Shut the window, here’s the forecast
I’m certainly glad that’s over. The transfer window I mean.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to rant about how I “hate it” as journalist Patrick Barclay did on Football Today last week. Nor am I going to describe it as “obscene” as former Manchester United star Lou Macari did the other day.
Nope, I’m just glad I can finally get around to forecasting what might happen in the Barclays Premier League this season, now I know who is playing for whom (at least for the next 120 days before the January window opens).
First, the realities of life as seen through a transfer window: as much as Michel Platini might dislike the window and its potential for financial exploitation, it exists because in 2002 the European football authorities and the European Union actually needed to find a compromise over preserving contractual stability for players while allowing movement at specific times of the year, rather than allowing potentially disruptive freedom of movement that existed in other industries.
Under that kind of system, clubs would have had the opportunity to sign a player towards the end of the season (they used to be able to sign players up until the third week of March in England) in an effort to clinch a title challenge or to stave off relegation. It would clearly favour the wealthy clubs and the game-changing in-season transfer (such as Eric Cantona’s November 1992 move from champions Leeds United to soon-to-be champions Manchester United) would surely have become more prevalent.
The system that came into place in 2002 is not ideal but then football has changed so much in terms of economy that the old system would definitely not work now – the rich clubs have become even more wealthy and influential as it is. Also, imagine if Chelsea’s courtship of Wayne Rooney was allowed to drag on deep into the season. Talk about de-stabilising one or more clubs.
My main gripes with the current system are that it leads to ridiculous media-driven hype (especially on the TV), it plays even further into the hands of agents and it makes it darn hard to pick a Fantasy Football Team with any degree of confidence because the Window bleeds over into the first fortnight or so of the season.
Broadly speaking, it was a wonderful window for the league: £624.5 million spent by Premier League clubs (that’s twice as much as their counterparts in La Liga and Serie A); more than half of our clubs breaking their transfer records; the loss of last season’s top player compensated for by the arrival of star talent such as Ozil, Negredo, Navas, Soldado, Eto’o, Eriksen, Lamela and plenty more. The league just got a whole lot more attractive in terms of talent.
Those of you who support Premier League clubs will have your own thoughts on how your team will fare based on the summer’s activity or inactivity. Allow me to share my thoughts on how the 20 clubs may fare based on the three games we have seen so far and the transfer window business they have done.
Let’s start by splitting the clubs up into five groups based on transfer window activity: the title challengers, the champions league contenders, the big-spenders among the lesser-lights (minimum spend £20 million), those who brought in several players for less than £20 million and, lastly, the clubs whose fans wish they had spent more.
Just as I did a month ago, I think Manchester United, Chelsea and Manchester City will fight for the title. United’s disappointing form to-date and transfer activity leave me tempted to tip a third-placed finish. I expected more from Chelsea in their window and more from City on the pitch so I can’t pick a title winner yet. Up until last Sunday’s game at the Emirates and the capture of Mesut Ozil, I would have had Spurs in the Top Four and Arsenal outside it.
So, what to make of Spurs (the most spectacular window shoppers of all)? They have actually made a profit of £10 million on their transfer activity and have brought in some amazing talent but they appear to be struggling to make it gel on the pitch. If it does click, they could still challenge for the title. If it doesn’t maybe Arsenal will edge them again.
So Spurs head my trio of Champions League challengers, which also includes table-toppers Liverpool (who have impressed me on the pitch and in their signings sufficiently for me to accept they could also be involved in the title race) as well as Everton, who have not impressed me on the pitch but who played an absolute blinder at the end of the window.
Serious money (£20 million and above) has also been spent by five other clubs. Now they are not all going to finish in a row but I would suggest they will finish somewhere between eighth and 16th and the pecking order will go: Swansea, Southampton, Norwich, West Ham and Cardiff.
Now to the multiple buys on a budget. Villa have been positive on the pitch and bought quality in Libor Kozak. They should be fine this season whereas Fulham initially appeared to have bought well but I think they will do well to finish above 17th. West Brom have bought less well and I forecast a similar season of struggle. Sunderland may have done their best business in landing Swansea’s South Korean Ki Sung-Yeung on loan but I fear for them. Crystal Palace and Hull City have brought in loads of players between them but I have them down as prime relegation candidates.
Lastly, the two clubs which have hardly gone for a radical overhaul. In Newcastle United’s case, keeping players was the main target. Now they have done that, it’s all about attitude. The top 10 might be beyond their reach. Stoke City have shown plenty of attitude so far and that commitment, plus the bonus of a great start to the season, may just be enough if results start to tail off.