Monday 22 July 2019

Eagles soar in transfer war

Crystal Palace’s capture of Yohan Cabaye from Paris St Germain looks the most astute piece of transfer business of the summer
Crystal Palace’s capture of Yohan Cabaye from Paris St Germain looks the most astute piece of transfer business of the summer

Paul Wilson

Mourinho unusually quiet while Reds go for scattergun approach.

The safe, stock answer to the usual question at the mid-point of the summer transfer window - which club is doing the best business? - is normally Chelsea, at least when Jose Mourinho is in charge. The London club have a manager who knows what he wants, someone practically anyone in the world would be flattered to be asked to play for, a track record of success and, last but not least, the money to make it all happen.

Mourinho usually conducts himself with a strut in the transfer market, whether collecting Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas last year or doggedly insisting on the return of Nemanja Matic the season before. This summer, however, he has been lying a little bit low. Chelsea's major signings so far have been Asmir Begovic, a straight replacement for Petr Cech as back-up goalkeeper, and Radamel Falcao, who may provide useful injury cover for Costa but will have to show an improvement on his Manchester United goal return to fit the bill at Stamford Bridge. Perhaps there is some mischievous element to Mourinho's nature that likes to imagine he can succeed where United have struggled - this time two years ago, it might be recalled, he was tormenting David Moyes with offers to take a disillusioned Wayne Rooney off his hands - but at the moment Falcao appears to fall into the rare category of risky Chelsea signing.

There is precious little risk involved in Chelsea's pursuit of John Stones, a player Mourinho is probably correct in assuming can form the bedrock of the defence for the next 10 years, and it was notable also that when loaning the promising Patrick Bamford out for another season, this time in the Premier League with Crystal Palace, the parent club tied him down to a new contract for the next three years. Yet as Stones is not yet signed and Bamford is not immediately available, the business Chelsea have actually conducted does not quite look the most astute of the summer so far.

That honour might belong to Alan Pardew at Palace, who has signed only two players to date but in Yohan Cabaye and Bamford may well end up with the Alex Ferguson prize for value in the market. Even if the latter is only on loan, Bamford did enough at Middlesbrough last season to suggest he is ready for a bigger challenge.

Talking of which, Raheem Sterling will begin the season under intense scrutiny, not just because of the size of his transfer fee but because of the way he sought the move away from Liverpool. After paying £49m, Manchester City are not really in the running for any housekeeping awards, especially as they first went in with offers much lower, though in Sterling, last season's runners-up might just have made the most exciting signing of the summer.

Sterling is a player people enjoy watching, there is no question about that. He has all the pace, control and penetration necessary to liven up an attacking line and leave opponents floundering - precisely what City want - and at the moment he has the confidence. There is a small chance that confidence might take a battering if the first few months of his City career do not go well, but on the whole a much greater chance that he could thrive at his new club and actually look worth the money.

Liverpool did not want to lose Sterling, whatever the orchestrated indignation of former players conditioned to view Anfield as the ultimate destination might lead one to believe. The notion that Jordon Ibe will be an even better player and Liverpool were wise to cash in on a distracted performer also contains a tiny flaw. Ibe is by no means certain of a starting place this season - not if Christian Benteke, Jordan Henderson, James Milner, Roberto Firmino, Emre Can and Philippe Coutinho are to be accommodated in most games, as for various reasons they might have to be. Ibe is just one player - others include Daniel Sturridge, Adam Lallana and Lazar Markovic - who will feel the squeeze from the reinforcements to Liverpool's offensive core, not to mention Danny Ings. Whether Brendan Rodgers has a new formation up his sleeve to utilise all or most of his attacking options at once remains to be seen, but it appears at this stage that Liverpool's approach has been somewhat scattergun, especially as Benteke thrives on crosses and would appreciate service from the wings.

Elsewhere, give or take the arrivals of Toby Alderweireld and Andre Ayew at Tottenham and Swansea respectively, the transfer window has not fully caught the imagination. Arsenal have at last signed a goalkeeper with a solid reputation. But they have not bought anyone else, even though they are now boasting about how much cash is in the kitty. Yet there is another month of trading still to go yet, and Arsene Wenger has become quite adept in the last few seasons in silencing the carpers and critics with a bona fide big name.

Louis van Gaal seems to fancy doing the same thing - in fact, with a greater willingness to throw money around and a flair for theatricality, Manchester United's manager is currently stealing everyone else's thunder. It is already quite difficult to think back to a time - a mere two years ago - when United were being rebuffed in most of their approaches, led up the garden path by Everton and duped by unauthorised third parties in Spain.

Part of the reason Van Gaal was hired was because he was a manager leading football agents would be happy to do business with, and as the Iron Tulip enters his second season at Old Trafford with his feet comfortably under the table and the team looking more like his own creation, it appears the feeling is mutual.

Memphis Depay, Morgan Schneiderlin and Bastian Schweinsteiger have already arrived to strengthen an already overstocked midfield - containing Juan Mata, Ander Herrera, Marouane Fellaini, Ashley Young, Michael Carrick, Angel Di Maria and Adnan Januzaj - and Van Gaal is not even pretending the spending is over, promising an additional surprise in the next month. Regardless of who arrives it is good to see United conducting themselves with a swagger again. They can afford it, whatever happens. United win the entertainment award but Palace, living in the real world on a much tighter budget, remain ahead on cleverness.

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