Published On: Fri, Aug 10th, 2018

Half-cocked, arrogant and stupid… that’s our transfer window

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The hero of the transfer window now passed? Not Daniel Levy or Ed Woodward; not Marina Granovskaia, or any of the self-styled executive players riding the crest of the richest league in the world.

Diego Godin’s agent. Smartest guy in the room. It was he who, as the clock ticked down, spied an opportunity to exploit and expose the foolishness of English football’s early closure and use that to the full.

He put in a call to Manchester United. Ridiculous, panicking Manchester United, unable to land a suitable centre half, given the summer to do so. 

Manchester United failed in a deadline-day dash to sign Diego Godin from Atletico Madrid

Manchester United failed in a deadline-day dash to sign Diego Godin from Atletico Madrid

Manchester United failed in a deadline-day dash to sign Diego Godin from Atletico Madrid

Jose Mourinho was unable to bring in  the centre back he was looking for before window shut

Jose Mourinho was unable to bring in  the centre back he was looking for before window shut

Jose Mourinho was unable to bring in  the centre back he was looking for before window shut

Would they, he asked, be interested in his client — a player who, at 32, had not played a single one of his 576 games for a club outside a Spanish-speaking country and had turned down Manchester City three years ago? United, with options and time fast running out, said they would.

And so the story leaked that United were in for Godin, and the agent was able to go to Godin’s club, Atletico Madrid, and say he had interest from Old Trafford, meaning his client got what he wanted all along: which was a new, improved contract with Atletico worth approximately £6.74million a year.

Oh, well played, sir (or madam, considering Godin’s sister, Lucia, is also part of his management team). But, really, it was too easy, wasn’t it?

So did the transfer window bring down agents’ cuts and transfer fees? No.

Did it prevent the ghastly, inflationary last-minute pandemonium? No. Did it stop Tottenham unsettling a young player at another club after his season had started? No. Will it prevent further uncertainty going forward until the end of August, at least? No. Is your squad your squad? No.

Was it the stupidest, most arrogant, poorly conceived, half-cocked, half-baked, hare-brained scheme, ever concocted by a group of supposedly competent individuals? Yes, yes, a thousand times yes.

Take Chelsea. They sold a goalkeeper to Real Madrid for £35m and bought one from Athletic Bilbao for £71.6m. Fine. That happens. Clubs upgrade and it costs.

Except the goalkeeper Chelsea have sold, Thibaut Courtois, has made 65 international appearances, played 47 times in Europe, reached a World Cup semi-final, played in a Champions League final, won two European trophies, won the league in England and Spain, been named goalkeeper of the year in Belgium, Spain and England, won the World Cup Golden Glove and made a Champions League team of the season. 

Chelsea bought Kepa Arrizabalaga (above) from Athletic Bilbao to replace Thibaut Courtois

Chelsea bought Kepa Arrizabalaga (above) from Athletic Bilbao to replace Thibaut Courtois

Chelsea bought Kepa Arrizabalaga (above) from Athletic Bilbao to replace Thibaut Courtois

And the goalkeeper they have paid double the money for, Kepa Arrizabalaga, has never played in Europe, never won a trophy at senior level and has played once for Spain.

When David de Gea’s form began to falter in Russia this summer, there was no question of promoting Arrizabalaga. He was considered too raw. And, as we know, Courtois wanted out. That is not Chelsea’s fault. What is their fault is that they voted for a system that left them short of time, meaning the premium they paid for his replacement was ludicrously inflationary and a world record. Last year, Chelsea could have waited, negotiated, picked through options, taken their time. Even if Rob Green had started against Huddersfield on Saturday it would not have been the worst.

Instead, they have paid top dollar for a novice.

Tottenham, meanwhile, have become the first Premier League club since the summer window was introduced in 2003 not to buy a player. They could have taken Jack Grealish when the window opened and Aston Villa were in turmoil, but chose not to, because chairman Levy is too in love with his reputation for driving the hardest bargain.

Yet by the time it got to bargain day, Villa had new owners who didn’t need the cash. So, again, the truncated window — which Tottenham supported — did nothing to make Levy act earlier, as presumed. He still left it to the last minute, but with little of his previous leverage. Any club indulging in brinkmanship, any manager with instructions to sell before he can buy, was always going to be at a disadvantage on August 9.

European clubs do not need to move yet. They can now see the Premier League clubs that are top heavy — Chelsea, for instance — and pick off their surplus cheaply once the deadline has passed.

There will be players looking for loan deals, permanent deals, expensive players who do not make the 25-man Premier League squad. Meaning English clubs now have two options: keep paying the wages of those with no chance of appearing, or sell at a much reduced price. Meanwhile, if Europe’s elite really want to do harm — well the potential for that remains, too. 

