With the transfer window flung open, some confident predictions have been made about likely January moves. Everton will fail to buy a striker from the Russian league and may have to settle for an ageing loanee from MLS, Sam Allardyce could be reacquainted with at least a couple of the overseas players he signed for Bolton and Shay Given will leave Newcastle, probably for north London. Given even took the unusual step of issuing a statement through his lawyer indicating that “turmoil on and off the pitch” had compelled him to seek a new club. Newcastle’s dismayed response to this was reported with some glee, with the Mirror claiming that Joe Kinnear had “hurled insults” when questioned about his keeper’s announcement, as if that were possible.
Meanwhile we must assume that Daniel Levy, who was so enraged about Man Utd’s tapping up of Dimitar Berbatov that he made an official complaint, is unaware that Spurs’ current manager popped up regularly in the back pages over the festive period to discuss his interest in Stewart Downing and Jermain Defoe.
Long before the window opened, one rumour had been a fertile source of material. This was that Jermaine Pennant would snub a move to Real Madrid in favour of joining Wigan. To some it was evidence that Juande Ramos’s judgment has been impaired by his humiliation at Spurs, although UK-based Spanish columnist Guillem Balague suggested that Real’s new coach was in fact opposed to the deal. General amazement that Wigan could be a more attractive proposition than the most famous side in Europe was then offset by reports that Pennant had asked for double what Real were offering in wages in order to put them off. As “a friend” told the Daily Mail: “Why would he go there when the chances of playing in the first team are remote? He had had enough of that from his time at Anfield.”
Finally, there was concern that the overseas interest in Pennant may be a sign of a shift in the economic balance of power in European football. According to this argument, spelled out in an authoritative piece by the Times’ Gabriel Marcotti, the recent decline in the value of the pound means both that Premier League clubs will be doing far less shopping overseas than in recent times and that European clubs will be able to lure away some of the League’s playing talent, both the imported and domestically produced. But while it’s easy to imagine that various French, Dutch or Portuguese players will now have less reason to sign for mid-ranking Premier League clubs, it’s harder to imagine that the new economic chill will compel our young footballers to seek a fresh start abroad. After all, it rarely has before.
The last substantial migration of British players occurred in the late 1980s during the post-Heysel ban, when a dozen or so moved to the newly enriched French first division. Even though these expats had compelling reasons for staying abroad, only Chris Waddle was a major success, with Marseille, and most were back within a couple of years. However much hype is lavished on young English players, history suggests that potential employers overseas will fail to see the appeal.
Having made the first big move of the month, Wayne Bridge said hello to his new team’s supporters at Eastlands on January 3. This may have seemed like a good idea ahead of Man City’s FA Cup tie with Forest, less so when the team were comfortably beaten – Knocked Spark Out said the People – by opponents who have spent the whole season in the bottom four of the Championship. City rested a couple of players for the match – fewer than Stoke, who endured an afternoon of comparable humiliation at Hartlepool – but this was still a ridiculous result for a side whose previous home match was a 5-1 thrashing of Hull.
Even with a cluster of new arrivals set to join what the News of the World called “City’s £100 billion losers”, Mark Hughes won’t get the team anywhere near where their owners had expected them to be this year. Hughes himself even said so, forlornly, after hearing his side booed off against Forest: “It is not going to happen in this window, or even two or three. We need more time.” The forthcoming crop of signings could just propel City into a UEFA Cup spot, qualification for which may reach as far as seventh place. But they will be no nearer the top four in points terms than they were last season and a whole new set of players would still be needed to bridge that gap – if, that is, such reinforcements can be persuaded to leave Champions League qualifiers from La Liga and Serie A – David Villa’s agent was among the perplexed onlookers at the Forest match. However, this is looking unlikely to be a problem that Mark Hughes will be required to deal with. As his hair seems to be getting whiter by the week, he might even be quietly relieved by that thought.
From WSC 264 February 2009