Monday 24 March ~
The imposition of a transfer window in January has little effect on the volume of newsprint and website space given over to transfer gossip. It suits newspapers who need to fill space on dull days, and it suits agents who want to alert possible buyers for their clients while pressurising a player's current club into offering an improved deal. The transfer market doesn't reopen for another two months but vendors are loudly hawking their wares already. Today, for example we're told that Pascal Chimbonda has "refused to rule out a move to Newcastle". His advisers might as well have added that he would consider an offer from Real Madrid or any other club that can "match his ambitions". But he could just as easily be refusing to rule out a move to any one of a dozen other Premier League clubs.
Chimbonda has made a small mark on football history. He holds the record for the shortest international career of any French player. Three minutes as a substitute in a friendly in May 2006 earned him a place on the bench at the Summer's World Cup but he hasn't been capped since. He was also the only footballer so far to have been detained during the City of London police's investigation into football corruption. This began over six months ago with the arrest of a man in Manchester on money-laundering charges and also recently involved a raid on Birmingham City. However, neither Birmingham nor Chimbonda's two English clubs, Wigan and Spurs, have been directly implicated in the alleged crimes.
Wherever Chimbonda goes, he won't be the weak link in a struggling team or a key player for a side looking to qualify for Europe. He'll just be OK. So why buy him? Well, why not? Premier League clubs have money to burn. The majority of players they'll buy and sell this Summer will be of an equivalent standard. But clubs who have a had disappointing season - which means everyone outside the European qualifiers and the promoted clubs if they stay up - will feel obliged to have a Summer shake-up. Harry Redknapp liked to call it "freshening up the squad" during his successful, if frenetic, time in charge at West Ham.
The transfer market can make a difference for the big four, who have the means to buy world-class players like Fernando Torres and Didier Drogba and for the clubs coming up who have to load up with new faces in attempt to bridge the huge gap from the Championship. Sunderland's hefty spending, mostly on players already known to their manager, which will probably prove just enough; Derby in contrast have wasted millions on a squad that needed too big an overhaul.
For the rest, it seems increasingly obvious that what matters most is good coaching and stability. David Moyes, Martin O'Neill and Mark Hughes have all made some misjudgements in the transfer market but they have otherwise proved to be very good at their jobs. This season their teams might finish below others who have thrown their money around. But those clubs in turn are much more likely to sack their managers whose replacements will instigate another cycle of spending in order to stand still. With that in mind, Newcastle and Chimbonda look like a perfect match.