Sunday 18 February 2018

Why have so few signings been a success?

Mesut Ozil has struggled for form after a bright start at Arsenal.
Mesut Ozil has struggled for form after a bright start at Arsenal.


Around £760 million was spent bringing new players to the Premier League in 2013-14, yet the stars of the season were players who were here all along.

Petr Cech, Luke Shaw, Gary Cahill, Vincent Kompany, Seamus Coleman, Adam Lallana, Yaya Toure, Steven Gerrard, Eden Hazard, Luis Suarez, Daniel Sturridge.

Question: What is the common thread?

Answer: The 11 players named in the PFA Premier League Team of the Year all joined their respective clubs prior to this season.

For only the second time in the past decade, the 11 players voted the best in the league featured no new signings. Indeed, despite setting a new record of £760 million on transfers this season, the Premier League has a rather backwards look about it when searching for its finest talent.

So where did all the money go? Around £250m of that record £760m figure was spent on just eight players - we'll call them the "Big Eight".

This season marked the first time that as many as eight players have been bought for more than £25m. But, as performances showed, money doesn't equal success: Luis Suarez scored more goals than the entire "Big Eight" combined.

If you think the Liverpool striker's freak season should not be added into the equation consider this: The "Big Eight" have scored an average of 3.5 goals each over the course of the season. And these are players that should be scoring goals.

Have Mesut Ozil, Juan Mata, Fernandinho, Willian, Marouane Fellaini, Roberto Soldado, Eric Lamela and Stevan Jovetic been a waste of money or is the talent already in the Premier League so exceptional that the new signings have barely had a look in?

Even the most ardent supporter of the English top flight would surely not claim that to be the case. Yet, unlike their £25m+ predecessors, only Fernandinho (and arguably Willian) have come close to justifying their extortionate fees.

Fernandinho, pictured, hopes to win the title with Manchester City and then feature in the World Cup

Defensive midfielder Fernandinho is one of those players for whom statistics do not do justice to the work he has done. Nestling neatly into the heart of Manuel Pellegrini's side, the Brazilian has been a key contributor in breaking up opposition attacks and launching play forward to help Manchester City to a (probable) Premier League title.

Ozil, Mata and Willian have shown enough glimpses of quality to keep supporters of their clubs interested for coming seasons and they may well prove to be worth every penny in the long-run. For inspiration they can look to the likes of Yaya Toure,

David Silva and David Luiz, all of whom cost more than £25m, struggled somewhat in their opening season in the Premier League, but then went on to be some of the finest players operating in England.

There are no guarantees though. Jose Mourinho is just as likely to throw his weight behind Willian next season as he is to dump the Brazilian in favour of Oscar, Hazard, Andre Schurrle, Mohamed Salah or any other attacking midfielder he fancies. Louis van Gaal may choose to build his side around Mata or he could consider him a waste of money and look to bring in his own star men.

Lamela and Jovetic can point to both injuries and age as important reasons for their first-season failures. Such excuses are not so readily available for Fellaini and Soldado, who have been two of the greatest big-money failures in recent years to rank alongside such duds as Fernando Torres and Robinho.

Marouane Fellaini £27.5m - Be careful what you wish for. United fans craved an expensive midfielder for years, yet Fellaini has struggled to such an extent that they are now pining for the glory days of Anderson wheezing after his own first touch. Whether because of the stage, the fee or both, Fellaini has been completely overwhelmed and has played nowhere near as well as he can. A nadir was reached when he was sarcastically cheered by his own fans during the 1-1 draw against Bayern Munich.

So it is possible, with some kind thoughts, to be positive about a number of the "Big Eight". Not every single player can be expected to slot straight into a new side and set the league alight. But for a £250m outlay, you would expect more than just one of them to come close.

Last year's Premier League £25m+ club had only three players in it yet included Robin van Persie (26 goals and PFA Team of the Year) and Eden Hazard (14 goals, 10 assists and PFA Team of the Year). The year before (which also had just three players) featured Sergio Aguero (23 goals) and Mata (six goals and 16 assists).

A brief glance away from the "Big Eight" to some of the 'smaller' clubs shows that this season's failure is not confined to those earning the biggest bucks.

Norwich City broke their transfer record to bring in one-goal striker Ricky van Wolfswinkel for £7.5m. West Ham did the same, but for twice the price, to secure Andy Carroll on a permanent basis. Dani Osvaldo set Southampton back £15m to become their record signing... but last played for the club in December before being thrown out the following month.

Fulham will no doubt wish they had spent their £12m elsewhere in their quest to avoid relegation having broken their record fee for Kostas Mitroglou in January, only for the Greek striker to feature just three times in the league.

Perhaps next season will see the crop of 2013-14 flourish. But that will be of little solace to Daniel Levy, Ivan Gazidis and the rest of the Premier League money men who want success and want it now.

Maybe the season has been a lesson for everyone though. Clubs can smash all the transfer records they like but, as the PFA Team of the Year shows, the solution to their problems may be within the club already. Develop what you have and keep the cash in your pocket.

Which means that us helpless onlookers - the fans - can enjoy a summer free from trawling transfer gossip websites. Yeah right.


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