Saturday 20 January 2018

Game's elite in rare show of transfer window restraint

After an underwhelming end to the transfer window Jeremy Wilson analyses what we actually learned

In his retirement speech, Sir Alex Ferguson described Darren Fletcher as someone who represented the future 'spirit' of Manchester United. Photo: Matthew Peters/Man Utd via Getty Images
In his retirement speech, Sir Alex Ferguson described Darren Fletcher as someone who represented the future 'spirit' of Manchester United. Photo: Matthew Peters/Man Utd via Getty Images

Jeremy Wilson

Jim White no longer owns transfer deadline day: Will Carlton Cole secure a move to West Bromwich Albion? Have Ryan Bertrand and Wilfried Zaha really just changed the terms of their respective employment at Southampton and Crystal Palace? Is Yakubu actually still playing? Will Aaron Lennon ever smile again?

These were questions that struggled to find compatibility with the frantic Sky Sports News deadline day approach of the incomparable Jim White, and so it was that a rather more reflective style won the day.

The 2008 summer bonanza at Manchester City had transformed deadline day into an event in itself and both BBC and BT have tried with varying success to match Sky's coverage. Yet with so little of genuine interest happening, it was the wider and altogether more random football chat on BBC Radio 5 Live with Phil Neville and Joey Barton, anchored by Mark Chapman, that proved especially insightful.

The Fergie years are a distant memory

Alex Ferguson made a personal mention of only two players when delivering his retirement speech. They were Paul Scholes, who was ending his playing career and Darren Fletcher, someone he once described as representing the future "spirit" of the club.

That spirit has now followed Danny Welbeck and Tom Cleverley to the Old Trafford exit. Welbeck joined United at the age of eight; Cleverley and Fletcher (pictured below) at 11. At the respective ages now of 24, 25 and 31, Ferguson would surely have envisaged them forming the homegrown core of the team.

Perhaps, as Louis van Gaal has intimated, they are just not quite good enough. But Ferguson evidently did not see it that way in his final season, when they played 82 games between them.

David Beckham has spoken of how it was like performing in front of your "family" at Old Trafford if you had come through the system. One of the club's great strengths appears under threat.

Chelsea know how to sell a bench-warmer

No club has perfected the buying and selling of peripheral first-team players like Chelsea. This was again evident as they ended deadline day in profit while still strengthening Jose Mourinho's team. As well as selling Ryan Bertrand to Southampton for £10 million, Chelsea persuaded Wolfsburg to pay more for Andre Schurrle (£24.1m up front rising to £27.8m) than his supposed upgrade in Juan Cuadrado (£23.3m rising to £26.8m).

Schurrle had cost Chelsea £18m and his sale follows a pattern established with four other bench-warmers, Juan Mata, Kevin de Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku and David Luiz.

A combined profit of about £80m has helped Chelsea to perform the trick of still splashing out on some of the world's best players while staying within Uefa's financial regulations.

Queens Park Rangers remain the window's most hapless club

It is two years since Peter Odemwingie so memorably pitched up at Loftus Road and was literally left out on the doorstep. The case of Mauro Zarate did not quite reach those levels of farce, but it was not far off.

Harry Redknapp had repeatedly said that he wanted another striker. Zarate was duly signed on January 6. He has since played 14 minutes and, when subsequently asked about his squad, Redknapp did not even list him as an option.

And so it was that, shortly before 11.0pm on Monday, and only 27 days since Zarate had arrived, Redknapp wanted to return him to West Ham United if he could instead have Matt Jarvis. It foundered on Premier League rules and, hours later, Redknapp was tendering his resignation and turning his mind to a double knee operation.

The Premier League has the most money but not the best players

Restraint and signs of good planning were among the unexpected themes but the comparative spending remains striking. A total Premier League outlay of £130m was still more than double the top divisions in Germany and Spain.

Underpinned by vast broadcast revenues, the story is of a league with unparalleled financial strength in depth.

How far we have come since the days when Serie A was some sort of promised land is underlined by Arsenal and Southampton sending strikers out on loan to Inter Milan. Yet there is still a twist.

The Premier League is not home to the absolute elite of world football - they belong to Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Barcelona - and even the best English clubs are generally shopping at a level just below. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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