In the four weeks since the World Cup ended, there’s not been much to note in the world of football. The summer suddenly became what it usually is between seasons: long and dull with no football in sight.
For any real fan, summertime is depressing. There’s no action to speak of for three months, which leaves you no choice but to grasp onto the ridiculousness of the silly season. Thank heavens there was a World Cup this summer because the post season has been one of the most uneventful in years.
The “word of the day” this particular summer transfer window has been one many clubs haven’t used for a while: value. Long gone are the days of the open checkbook and the ludicrously overpriced sales tags attached to the world’s top stars. No longer will clubs be willing to fork out £30 million for a player without batting an eyelid. In these hard economic times, even multi-millionaires need to pinch some pennies here and there.
Perhaps the Premier League is now finally catching up with the rest of the footballing world with its newfound thriftiness. They are being forced to look for players who provide value for money, rather than offer the biggest amount they can think of knowing the other team can’t say no (£80 million for Ronaldo to Real Madrid anyone?).
Chelsea, so often the big spenders in the transfer market, have barely made a peep this summer. They are doing themselves some favors by getting rid of the, shall we say, ‘old’ dead wood around the club. Michael Ballack, Juliano Belletti, Ricardo Carvalho, and Deco will all be playing their club football elsewhere next season.
So far, they’ve only brought in Yossi Benayoun, who, while a talented player doesn’t have the same ability to change games and unlock defenses as his predecessor Joe Cole. The squad they have will be strengthened more by players returning from long injury spells, including Drogba, Mikel, and most importantly, Essien, than it will from new signings.
Still, the fact that Chelsea has done so little in the way of transfer dealings is definitely a sign of the times. And despite the big money Manchester United made off the Ronaldo deal last summer, they have yet to spend much money either. Their only summer signing of note is the Mexican World Cup sensation Javier Hernández, who, to be honest, doesn’t fill me with dread when I look at him on the pitch. With very few new recruits in key positions, Manchester United have every opportunity to go backward this season after their failure last year to pip Chelsea to the title.
United’s starting 11 is aging rapidly in the form of Giggs, Scholes, a 31-year-old Rio Ferdinand, and a 40-year-old Edwin van der Sar. But it’s the enormous chasm that Wayne Rooney left when he was injured last year that should be United’s chief cause for concern. There’s no way Michael Owen and Dimitar Berbatov can get the job done, and it will be the young Hernández’s first season, all too soon to carry the team himself. Without a fit Wayne Rooney, Ferguson’s team is in danger of falling way off the mark.
Manchester City has been the only team willing to splash out the absurd amounts of cash on new players. They are believed to have spent around £77 million already, and with the arrivals of James Milner and Mario Balotelli imminent, their spending will reach the heights of around £130 million by the end of the transfer window. Despite having this grand notion that they’re doing something radical in bolstering their squad in such a manner, they are only doing what Chelsea did a few years ago, and it won’t last.
It can’t last, as Chelsea can now attest too. Even billionaire owners have to work with what they’ve got and shelve the spending after a while. This is really the season where Man City will have to prove that all this money is going to good use. They finished a very decent fifth place last season, just missing out on the Champions League, and look to be one of the most frightening prospects for the new campaign. But if things don’t change by May 2011, Mancini will be looking for a new job and the oil rich Abu Dhabi Group will cut off City’s supply of endless funds.
Then there’s Liverpool. After a devastating previous season in which they finished seventh and only through a fortunate turn of events squeaked into the Europa League, this season will be looked at as one for improvement. For the first time in a long time, Liverpool fans, players, and staff are realistically focused on rebuilding the team and looking for progress rather than trophies. That’s not to say they aren’t in with a shout. The league title might be a bridge too far for new manager Roy Hodgson, but with a fit Torres, Gerrard, and Aquilani, there’s no reason this team can’t finish in the top four and even go on to win the Europa League and a domestic cup.
This season for Liverpool is all about starting over, and due to their current lack of new ownership on the eve of the first premier league weekend, ‘value’ has been on the lips of everyone involved with the club this summer. So far, Liverpool have done a pretty decent job of finding players who are a value for money. Joe Cole, Milan Jovanovic, and Fabio Aurelio came on a free, while Danny Wilson, Jonjo Shelvey, and latest signing Christian Poulsen all came for less than £10 million combined. While the strength in depth to actually challenge for the title can’t be there until a much needed injection of funds comes from a new owner, this Liverpool squad has definitely used the word value to their advantage, more so than any other team in the league so far.