Paul Pogba, who won the World Cup with France, had been linked with a move to Barcelona

Paul Pogba, who won the World Cup with France, had been linked with a move to Barcelona

Paul Pogba, who won the World Cup with France, had been linked with a move to Barcelona

Take Paul Pogba. If Barcelona want him, what is there to stop them agitating from afar? What is to prevent them making a bid, or encouraging the player to put in a transfer request? His relationship with Jose Mourinho does not appear perfect. He might start feeling an injury; he may become unexpectedly tired after his World Cup exertions.

And why should Barcelona obey the niceties of some arbitrary deadline agreed by owners in a foreign league? They have all August to do their business. They can milk the Premier League for what it is worth — a possibly hasty £28.5m from Everton for Yerry Mina, whose World Cup appearances for Colombia impressed considerably more than his six for Barcelona last season — and disregard Manchester United’s pleas to be left alone.

They could wreak havoc around Pogba over the next three weeks, if inclined. Indeed, even if they didn’t really want the player they could mess with a Champions League rival just for the sheer mischief of it.

And it all could have been avoided with a little thought. Have an early transfer window, but make it a domestic rule. If the problem was unscrupulous clubs unsettling players belonging to rivals at home — and it was, considering the overwhelming majority of disruptive transfer speculation last summer involved domestic deals — then pass an embargo for those transfers only, leaving clubs free to negotiate with Europe.

Domestic deals end on August 9, those beyond our borders remain the same. Amusingly, English football’s higher echelons thought they were better and smarter than that. Just not as smart as Godin’s people, obviously. 

Tangerine dream is a nightmare 

Is there any allegiance more consistently dispiriting than being a Blackpool fan? Most clubs at least like to wait a few games before lurching towards crisis; Blackpool are the early adopters of calamity.

No sooner had they played out a goalless draw with Wycombe Wanderers when manager Gary Bowyer quit. 

Gary Bowyer left Blackpool after only one game of their 2018/19 League One campaign

Gary Bowyer left Blackpool after only one game of their 2018/19 League One campaign

Gary Bowyer left Blackpool after only one game of their 2018/19 League One campaign

Like everyone else, he was exhausted by the ongoing shambles at Bloomfield Road, where the best part of £31.27m is still owed to former director Valeri Belokon, after it was found the Oyston family had shamelessly asset-stripped the club.

Another protest against the Oystons is planned on Saturday before the match with Portsmouth, but anger is all the fans have left — and with their grievances ignored for so long there is a growing danger even that will eventually turn to apathy. And then what is there?

Awkward home truths about Pogba 

Look at what Jose Mourinho actually said about Paul Pogba, rather than merely the fall-out from it, and he actually makes a lot of sense. He said Pogba was ‘absolutely brilliant’ in the second part of the World Cup, which he was. He said to be a World Cup winner can only be positive, and he’s right there, too.

The controversy was in the caveats, dripped across a series of interviews on the American tour. ‘I hope he understands why he was very good,’ Mourinho added. ‘It was the perfect habitat for a player like him to give the best, because it’s closed for a month where he can only think about football. He was isolated from commercial compromises and isolated from every possible influence.’

So Pogba is best when he is removed from social media and emojis and Pogbunnies and commercial shoots, when he doesn’t change his hair every two minutes, and is dedicated, completely, to his football? Isn’t that what everybody has been saying? 

Paul Pogba won plaudits for his performances as Les Bleus secured a second World Cup title

Paul Pogba won plaudits for his performances as Les Bleus secured a second World Cup title

Paul Pogba won plaudits for his performances as Les Bleus secured a second World Cup title

Gary Neville, Paul Scholes, Roy Keane, Graeme Souness, Ryan Giggs, Frank Lampard, Jamie Carragher — all have criticised Pogba over the last year, often by implying he is not working hard enough or fully focused. And if he looked a different player at the World Cup it may be that Mourinho is right and he is better in an environment without distractions.

The problem is that it is only Mourinho and Manchester United who do not appear able to hold Pogba’s attention. At Juventus, his worth rose to £90m on the back of four league titles; with France he won the World Cup. Now back with United, he has welcomed the new season with a lengthy Instagram post showing him getting a haircut, incorporating two gold stars to represent France’s two World Cups. And here we go again.

Even if Mourinho is right about Pogba, what he cannot adequately explain is why his player becomes a different person back in Manchester. Perhaps because the answer is too close to home. 

Pep can polish Stones into a midfield diamond 

It can only be good news for England that Pep Guardiola is considering playing John Stones in a holding midfield role on occasions this season. 

