Was anyone actually paying attention when the Premier League season kicked off back in mid-August? It seems like most of us were too busy gormlessly digesting the unsubstantiated rumours churned out by the nigh-omniscient Sky Sports ‘sources’ to really care.
Jim White, of course, presides over proceedings like a hysterical high-chief of hearsay, a man who may as well be cryogenically frozen in the basement of Sky HQ in between frantic deadline days.
Watching White grow steadily redder in the face, eyes bulging at the prospect of a last minute loan move for Eric Djemba-Djemba by Newport County, is a staple of the modern game for the 21st-century football fan, a 2013 equivalent to the terraces of yesteryear. Or something like that.
Anyone who has this year tuned into Sky Sports News – essentially the glitzier, perma-tanned, metrosexual brother of Loose Women – will now be sick of the name ‘Gareth Bale’, two words which seem impossible to write or say without accompanying them with a word such as ‘saga’.
The transfer was almost as protracted as the dispute over the sovereignty of Gibraltar, but was finally – mercifully – announced on the Sunday before deadline day. The deal also served to illustrate quite pertinently just why the nation of Spain finds herself in such an economic crisis. Not only did Bale cost Real Madrid, a club £590m in debt, a further €100m, but it seemed like half of Madrid popped down to the Bernabeu the following Monday morning to watch the Welshman saunter around and complete some million euro keepie-uppies.
Bale’s departure naturally leaves a glaring jug-eared gap in Tottenham’s quest for the holy grail that is Champions League football, but Andre Villas-Boas’ men have reinvested well. Exciting prospects such as Erik Lamela (21), Christian Eriksen (21) and Nacer Chadli (24) have been snapped up, alongside established internationals like Paulinho and Roberto Soldado, and with chairman Daniel Levy shipping out the decidedly less glamorous Clint Dempsey and Scott Parker amongst others, the club has only spent around £1m net this window.
Early games against the likes of Palace, Swansea and friendly neighbours Arsenal nevertheless revealed a lack of incisiveness and attacking cohesion, but Villas-Boas will expect this to improve as his team gels. The fact that promising youngsters such as Lewis Holtby and Andros Townsend will only grow in ability adds to the sense of optimism swelling at White Hart Lane.
Optimism was something in short supply across north London, especially after Arsenal suffered an opening weekend home defeat to Aston Villa. At the full-time whistle, the crowd booed, the players slunk away, and Arsene Wenger firmly shoved his fingers into his ears, closed his eyes and convinced himself that 60,000 Gooners weren’t shouting themselves hoarse in an attempt to get him to spend some hard-earned dosh.
Jim White, of course, presides over proceedings like a hysterical high-chief of hearsay, a man who may as well be cryogenically frozen in the basement of Sky HQ in between frantic deadline days
However, at the last minute – in a move to make dear old Jim froth at the mouth live on national television – Wenger, a man who takes pride in making Scrooge McDuck look like Mr Moneybags from the top of the Monopoly box, splurged £42.4m on German international playmaker Mesut Ozil. Ozil appears to be an extremely shrewd signing on Wenger’s part, if only for the fact that his expression of permanent surprise probably mirrors the face of every Arsenal fan when they heard the news that Wenger was adding to his bargain basement signings of Yaya Sanogo and Mathieu Flamini.
Despite initial fears of a dearth of quality at the Emirates, Ozil applies a finishing sheen to an already impressive squad, quietly assembled yet quietly formidable. Injuries could yet take their toll on the Gunners, and defensively Wenger’s men look fragile. However with Giroud and Cazorla hitting form, and with homegrown players such as Wilshere, Walcott and Oxlade-Chamberlain eager to impress in a World Cup year, that opening day defeat may be a formative hiccup, rather than the decisive death-rattle of Wenger’s reign many initially proclaimed.
