January Sales: A (transfer) window to the future?

January Sales: A (transfer) window to the future?


For someone as pathetically devoted to football literature, rumour, analysis and comment as myself, I should be loving this time of year.

The time when the merest whisper of a mega money “swoop” — wouldn’t it be great to see a caped Mark Hughes/Harry Redknapp/Rafa Benitez actually swoop when signing his latest transfer target by the way?- can lead to hours, hell, days of frenzied debate on message boards, in offices, via texts, on Sky Sports News (yawn) and in the papers.

I’m sure half of the rumours start with a simple taxi driver tale- “I had that Scott Parker in here yesterday, dropped him off straight at Carrington, tight bastard never even tipped me”– but we love them anyway. Or do we?

This January the transfer window, and the rumours/stories that come with it, have reached a new level of outrageousness. It would be easy to simply blame Manchester City and their new owners for this, which is what most rags seem to be doing en masse at the moment, but a high portion of the blame must lie with both the media outlets who are peddling these half truths, what ifs and well-informed links, and the everyday football fan who crumbles into a pile of orgasmic transfer-induced panic whenever someone mentions the Manchester City word.

On Friday last week, I received a text from a fellow Liverpool fan, a work mate of mine with whom I had spent the day laughing at the prospect of Kaka’ rolling up at Eastlands to find Darius Vassell in his dressing room speck. The text simply read “Gerrard to City- 65m. Can’t believe it”. Now this lad is not the most die hard Liverpool fan I know, nor the most knowledgeable, but still his blind acceptance of what was clearly a ridiculous story left me with a tinge of sadness. I didn’t expect much of him, but I expected more.

Of course he folded under further questioning, revealing that it was simply a taxi-driver-style story from a “good source” who claimed that Mr Gerrard had received plenty of incentive to swap the Red half of Merseyside for the Money-coloured half of Manchester, and of course had actually spoken to the man himself and been told “it’s defo on the cards”

Now I know Manchester City and their representatives stunned the world last week when they stormed into the San Siro in a blacked out Hummer whilst playing 2Pac records at full blast to announce “How much for this Kaka’ fella then?”, but that does not give tabloids, broadsheets, radio stations, experts (loose term) and fans alike the license to simply pluck from thin air the next host of big names “expected” to roll up at City. Does it? Nor does it give genuine football fans the right to ignore all sense of logic when discussing said rumours.

The tabloids are the worst offenders of course, and I did chuckle at the clever hack from the Daily Star who must have been so pleased with himself after breaking the news of Kaka’s City switch to his loyal readers. £45m he claimed. £45m! That wouldn’t even get you Wilson Palacios’ toenail clippings in the current climate surely? The Mirror saw that £45m and raised it to £91m, before the big guns got involved and all of a sudden we were talking a quarter of a billion pounds. For a footballer.

Not content with dropping that bombshell on us, City then provided me with perhaps the most surreal moment of football humour I have ever experienced. No it wasn’t Richard Dunne’s bemused reaction to a richly deserved red card against Wigan on Saturday, but the following sentence, which appeared on the BBC’s website.

“Hamburg say they have “reached agreement” with Manchester City over a fee for midfielder Nigel de Jong. De Jong, 24, has a clause in his contract that would allow him to leave in the summer for £1.8m. However, German media have speculated that City may be willing to pay as much as £18m to sign him in January.”

Now I am no expert, despite my arrogant tone, but surely even men as rich as those behind the Manchester City revolution can see why that statement is funny and ridiculous in equal measures? If they can’t then there is hope for us all, even Vassell. Leaving aside the fact that City already have two fine young central midfielders in Vincent Kompany & Michael Johnson, the idea of paying ten times over the odds for a player, just to have him for an extra five months, beggars belief. Although when you hear that they are ready to offer Johnson plus cash to sign Scott Parker, you would probably rather have a second look at this De Jong deal!

Because that is the funny thing about City, on one extreme their buying policy is wild and wacky, lets get Robinho, lets get Kaka, lets get Pele! But then quietly, on the other hand, they are looking into making some pretty astute signings too.

