Thursday, 31 January 2013

Countdown to Zero: The Transfer Window and Gang Warfare

Traditionally, it is observed, often to the point of cliche, that the January transfer window is a poor time to conduct business for Premier League clubs. With uncertain chairmen and managers hesitant to allow talent to depart, prices are often considered to be prohibitive, and many purchases risky.
In 2013, however, such pre-conceptions have been sorely tested, almost from the day the window opened, and it seems likely that the final 24 hours of a period in which one of its major protagonists, QPR manager Harry Redknapp, described as being "like gang warfare", will be the most frenetic in its history.

A perfect storm of swelling TV rights in the following season, the looming spectre of financial fair play, and a number of clubs which have under-performed to the extent that they are willing to invest before their crises deepen, has seen even the usually conservative brandish cash with all the gaucheness of a lottery winning barmaid.  Manchester United are a case in point: so often keen to avoid both buys and sales in January- and despite Alex Ferguson's protestations to the contrary- the club have made enquiries for no less than five players and have bid for at least two of those, including the lavishly gifted Wilfried Zaha of Crystal Palace.
Despite a considerable combined transfer fee and his club's demand to allow Zaha to stay with them on loan until the end of the season, the club and its manager were determined to get their man. Less well publicised have been attempts on the signatures of PSV's Kevin Strootman and Celtic's African bull of a defensive midfielder, Victor Wanayama, as part of the club's perennial search for a Roy Keane replacement. Though it seems unlikely- unless bids for either are upped dramatically- that they will be moving until the summer.

It is further down the table that most activity has taken place, however, and it is largely indicative of the desperation of the boards of their respective clubs. Keen to elevate themselves from the mid-table mediocrity in which they have been mired due to their Summer transfer inactivity, Liverpool were quick to open their cheque-book for Chelsea misfit Daniel Sturridge and seem likely to re-sign their former youth team winger, Tom Ince, save for last minute interest from either Swansea City or Reading.
The very biggest spenders in the market have been QPR and Newcastle. The Magpies second full season under Pardew has been little short of a disaster. Less than 6 months after giving their manager an enormous 8 year contract, Mike Ashley and senior club figures have had little sympathy for his enormous injury list and signed a series of (French) players without his final say including, Moussa Sissoko, Yanga-Mbiwa, Yoan Gouffran, Massadio Haidara and Mathieu Debuchy, all in the hope that the club do not flirt with relegation in the season's closing months.

QPR, meanwhile, find themselves equipped with wealthy, ambitious, owners, and new manager Harry Redknapp more than happy to find a home for their investment. They also find themselves mired at the bottom of the table having too long backed a manager- in Mark Hughes- who abandoned a Fulham side in a strong league position to assemble what may be the worst squad per-pound-spent in the league's history. QPR are spending big and spending urgently in an attempt to sustain their Premier League status, and have secured the transfers of Ben Haim, Loic Remy and Suk-Young Yoon. They are expected to be even more active in the closing hours of the Transfer window, too, as they covet the towering duo of Peter Crouch and Chris Samba.
Elsewhere, things are somewhat quieter for the largely "safe clubs". The ever attractive Swansea City have parted company with Danny Graham as he joins Sunderland for just over £5m. Negotiations are ongoing for Kenwynne Jones from Stoke as a replacement, but excessive wage demands could scupper the move and a loan deal for Manchester City youngster John Guidetti could prove an effective stop-gap, in addition to Belgian winger Roland Lamah, who has already signed on a lengthy loan.

Tottenham Hotspur have been largely quiet on much needed reinforcements to the forward line, though chairman Daniel Levy's ongoing need to demonstrate his uncompromising transfer acumen could produce drama as the deadline approaches. Any additional purchases will supplement the capture of German midfielder Lewis Holtby, signed for a bargain fee due to the fast approaching conclusion of his contract. North London rivals Arsenal, meanwhile, seem enveloped by an air of resignation as a series of unrealistic enquiries have been made for David Villa and Zaha- among others- as a place outside the Champions League looks more and more likely.
Arsenal's problems, however, seem trivial in comparison with those of Aston Villa and Paul Lambert. In a young managerial career which has seen little other than success, Lambert has suffered the ignominy of being removed from transfer discussions by his chairman. With no bid worthy of the name yet submitted to any club, it could be that the former European Cup Winners depart the Premier League for the very first time and that the Scot will not even last a year.

But for all the gloom, the financial madness, and panicked deal-making, there may yet be an earth-shattering move that could not have been foreseen as the seconds tick away. The incredible stakes of next-year's Premier League television money may yet tempt a club into a fatal move for which the fans may end up paying for years to come, meaning the last minutes of the window will provide nail-biting (and very real) drama for hundreds of thousands.

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