I don’t know how many times Jools Holland has ushered in the New Year with his Hootenanny but I know a little of how he feels. Transfer deadline day in the Sky Sports Studio has the same elements. A month’s hype, the countdown, the drama, then the fireworks. Except we can’t pre-record the entire thing.
Like New Year’s Eve there is plenty of time for disappointment and regret once the clock signals the window’s end.
I imagine managers texting each other in the cold light of the next morning.
“ I really love him.”
“But Arsene, you loved Andrey Arshavin too”
In the studio we get to sit and judge, like drill sergeants watching a new batch of pimply recruits arrive into the barracks.
Unless you get a strange story like Peter Odemwingie’s day trip to London or Anthony Martial signing on to be part of United’s ‘Great Futures Behind Them’ collection, there is a lot of time for speculating about who will sleep with the fishes and who will swim with the dolphins?
As we get to the last international break of the year I see the papers and the internet are boiling again with rumours of the frenzy to come in the approaching window so it seems like a good time to look at a few of the hits and misses from the latest summer session.
One of the best stories of the back end of summer was Moussa Sissoko. Everton thought he was ready to sign a pre-nup and tie the knot. Then he was worryingly un-contactable. Everton were about to call in Liam Neeson to track him down when Sissoko turned up in London wearing a Spurs jersey. The fee of £30m was about double what Spurs generally like to pay for incoming players. His form so far has probably been about half what they expect from those players. Sissoko’s handful of appearances so far haven’t produced any goals or assists.
Generally though Sissoko’s disappointing start goes under the radar because the best story of the summer was Paul Pogba’s return to Old Trafford. The sort of deal which would have Sir Alex Ferguson spinning in his VIP box and screaming to be let out.
The idea to write about the form of the big summer transfers came before Pogba and Zlatan spent yesterday afternoon pawing the dead mouse that is Swansea but even taking into account that yesterday’s win was United’s best performance outside of England this year the jury must still be out on Pogba and Zlatan.
United look like a troubled club and at the moment the guys picking up the heaviest wage packets every month haven’t been performing on match days.
There are various reasons. Maybe at 35 Zlatan should have looked for a gentler pasture in which he could transition into retirement. He has been playing professional football in top divisions since 1999. That’s a lot of mileage. He still works hard. Fewer things come off for him however. He scored 113 goals in 122 games in France. His patchy form at United compared to Balotelli’s exciting form at Nice these days tell us a lot about the difference between playing in
France and playing in England.
Pogba meanwhile thrived in a different midfield set up in a different league that is played at a different pace. Great goal yesterday, his season can go one of two ways from here. Jose may get his midfield right (Michael Carrick yesterday was a good sign) and Pogba might start to look like a Rolls Royce? Or he may struggle at this turbulent club and with that price tag he may become a human shield for his manager.
As for Henrikh Mkhitaryn? You just never know what’s around the corner do you Henrikh?
The best transfers have been the ones which didn’t attract screaming headlines. On transfer deadline night I did some weeping and gnashing of teeth when Sunderland failed to sign a new striker. They picked up Victor Anichebe on a free soon after and I thought that even with my aches and pains I’d back myself to beat him in forty yard sprint and that
neither of us should attempt any distance longer than that without emergency medical services present.
But wait. I saw Anichebe play for Sunderland at Bournemouth on Saturday and I ate some humble pie at half time. David Moyes surprised Eddie Howe (and maybe surprised himself) by putting out an attacking team with Anichebe, in his first start, playing up front to take some pressure off Jermaine Defoe. It worked. And Anichebe worked. He scored one and
got fouled for the penalty which gave Defoe his mandatory place on the score sheet.
Nobody is saying that Sunderland will be fending off Pogba-style offers to keep Anichebe next summer but he gave Sunderland some presence on Saturday, he gave them a goal, a win and a boost to morale with
the promise that playing some attacking football might be a worthwhile exercise after all.
Chelsea picking off N’Golo Kante from the Leicester herd when they were down at the watering hole in the summer was just the law of the jungle. The deal was a quiet, efficient piece of business which has hurt Leicester badly and helped Chelsea no end. Kante and Matic in central midfield are the motor which makes Chelsea rival Liverpool as the most improved team of the year so far.
Since Antonio Conte found a formula he likes and is familiar with Chelsea have won five games on the trot. The players around Kante are all suddenly looking as if they have been reconditioned. That’s the sign of a good midfielder, a good signing. Special mentions too for Alonso and Luiz who have settled in really well.
None of the players Leicester bought as they broke their old transfer record a few times over in the summer have come close to making up for the loss of Kante.
There have been other good signings about the league. With the amount of football he has in him John Stones could be the next Bobby Moore for England. It’s surprising that Manchester City didn’t experience more competition from his signature. I would have thought that his style would suit most of the top continental sides. Their loss is Pep’s gain.
In a week when City beat Barcelona it is easy to forget that Guardiola’s project is still a work in progress. I think we’ve have seen contrasting returns on investment so far from City’s two big German signings in the Summer, Leroy Sane and Ilkay Gundogan.
Sane came back from the Euro’s a little late and has struggled with fitness, which is natural enough for a twenty year old hitting the Premier League. In flashes he has shown that over the course of what is going to be a long season for City that he could emerge to look like decent business but we haven’t seen nearly enough yet.
Gundogan’s performance and two goals against Barcelona marked the occasion of him dropping his calling card at the Etihad. Apart from a knack of getting goals, amongst other virtues he looks like the cure to the brittleness which has troubled City for a while.
When transfer deadline day passed without Jurgen Klopp buying a shiny new striker I wondered if he had feet of clay after all. With 30 goals from eleven Premier League games and a top of the table seat this morning Klopp has won that argument.
His high energy game is high attrition too in terms of injuries and fatigue so I still think he might splurge for a top forward in January. In the meanwhile if Sadio Mane can escape the inconsistency he suffered from at Southampton he could prove to be the No.1 inspired buy of the season.
Elsewhere what we’ve seen of Hojbjerg at Southampton confirms their shrewd eye. Hats off to Arsene who has bought very well other than mortgaging the house for a twenty goal a season striker as we all instructed him to. Pity Lucas Perez hasn’t got in on the act yet.
Joe Allen was a neat bit of business for Stoke, he deserves a snappier nickname than “the Midlands Andrea Pirlo”. Wanyama has been a typical bit of efficient Spurs business. Bolasie has looked decent at Everton though he’ll hope to have better days than he did on Saturday. If not he will need counselling.
Mid term report for the recruits of summer 2016? Some successes, some shrewd buys, a long list of flops, misfits and “ones for the future”. You look down the list of who bought who and how their teams are doing and even if you take away the hype surrounding Premier League managers now, generally the best ones have spent cleverly.
The Manchester United’s manager’s performance in his first window is the exception to that rule and following his January dealings alone should be great fun. Will Jools be singing “Cool For Cats” or ‘Up The Junction” to Jose?