Friday, July 18, 2014

The EPL - so who's winning the transfer war?

The EPL, the mundane old transfer season, remember that?

I'll preface this piece by stressing 'at the time of writing' as the transfer market is a fast moving animal which provides a fix for us football fans struggling to cope with the end of the World Cup and the weeks until the new season starts.

As seems to be the way, clubs seem immune to any kind of financial austerity and we are yet to see to the long term implications of FFP although PSG and Manchester City have certainly felt its' teeth in the short term.

For the English clubs, a couple of factors are working in their favour again in European terms. A few years ago Spain did away with the tax breaks that footballers enjoyed meaning only really Barca and Real can afford to pay the 'net' that the top players thirst for.

France also has issued an exorbitant tax rate for earners above 1M Euros meaning that whilst Britain which also has a pretty high tax rate (maybe not quite Aussie high......!) is at least on a level playing field again.

Another factor is that the Pound has regained much of the losses it suffered against the Euro and although still some way below it's pre GFC levels, it is around its' strongest for 5 years meaning the English clubs have more buying power again relative to their European neighbours.

Throw in a new EPL deal and some huge sponsorship numbers such as the ones Manchester Utd have just posted with Adidas and General Motors and there is plenty of loot for the clubs to spend. So who's splashing the cash best?

My own club Chelsea, appear so far to have stolen the march. Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa both look quality signings and two that were required by the club.

Fabregas is a proven player in the EPL even if Barca (and apparently Spain at the WC) deem him surplus to requirements.

The balance in Chelsea's midfield looked all wrong last season with a disconnect between the holding and the attacking players leading to some very pedestrian football at times. Fabregas should bridge that gap and up the tempo of play.

Diego Costa is for me a slightly less clear cut home run but nonetheless an important signing.

Looking at his record up until last season and it was far from spectacular although the same could be said when Mourinho signed Didier Drogba. The Portugeezer has again clearly seen something that he likes.

Costa scored a lot of goals last season but the vast majority came in the first half of the season and he appeared to fade badly as the months progressed.

He is however a hugely physical and street wise centre forward who should thrive in the Premiership. Chelsea will certainly hope so as they simply cannot afford another high profile striker who turns out a turkey.

The signing of Filipe Luis is possibly the highest risk of the signings given his fee and age. The days of Chelsea's carefree spending appeared to be gone with the club sticking to signing younger players with potential or being on the cusp of their peak, i.e. with higher resale value and longevity in these times of FFP.

The Brazilian left back is a fine player but he turns 29 next month and will have little resale value. Not all players who come late to the Premiership in their careers prosper, just ask Andriy Shevchenko.

It is however undoubtedly a further signal from Chelsea indicating a full scale assault on the Premiership title.

One wonders however whether the 60,000 a week deal that Ashley Cole just signed at Roma may have offered far better value. He is still a fine player.

Manchester United have spent big so far but one must really ask whether they will see immediate returns.

Luke Shaw looks a fine prospect but United have spent a huge amount of money on a teenager with only one season's Premiership experience. Whether he will prove an immediate improvement on Patrice Evra is up for debate.

Ander Herrera has again arrived for big money from Atletic Bilbao. He is undoubtedly a good player but he is moving to a far bigger club and an entirely different environment in the NW of England.

United clearly believe he will work out given their investment and lengthy pursuit but it is not without risk. A central midfielder was however an absolute priority for the club.

Manchester City have FFP constraints to deal with but it has not stopped them from being quick out of the blocks securing the transfer of Fernando to bolster their central midfield. It looks a shrewd move as it will give them far more tactical flexibility and free up Yaya Toure if he indeed stays at the club (remember his birthday cake this year guys.....).

Eliaquim Mangala is strongly tipped to join the club in the coming days for a big money move. A central defender was another priority for the club but it looks a lavish deal to say the least. Sagna will provide competition and back up at full back and looks a tidy free transfer.

Arsenal as ever have been slower than most but the capture of Alexis Sanchez looks a fabulous one. He is undoubtedly a player that should flourish at the Emirates, he has pace, technical ability and is wonderfully flexible on where he plays. He is top class addition.