Ozil’s signing atoned for Wenger’s earlier failure to land everybody’s favourite misunderstood cannibal: Luis Suarez. He is set to stay put at Liverpool, who rejected Arsenal’s hilariously thrifty bid of £40m- plus £1. Rumours that Arsenal failed with further bids of £40m plus a packet of flamin’ hot Monster Munch and £40m plus a complete 2004/05 season Merlin Premier League stickerbook are unsubstantiated, but Suarez will certainty be grabbing headlines at Anfield, probably for both the right and wrong reasons, for another half a season at least.
However it will be intriguing to see whether the Uruguayan walks straight back into Rodgers’ squad. Daniel Sturridge has hit the ground running, whilst Iago Aspas, Luis Alberto and Victor Moses should all prove shrewd attacking acquisitions. Deadline day moves for promising defenders Mamadou Sakho and Tiago Ilori for a combined £25m, plus the capture of opening day hero Simon Mignolet, mean Liverpool can be seen as one of the window’s bigger success stories.
Liverpool still have about as much chance of finishing in the top four as Suarez has of winning Heat Magazine’s Smile of the Year award, but Rodgers is certainly moving the club back in the right direction, and Liverpool have refrained from blowing the vast fees that somewhat characterised the Dalglish tenure.
Have no fear though, Manchester City will always be on hand to wave money around with impunity, and the club backed new manager Manual Pellegrini with a typically impressive warchest. By and large the Citizens completed their business early, with Stevan Jovetic, Alvaro Negredo and Jesus Navas all arriving for amounts (when add-ons are included) in excess of £20m.
However the biggest fee was reserved for Shakhtar’s Fernandinho, a combative 28-year-old midfielder with only five international appearances for his native Brazil. How one yearns for the sepia-tinted days of 2003 when fees of around £30m bought you internationally renowned superstars who tore the league apart, such as Andriy Shevchenko and Juan Sebastian Veron. Maybe not Shevchenko, but you get my drift.
Liverpool still have about as much chance of finishing in the top four as Suarez has of winning Heat Magazine’s Smile of the Year award
Meanwhile fellow rich-boys Chelsea blew nearly £50m on the signings of Willian and Andre Schurrle, bringing the total number of attacking midfielders in their squad to around 56. It remains to be seen whether the returning Mourinho elects at any point in the new season to field a team entirely of diminutive playmakers, who pass their rivals into submission only to see numerous gilt-edged chances squandered by that other sensible use of multi-millions, Fernando Torres.
Meanwhile Manchester United’s summer transfer window was characterized by the wantaway Wayne Rooney, who eventually realized that no other club, with the exception of the aforementioned creativity-starved Chelsea, really wanted him that much. David Moyes won that particular battle, but it remains to be seen whether he’ll win the transfer war at large. Fellaini arrived in a last minute move, but after United missed out on well publicised targets such as Ronaldo, Fabregas and Herrera, the signing seemed to epitomise that well-worn deadline day cliché of ‘panic buy’.
At the other end of the table, frugality is rather more of a necessity, however all of the newly promoted teams expressed significant ambition in recruiting players of a high calibre and boasting a high price tag. The signings of Steven Caulker, a young English international no less, as well as Gary Medel represent something of a coup for Cardiff, whilst Tom Huddlestone and Dwight Gayle look set to impress for Hull City and Crystal Palace respectively.
And so, finally, to give parlance to one of the most saturated metaphors in the English language: the transfer window has slammed shut. Speak to the average football fan and they’ll extol the virtues of the summer transfer window for guaranteeing high drama, but in reality, the drama it generates is more Coronation Street than Chekhov: tabloid headlines aplenty, a copious amount of bad acting, and a sneaking suspicion that you’ve watched all of the developing story lines before.
Only don’t tell Jim White that. Not that you’d have a chance to, mind, as he prepares to be frozen like the Master Chief in between Halo games, preserved for the start of the 2013/14 winter transfer window. Until then, however, I guess we’ll just have to put up with the actual football.