With the stroke of 11 PM GMT last Wednesday, the 2016 transfer window closed and teams in the Premier League and all the signings in and out were done. Until New Year 2017, the clubs vying for the top of the table as well as those hoping to avoid relegation cannot make any new changes. And unlike past years, this window was different than most as the new multi-billion pound TV deal began to be felt; not just in England but across the globe. In short, there was gold in dem English hills and everyone wanted a piece of it. But let’s take a look and see what exactly happened. (Aside, if you want to know where I got the moves and costs, I went to The Guardian. Read their assessments, here)
The term “Club Record Signing” became common. In fact 13 clubs broke their own transfer records this summer: Bournemouth (£15M for Jordon Ibe), Burnley (twice for Steven Defour £7.3M then Jeff Hendrick for £10.5), Crystal Palace (Christian Benteke for £27M), Hull City (Ryan Mason for £10M), Leicester (three times; Nampalys Mendy for £13M, Ahmed Musa for £16M and Islam Slimani for £30M), Manchester United (Paul Pogba for £89M), Southampton (Sofiane Boufal for £16M), Sunderland (Didier Ndong for £13.6M), Swansea (Borja Baston for £15.5M), Tottenham (Moussa Sissoko for £30M), Watford (Isaac Success for £12.5M), West Brom (Nacer Chadli for £13M) and West Ham (Andre Ayew for £20M).
The eyes are naturally drawn to the Pogba transfer, but let’s set it aside for a moment. Look at the clubs spending cash. It wasn’t just the ones at the top. It was the clubs which finished on the bottom half of the table — Bournemouth, Palace, Watford, Swansea, West Brom, Sunderland — and the newly-promoted clubs — Burnley, Hull City — which were splashing the big money for them. Interestingly many opted to spend big on players surplus at a big club — like Benteke or Chadli or Ibe — in hopes that players that knew the league would hit the ground running. The message is clear: if you want to make money, you gotta spend money.
The bulk of the transfers were for other Premier League talents. Again, most of the big money moves appeared to come from other leagues — Pogba’s, Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s & Eric Bailly’s to Man United, Granit Xhaka’s & Shkodran Mustafi’s to Arsenal, Slimani’s to Leicester and so on. And the natural inclination for some has been to bemoan the money flowing out of the Premier League and onto foreign shores. More than one pundit and person spoke of how the English league was beginning to subsidize the other European leagues (where have we heard that before?) However, that’s not true when looking at the overall movement of players into Premier League clubs this season.
Fact is that, far and away, Premier League clubs bought from other Premier League clubs — 38 players either bought or loaned in total. They ranged from John Stones going from Everton to Manchester City for £47.5M to Marc Wilson moving to Bournemouth from Stoke for £2M. And it’s not like the next major source of talent was foreign either — with the lower English divisions supplying 18 players in total. 13 of those came up immediately from Championship clubs — the same amount as came from Ligue 1 in France and one more than came from La Liga. Compare that to just 5 players bought from Serie A. It appears that teams put great value in already knowing how football is played on English shores.
Who were the big winners? I’m not going to get into which club may have won/lost the transfer window. That’s foolish at this stage. Every team thinks they did good business and every supporter thinks that new striker or midfielder will be the difference this year. And yet adding Falcao didn’t help Man Utd two years ago nor Chelsea last year. And that’s one extreme example. But yet, you know who benefited from his loans? Falcao’s agent; Jorge Mendes. He, Mino Raiola and other agents were big winners this season. With so many big fees and big moves happening — not just from the top clubs, but from all clubs — they managed to make major money from so many agent fees.
The one club I’ll mention that I think did good business: Newcastle United. Now that might seem odd given they just fell to the Championship last season. But look at what they did. They moved players on big contracts like Andros Townsend, Moussa Sissoko, Darryl Janmaat and Georginio Wijnaldum for a total of £85M and managed to bring in players to help them try and get back up to the Premier League for a total of £54M. If you can move players who didn’t help you stay up, get players who’ll hopefully get you back in and do it all for a massive profit, that’s a win in my book. Maybe the Magpies are being smart for once.
