastle Bloody hell. Whatever legitimate gripes Tottenham and Manchester United supporters may have, at least they had pretty decent squads to start out with. Newcastle did not have a pretty decent squad to start out with, and have still run this transfer window at a profit.

The problems at the club are manifold, and their very Premier League survival appears to hang entirely on a fraying thread comprised entirely of Rafa Benitez’s lingering fondness for the beleaguered supporters.

The middling morass that has become positions 7-20 in the Premier League over recent years looks stronger than ever this year, with two of the newly-promoted clubs making serious transfer waves. Newcastle really could be in very serious trouble here.

 

Everton Unlike those who have done insufficient business, Everton may be guilty of simply doing bad business.

Dropping £40m on Richarlison looks like a huge risk even in the current transfer climate given the player we saw in the second half of the season, while the late double deal from Barcelona also raises concerns.

Alarm bells must have been ringing given Barcelona’s overwhelming desire to offload Yerry Mina on the back of his eye-catching World Cup performances for Colombia, where it’s enormously possible that a few goals and playing alongside the excellent Davinson Sanchez made Mina look better than he in fact is. Let’s face it, he would not be the first player to revert to the mean after a big World Cup.

And with Barcelona having a buy-back clause, the potential upside for Everton’s gamble is slender. If he flops, they’re lumbered with him. If he thrives, they eventually lose and must replace him.

Everton have spent the sort of money that demands a challenge to the big six hegemony, yet have a squad still way short of those on the level above them. The same thing happened last year, and it didn’t end well for anyone.

 

Anthony Martial Desperately needs someone, pretty much anyone in Europe to save him.

 

Jack Grealish It’s hardly the end of the world for Grealish to find himself still the top man at his boyhood club – especially as that club now has some financial security and can make a realistic tilt at returning to the Premier League.

But for him – and England – there remains a ‘what if?’ about his failed move to Tottenham. He would have filled an obvious hole in their squad, ensuring plenty of game time, and could have been the latest young player to benefit from Mauricio Pochettino’s tutelage.

Jack Wilshere’s move to West Ham may see him be the immediate beneficiary of England’s need for a creative central midfielder. It really could have been Grealish, a player who has so much to learn and a long, long way to go but looks as close as any young Englishman to the ‘Luka Modric type’ that is craved.

For Spurs, it would have been nice to sign him. For Grealish, it could have been career-changing.

 

Toby Alderweireld and Danny Rose From first-choice certainties to squad filler in two years. Don’t cross Mauricio Pochettino. At least, don’t do it unless you know Manchester City are going to pay lots of money for you.

Both Alderweireld and Rose have made it clear they are quite keen to move on from Spurs. Both are now left facing the choice between making that move overseas or staying and being squad players at the evocatively-named Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

Pochettino, assisted of course by the excellence of Davinson Sanchez and Ben Davies, has eased both out of the first team. Both could yet have a future at Tottenham. There will be plenty of games to go around and both men are wonderful options to have if they are fully committed to the cause.

But right now, such commitment looks doubtful, and any move that materialises is not going to be their first choice. Alderweireld plainly wanted Manchester United. Rose wanted a return to the north and may now, poor thing, have to settle for northern France.

Dave Tickner

 

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