The transfer window has SLAMMED shut and it is now time for clubs and their fans to consider whether they had a good or bad window. Early intimations are that Manchester City, as before, have the best squad, even allowing for their choice not to replace Vincent Kompany. And Liverpool’s squad balance is the same as before, since they did not purchase any first-team players beyond 16-year-old Harvey Elliott and reserve goalie Adrian.
Manchester United have 16 defenders as compared to six midfielders and five forwards, and bought the most expensive right-back in history in Aaron Wan-Bissaka and then the most expensive defender in history in Harry Maguire, two deals that augment the transfer genius of Ed Woodward. Tottenham added Giovani Lo Celso, Ryan Sessegnon and Tanguy Ndombele but did not land the marquee signing in Paulo Dybala. They look stronger than before, but probably not strong enough.
A Fifa ban means that Frank Lampard’s Chelsea, as they must henceforth be known, will be playing the kids, but will do so after Eden Hazard was cashed in as part of an exodus that brought in £115m. Pre-emptive dealing means that much of that money was taken up by optioning Mateo Kovacic for £40m and paying £60m or so for Christian Pulisic.
And then there’s Arsenal, who snaffled David Luiz after a Cobham tiff with Lampard, and also added Nicolas Pepe and Kieran Tierney, having cashed in Alex Iwobi and lost Laurent Kosicelny, who departed with that shirt-ripping parting shot.
So good to have you in north London, @DavidLuiz_4 😎
— Arsenal (@Arsenal) August 8, 2019
With apologies to the rest, and perhaps most of all Everton, whose ambitions were laid bare in a very busy summer, those are the contenders and at least we now know where everyone stands as the season gets underway. The chants of “spend some fucking money” can be set aside until December or so as in a piece of English exceptionalism – the type we are going to have to get used to over here – the clubs in the Premier League and Championship are closed for business.
That was brought in two years ago at a Premier League meeting, with 14 votes to five against, two of which were the Manchester giants, and one abstention carrying the motion. Last season saw the odd complaint from managers that they had run out of time to build their squad, but not nearly as many as when transfer business used to distract from the opening three weeks of the season.
One of the initial worries was that the rest of Europe could gain advantage on the Premier League by being able to snap up major players for a further three weeks of August. That did not materialise last season, and nor does it seem too likely this summer.
Christian Eriksen may be hankering for a move to one of Europe’s giants but Real Madrid, Barcelona and Juventus appear to not have had the Dane far up their priority lists. Paul Pogba may have agitated for a move to one of those giants but it now appears as if he must see out next season in Manchester. Not even Ed Woodward would be daft enough to leave United with a midfield of Juan Mata, Andreas Pereira, Fred, Nemanja Matic and Scott McTominay. Or would he?
The financial strength of the Premier League means that even the grandest European concern cannot just decide they want to tempt away an English player. A ruptured cruciate knee ligament may have done for Bayern Munich’s attempts to prise away Leroy Sane from Manchester City but they were struggling to find the cash in any case. Similar went for their chase for Callum Hudson-Odoi back in January.
And, judging by last season, in which English clubs were finalists in both the Champions League and the Europa League then the Premier League was not particularly at a loss for pulling the shutters down early. In fact, Europe became something of a receptacle for unwanted players; City jettisoned Jason Denayer to Lyon on August 21 last season, for example.
One of the byproducts of closing the window early is that the temptation for late-night trolley dashing in the style of Harry Redknapp in his pomp appears to have become a lost art. The overall Premier League spend this summer was £1.41 billion, narrowly missing out on the all-time record, as set in the summer of 2017 when £1.43 billion was spent.
At a time when the pound’s value is dropping like a stone, that suggests an increasing conservatism in the market, even allowing for the fact that Chelsea, usually one of the biggest spenders, had their wings clipped. With the latest TV rights deal not having been a significant increase in the style of previous renewals, some element of financial responsibility seems to have taken hold, which curtailing the window was part of.
While many managers, particularly of the old school, would like to be able to reach into the market at any time, the current breed, managers like Pep Guardiola and Unai Emery, talk of preparation and working with players. Quick fixes are old hat. And besides, players cost a lot more these days. Gambles can cost tens of millions rather than hundreds of thousands of pounds.
The success of the Premier League last season has jolted Europe’s elite into action, with Real Madrid spending over €300m, Atletico Madrid €237m and Barcelona around €220m, as well as Juventus €130m, which does not include the expensive wages that will be paid to free transfers Adrien Rabiot and Aaron Ramsey by the Turin club. And the summer window is not closed yet, which may allow for some further shenanigans and ripples if Neymar returns to Barca or even goes to Real in some kind of eye-watering deal.
The dealmakers at England’s clubs can put that aside now.
Managers and players can take the strain. Closing up early has not appeared to have affected English clubs’ trajectory too much.