Were there any losers? Again, I don’t think we can gauge things so quickly. But we can make a few determinations. Most specifically, this was not the transfer window to be an England international. Jack Wilshere and Joe Hart were the big names but only two of several English national teamers who were forced to move to find consistent first-team football elsewhere. Hart’s fall was bigger because he’s basically been forced to find first team football with Torino while Pep Guardiola brought in Claudio Bravo to take his job. That all seems to indicate the beginning of the end for the current England #1 keeper at one of England’s big clubs. Wilshere’s move to Bournemouth appeared to be as much about regular starts as it was a desire to clear some of the logjam at central midfield at Arsenal. It isn’t encouraging that Mesut Ozil is already eyeing Wilshere’s #10 kit though. The bigger point is that new England boss Sam Allardyce is making it clear for players that they need consistent first-team football to keep their places. And players are responding.
Beyond them, I’ll mention sane managers like Jurgen Klopp and Arsene Wenger, who dared to rail against the insanity of the transfer market and found themselves excoriated by both the media and the supporters. Despite the fact that their respective clubs spent £64M and £89M respectively, it didn’t matter. Fans wanted big shiny transfers and the media was more than willing to trot out people to point out how wrong or out-of-touch comments like those were. In short, anyone daring to point out how the party was getting out of control was knocked back for being a spoilsport.
The big name managers got to work. Last February I wrote “As for group 2 (Chelsea, Manchester United, Manchester City), there seemed to be a collective decision to hang onto their gunpowder for the summer when a new manager will take over.” And sure enough, with Antonio Conte, Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola all ensconced in their new roles, the money out of the rich clubs flew. All of them spent big on big-name acquisitions to rebuild their teams. Both Conte and Mourinho bought 4 players each and managed to spend £120M and £145M respectively. Guardiola brought in 6 players for a total of 6 players for £162M. Their outgoing were similar: Chelsea sold 2 and loaned out 1 first-team player — Juan Cuadrado in that ridiculous 3-year loan. Man United sold 6 and loaned 4 — most of the loanees young players looking for first-team football. Man City sold 1, cut 1 and loaned 5. In short, the work that was expected would happen did happen.
They weren’t the only ones. Jurgen Klopp finally got to work bringing players better suited for his style of football – like Sadio Mane – as well as trying to rebuild his defense. Mauricio Pocchetino didn’t add many to his squad but went about adding talent at key positions with Sissoko, Victor Wanyama and Vincent Janssen the key additions. They pale in comparison to Slaven Bilic at West Ham who between purchases and loans brought in 11 new players to bolster his roster. In short, while the money was flowing, managers got into an arms race to try and outdo one another.
The loan system got used. And that’s not an understatement. 28 loan deals — and I’m only adding first-team moves here, not even including reserve/academy players. Were I to add those, we’d be here discussing Chelsea’s 38 total loanees who’ve left Stamford Bridge this summer. What’s interesting is how many of these players fit under the “Possible Buyers Remorse” moniker. Eliaquim Mangala arrived to much fanfare at Etihad in 2014 for £32M and now finds himself at Valencia. Similarly, Wilfried Bony — bought for £28M just a year-and-half ago — also left Man City for Stoke City on loan. At the same time Bony movied, so did Juan Cuadrado move to Chelsea for £24M. He’s now headed back to Italy for a 3-year loan spell with Juventus. Calum Chambers cost Arsenal £16M two years ago but, having been supplanted by new boy Rob Holding, had to move to Middlesbrough to get matches. Enner Valencia cost West Ham United £12M just a few years back but will play for Everton on loan this season.