Kompany was a fine acquisition, and is one I would tip to move to centre half and become captain of the club, with Dunne enduring a torrid season and Micah Richards’ growth as a player undoubtedly being stunted in the past eighteen months. Pablo Zabaleta has been up and down since his arrival, but is an Argentine international with his best years ahead of him and can operate in a number of positions, Wayne Bridge is the second best left back England has, and the fourth best in the league if you ask me, Shaun Wright-Phillips may have come back from Chelsea with his tail between his legs, but is a good option on the flanks and a fans favourite, and even the much-maligned Jo is a damn good talent, although whether he will be given the chance to show it at this club is a question I am surprised Hughes hasn’t been asked more.

Yes these players cost big money (Jo in particular was crazily priced, even at the time), but they do have a logical feel to them. Zabaleta to replace Corluka at right back, Kompany to replace the creaking Didi Hamann in the holding role, Bridge to replace…well, no one really…at left back, Wright-Phillips to replace my mate Vassell on the right. Hughes was building a team.

Now he seems to be bulk-buying, as if come May there will be a Player-Crunch, where willing footballers simply cannot be found any more. Craig Bellamy is a quality footballer, West Ham’s best whenever I have seen them this season, but he is 5ft 8in and has a history of injuries, £14m is a good deal for the Hammers, whichever way you dress it up. De Jong is a quality footballer, versatile enough to operate at full back or in midfield, and with plenty of Holland caps to his name, but £18m in January or a tenth of that in July?

Will Nigel De Jong make that much of a difference to this side? He would certainly make more than Scott Parker, who has somehow managed to work his apparent value up to and beyond the £10m mark, if tabloids are to be believed (and they aren’t, but run with me on this one). Parker is an honest, workaday player. He had plenty of talent in his younger years, but a desire to get stuck in more has stifled any creativity in his locker, his passing is far from dynamic and, in Johnson, I feel City have a far more promising talent within their own ranks.

Likewise Roque Santa Cruz, a player who lets not forget never managed to hit double figures in his time at Bayern Munich (albeit injury interrupted). City have, for my money, one of the most exciting young forwards in Europe in Daniel Sturridge, and it would certainly be sad to see his development stunted by yet another big money forward- Benjani, Jo, Robinho, Bojinov, Caicedo, Bellamy…..where will the obstacles end for Sturridge, who has the potential to be as good as he wants, I am sure?

Now the moral debate is one which I purposefully steer clear of when it comes to football, and money. Mainly because I truly do not know where I stand on it. On one hand yes they are only earning what clubs are willing to pay, but then when you have nurses and doctors earning a fraction……oh just leave it will you, it’s old and boring. But when viewed from a purely footballing perspective, this Kaka’ transfer is still ludicrous, in just about every way possible.

“I belong to Jesus” read Kaka’s t-shirt after Milan’s 2007 Champions League final victory over Liverpool in Athens. It is an iconic image, but may well now be tainted by further inspection revealing that in small print beneath those letters were the words “But for a few million I could be tempted to be an Atheist”. Because that is effectively what he would be doing upon leaving Milan for Manchester.

City are ambitious, they have some good players and I quite like Mark Hughes in a strange kind of way, but Milan are an institution of European football, capable of giving any player the most comfortable and luxurious of lifestyles. Kaka’ does not need extra money, he does not need cultural enlightenment (although I believe the lad is a curious soul when it comes to culture and travel), nor does he need to roll into an imbalanced side battling in the lower half of the Premier League. And whilst the sight of the elegant Brazilian terrorising Premiership defences in the near future does hold a certain appeal, I can’t help feeling that football would lose a lot of credibility should this deal come off. Save us Ricky, please.

This article was written before Kaka’s official refusal to move away from Milan.

Transfer Rumors (20 Jan 09): Manchester City miss out on Kaka but sign Bellamy, Tottenham win race for Wigan's Palacios, Chelsea to bid for Wigan star Valencia, and more
"Kakà resta al Milan." Silvio Berlusconi Tells the World that Ricky Said No to City


  1. I agree with you about the wild and wacky policy Manchester City have. They are aiming high but seem to want success yesterday. The new Chelsea will probably have quite a decent side sorted out for next season. Lets see how many superstar footballers accept a move to Man City before Man City even look like they might win anything. Robinho did. But he just wanted out of Real Madrid. Kaka didnt despite the mind boggling figures proposed to him.
    Though kaka must have been very tempted I think with Man City’s long term plan all ready they will tempt some top footballers to the Eastlands.
    No doubt that in the summer we are going to hear about Man City chasing after the top dogs. This makes for interesting viewing…

  2. Like the piece Neil. Just wanted to say that Johnson is injured a LOT. He has barely played in the last year due to a stomach problem, I gather they sent him for yoga or something a while back but haven’t really heard anything since but he definitely hasn’t played. It’s a shame because he is a very bright prospect.