He should link up very well with the likes of Ozil and it is a transfer that has certainly caught my imagination.

Mathieu Debuchy is another fine player who must have been wondering how he ended up on Tyneside in the first place. Whether he is a level up from the departing Bacaray Sagna we will have to wait and see.

Arsenal's squad still lacks numbers and quality so expect to see more action and the rumoured transfer of Sami Khedira would be another major coup for the Gunners.

Whilst it baffles to a degree why Real would sell (his partnership with Toni Kroos looked a fabulous one at the WC) it would catapult Arsenal toward being genuine title contenders.

If Real do look to offload the wonderful German then it also sounds like Chelsea may have something to say about things, we will watch this space.

The most complicated story so far resides on Merseyside with Liverpool. They moved early in the market for both Rickie Lambert and Adam Lallana.

The biggest story of course is the outgoing Luis Suarez. There is little doubt that Liverpool wished to keep the player but given his World Cup ban - the English press would have savaged him relentlessly on returning - and a whopping 75M bid from Barcelona, they had little choice but to sell him.

The Lambert transfer on face value looked to raise the odd chortle but it may prove a shrewd signing for a team which had no Plan B last season and lacked numbers.

Lallana is a decent player but Liverpool have like so many before paid a huge premium for an English player. Given that Fabregas is only a year older and cost only 5M more does Lallana represent good value and is he markedly better than the players Liverpool already have?

It is hard to really pin down Liverpool's prospects next season. Both Emre Can and Lazar Markovic look exciting prospects but their success in the Premiership is not assured.

Many people looked on and admired Spurs' squad last Summer after they finally agreed to sell Gareth Bale and signed a host of fresh talent.

There is little reason to criticise Brendan Rodgers given he is coming off the back of an excellent season but one area where he has experienced mixed success is in the transfer market.

Liverpool did not want to sell Suarez but regardless of this fact, without him and even with these new players, it is unlikely they can turn out a first eleven better than last season's whereas the same cannot be said of the clubs around them.

Liverpool's central defence was also considered their Achilles heel and that has not as yet been addressed.

Spurs it must be said have been incredibly quiet and this may be a good thing. Their squad was a complete mis-match last season and Pochettino so far has kept his counsel as he assesses the squad other than a muted attempt to recruit Lallana.

The addition of one or maybe two quality players would not hurt but additional squad numbers are not the priority.

Further down the table there are a plethora of transfer ins and outs featuring an entire host of misfits for undisclosed or free transfers.

As always with Newcastle United, it appears to be feast or famine. The departure of Debuchy has been offset by the arrival of several continental players. Newcastle's scouting has been relatively shrewd of late it must be said so there may be cause for optimism again on Tyneside after last season's travails.

Both Southampton and QPR have lost many players and in Southampton's case a couple of their very best ones. Both clubs need to invest wisely if they are not to face a long hard season.

Everton also have effectively gone backwards with only the permanent move of the ageing Gareth Barry being transacted so far and the loss of Romelu Lukaku.

Funds as ever will be tight at Goodison and with a stronger challenge expected from Old Trafford and White Hart Lane, Everton face a tough season to challenge at the sharp end again.

Aston Villa's transfers look rather scatter gun and uninspiring other than the capture of Kieran Richardson which may prove a shrewd one. West Ham have added numbers but it is impossible to garner whether any of those signings are an improvement on what they already have.

Stoke have added some Premiership know how in the shape of Bardsley and Sidwell and Hughes is slowly moulding them into his own team.

I have to admit to not being a fan of Steve Bruce in any shape or form but they look to have bought well with the permanent signing of Jake Livermore and the additions of Robert Snodgrass and Tom Ince. 

They may well have another season after this in the Premiership to look forward to, there are certainly worse teams than they.

We still have around 6 weeks until the transfer window 'slams shut' as Sky Sports love to remind us so we can expect much more, especially possibly at United where Louis Van Gaal is now in place to survey his squad and surely cannot like much of what he sees.

Impossible therefore to pick a winner so far other than the agents of course - No Nonsense.