Loans are proving more and more to be the option for teams that want to move big-money players who may or may no longer fit into a manager’s plans — like Hart or Valencia or Cuadrado. Given the reticence from some to spend big to bring a player in, a loan move is proving far more amenable to clubs up and down the table. It allows a club loaning a player the chance to see how that player would fit in their system/league while the player gets regular playing time and the loaning club is not having to pay his wages. Far from the old method of using loans to give youngsters playing time, it’s now a tool to manage the big squads clubs are carrying more and more often. In the era of big ticket moves that don’t pan out, loans will only increase in importance.
Mario Balotelli. But if you really want to talk “Buyer’s Remorse” look no further than the quiet end that Mario Balotelli’s career at Liverpool had. Two years ago, Brendan Rodgers bought him for £16M as the replacement for the outgoing Luis Suarez. The results were far from what was hoped for one of the more mercurial talents in football: 28 appearances, 4 goals in 1 season with Liverpool along with 1 season-long loan to AC Milan where he netted just 1 goal. This summer, no one wanted to take him until he was basically let go on a free move to Nice. It’s the kind of ignominious end that should have supporters and pundits take pause when bleating for bigger and bigger transfers. Put simply: not every big money move will come good. And when they don’t, the concern has to be the big wages that players who move for big money are on. They’re often the reason why other clubs refuse to pay to take that failed defender or attacker off a team’s hands and players have to go on loan year after year when it’s clear the club and the player want fresh starts.
Paul Pogba. Ultimately though, it’s this move that will mark this last transfer window. And while reports moved the amount past the £100M mark and all the way near the £120M mark, all it took was £89M for the French international to return to his old stomping grounds. Is Pogba the player to build a team around? Absolutely. Is he worth £89M? No. Obviously not. That was a result of United’s desire to buy him ahead of a potential Pogba move to Real Madrid, PSG or Barcelona and the lack of a need to move him by Juventus. The Italian giants were as happy to retain him as they were to sell him. This created an opportunity for them to seek as big a transfer fee as possible. The key for everyone will be to recognize that Pogba isn’t his transfer fee. He’ll have great matches and poor matches. It’s how it will go for any player. His quality should eventually out — too many people will look like fools if it doesn’t after being a key player for both Juve and France.
While high, it also seemed to indicate the mood of the window as money flew everywhere at once. Over a billion pounds were spent this summer. Players that would have cost £15M a couple of years ago cost £35M this year. This had a knock-on effect for everyone. If this is the way of the future, it may be unsustainable. As it is, fans were happy to hear of big money transfers and clubs seemed desperate to find a way to make them happy. But how long can something like that last? How much is too much? If Man United and Man City decide next summer that Antoine Griezmann is their missing piece, how high can that transfer fee rise? Is this a game that will stratify even more – so that there’s the rich clubs, the wealthy clubs and the hyper-wealthy clubs? Where’s the end?
Finally, a few thoughts on Arsenal. As expected, Lucas Perez and Shkodran Mustafi joined the day before the window shut. They made for six total players joining the Gunners this summer. And while I still have reservations over the timing of the moves, the fact is that they were the moves that were needed. Between them, Granit Xhaka, Rob Holding, Takuma Asano and Kelechi Nwakali, they seemed to have gone for a varied approach of talent, youth and depth. The keys this season will be Xhaka, Mustafi and Perez. Two of them are sure to be starters and if Xhaka and Mustafi show their quality, they’ll help shore up the spine of the team and turn what were weaknesses last season into strengths.
The wild card is Perez. He’s not the super striker many supporters were hoping for. However, I would ask if any of those – besides Higuain, Morata and Zlatan i.e. players who were never going to join Arsenal – did move? Lacazette remains at Lyon. Lukaku is still at Everton. Aubameyang is still at Dortmund. Griezmann is still at Atletico. For all the endless hype and air from ITKs and media voices, the big name strikers stayed right where they were in May. The chase for Vardy showed a recognition of a need for a striker, even if the England striker eventually stayed with the Foxes. So it will be on Perez’s shoulders to challenge and push Giroud. If he’s a major contributor, folks will look well upon this window.
OK…that’s it from me. Enjoy when the football is back this weekend!