    Zabaleta is widely acknowledged by fans to be one of Hughes’ best signings as well, he hasn’t been up and down but really has been a model of consistency (apart from a major error against Forest). The other two, SWP and Kompany as you point out rightly have been terrific acquisitions, following on from his signings at Blackburn really.

    I don’t know how to explain Jo and Ben Haim though, garbage would be the most appropriate word. I think Jo was in the latter stages of being concluded before Hughes came but he must have rubber stamped it but Ben Haim has looked hopelessly out of touch.

    Bridge, De Jong (I know that stuff about £1.8m was crazy I thought that myself) and Bellamy should be solid signings for the club. De Jong is still relatively young although the other two aren’t but they should add steel and resolve that we have been lacking, particularly away from Eastlands.

  3. Just to add you may be right about Jo, his record in Russia was strong and undoubtedly suggests promise, but he is getting a lot of stick from fans along with Vassell. Unless he adapts to the English game soon I have no doubt he will be moved on. You’re bang on with Sturridge, he has the talent to go as far as he wants to in the game. He has been touted since about 16 about going to Chelsea but luckily it never materialised although I am still not sure he has signed this new deal Hughes talked about, Hughes was scathing that he has been allowed to get into the last year of his contract but I think he recognises that City has been a bit of a breeding ground for talent in recent years and I can’t see Sturridge going anywhere else now that we have money and ambition to boot.

  4. Re: Johnson, I also believe there are a few question marks about his nocturnal habits, and that he may spend a bit too much time on the lash? Not a huge problem at this stage of his career, Steven Gerrard was in a similar position when he was 19/20 (he also suffered a lot of muscular injuries, which were largely attributed to growth and posture problems), i think Hughes is shrewd enough to steer Johnson in the right direction, which would be great cos he is a fantastic talent.

  5. Not sure mate haven’t heard anything about that really. I know Weaver had a problem with it years ago and so did Dunne. It could be possible but I can’t substantiate it but he does seem to have been out an awful long time.

  6. Just had a brief google on that subject actually Neil and there are some forums on it, along with a Daily Mail article by Ian Ladyman last month, so perhaps there is. A few people commenting have said that they or friends have seen him out although we never really know. All the club said about a month ago was that he was 2 weeks from fitness which has not materialised so we will have to see but it’s a shame.

  7. An enjoyable read. The rumours have crossed a line, or at least it feels like they have. Your Gerrard example hits on something; a wilful desire to believe it when everything suggests otherwise. We’ve just had the Masal Bagduv story, as well as Mourinho saying that his link to Jenas comes purely from his Telegraph fantasy side. Why do people accept it? Blind hope?

    Incidentally, to see the extent of the madness, you can check the full Manchester City and Tottenham transfer speculation lists here http://www.sportwithoutspin.com/football090107mancitytransferlist.htm and here http://www.sportwithoutspin.com/football090119spurslist.htm – insane.

  8. The newpapers will always invent stories to sell. People love a bit of gossip.

    What Man City need to do is buy some good players but not superstars like Kaka. Get themselves in a good position and then in 2 years eye the big boys. I think the new owners are wanting some superstars to go there pronto and Mark Hughs is setting realistic targets but at the same time not complaining at the prospect of the likes of Kaka arriving

  9. I’m surprised that someone in the media, such as yourself Mr. Jones, would be upset at the rumor mill. To journos and bloggers these rumors generate a ton of traffic and make an otherwise irrelevant week in football tolerable.

    In the NFL, teams (or players, or coaches)often release bogus details to the media to help with negotiations or to put up a smoke-screen for their actual plans. Why should football be any different? (By the way, clicked your promos for you, should give you guys an extra nickel)…


    I do think City were serious about landing Kaka, but I don’t think they expected to sign him. To me, it’s all just about creating stories when there aren’t many stories to be had. I mean, without the Kaka to City rumor, would this blog entry even exist?

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