As he demonstrated when converting Fabian Delph to a makeshift left back last year — or turning Javier Mascherano into an accomplished centre half at Barcelona — there is no one better than Guardiola for coaching a new position.

Other countries have players who can switch effortlessly between defensive and midfield roles, but not England. Rio Ferdinand grew up talking of his admiration for Matthias Sammer, of Germany, yet was never given the opportunity to follow his path despite having the ability.

Without doubt, Stones has the potential and if Guardiola can coax that out of him, Gareth Southgate will benefit, too. 

Manchester City star John Stones was used in defensive midfield by Pep Guardiola at Wembley

Manchester City star John Stones was used in defensive midfield by Pep Guardiola at Wembley

Manchester City star John Stones was used in defensive midfield by Pep Guardiola at Wembley

Kroenke in control all along 

If you own a thing, it cannot be stolen. Not by you. So the idea that Stan Kroenke’s takeover of Arsenal is ‘legalised theft’ — as claimed by the Arsenal Supporters’ Trust — is overblown rhetoric.

To all intents and purposes, Kroenke owned Arsenal. He called the shots, he hired and fired, he bought and sold. Once a year, those who spoke for the 3 per cent of the club not controlled by Kroenke or Alisher Usmanov got their day in the sun.

Yet it was token resistance, nothing more. At the last AGM, 300 independent shareholders voted chairman Sir Chips Keswick out, only for Kroenke to use his vote of 67 per cent to vote him back in. In 2015, Sir Chips was asked about the £3m Kroenke received in consultancy fees for advising his business and threatened to close the meeting down if the matter was raised again.

The idea that Arsenal’s smallest shareholders provided a check, a balance or even had a say is far-fetched. Protests at the stadium, not at an annual executive meeting, were what brought regime change at Arsenal. 

To all intents and purposes, Stan Kroenke (above) owned Arsenal — he called the shots

To all intents and purposes, Stan Kroenke (above) owned Arsenal — he called the shots

To all intents and purposes, Stan Kroenke (above) owned Arsenal — he called the shots

Empty seats and a perpetual mood of dissent resonated more loudly than futile grandstanding from the floor. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter whether Kroenke holds 67 per cent or the lot.

At the ground, the fans have a 60,000 majority: and that is where their voice is heard. 

Having hidden the draw for the Carabao Cup in obscure time zones and formats, chief executive Shaun Harvey is repeating the formula with the Football League highlights.

These have been sold to a channel called Quest and so successful was their first broadcast that the League sent out an advisory on Thursday in the hope media organisations would inform their readers where to get it.

Those who could locate it — on my television it comes after a channel called ID+1 — were rewarded with a blackout, a distorted picture, a squashed picture and a studio set that looked as if it had been assembled with the profits from the worst-performing pie stall at Accrington Stanley.

There are some very big clubs in the Championship, and they surely deserve better. Indeed, it is just as well the League have unearthed a highly lucrative revenue stream, fining their own members millions for having ambition, or Harvey might be considered to have no clue at all.

Shaun Harvey, EFL chief executive, talks during day two of the Soccerex Global Convention

Shaun Harvey, EFL chief executive, talks during day two of the Soccerex Global Convention

Shaun Harvey, EFL chief executive, talks during day two of the Soccerex Global Convention

Klopp can’t hide from new reality 

Jurgen Klopp believes Liverpool will have to deal with ‘crazy expectations’ this season. Except they are not crazy, they are perfectly realistic. It does not matter that Liverpool are without a league title in the modern era.

This is not the Liverpool of the past decades. There is every reason to believe that, this season, if anyone finishes ahead of Liverpool, they win the league.

Manchester City are the favourites, and rightly so. But they have a problem with Liverpool. In four meetings last season, Liverpool won three times. Indeed, in the last 10 games between the clubs, Liverpool have won seven and drawn two. 

Meaning, if Klopp can maintain that form, and stay on City’s shoulder through the remainder of the season, he could quite probably win the league.

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp smiles during a training session ahead of the new season 

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp smiles during a training session ahead of the new season 

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp smiles during a training session ahead of the new season 

Equally, it is not unreasonable to expect big things of a club that reached the Champions League final last season, and the Europa League final two seasons before.

Liverpool have been putting down markers under Klopp for a while now — on the pitch and, more recently, in the transfer market. They have invested hugely in key positions and in Mo Salah have one of the world’s finest footballers.

It is disingenuous to pretend all these indicators create mad expectancy. Belief in Liverpool’s potential to challenge Manchester City, or anyone else this season, is entirely rational. 

Newcastle’s players came 10th last season, and collected £11million in bonuses. And, yes, Mike Ashley should recognise his club’s potential and invest more — and this window has been another opportunity missed — but for a mid-table slot that really doesn’t seem the worst year’s work. 

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