On the whole I’m not a big fan of the constant speculation about who is going where, who is interested in who and how much they’re going for. It tends to develop into a series of on-running sagas and serves simply to create tension between everyone involved. Indeed, for me, those transfers that do go through often seem to come out of the blue, or at least the press get wind of them only at the last minute, and that is no surprise. To pull off a good transfer it is essential to prevent other clubs from coming sniffing around your man, as they could then gazump you on contract details and you’ll be back to square one.
As well, often those players whose transfer is subject to much speculation come under immense pressure to succeed and live up to the considerable hype when and if a transfer does go through, and in many cases this can seem to have a negative effect on a player. A few years ago Darren Bent was England’s hot prospect, but a few years and a seventeen million pound move to Tottenham later sees the London club re-buying Defoe because he was unable to fill the gap. Similarly Berbatov, subject of so much speculation over the summer hasn’t unanimously won over United fans yet, and that could see Tevez exit the club. In a similar vain, Robinho’s shock transfer to Man City may be a major cause behind their up and down (mostly down) fortunes this season.
Everton’s manager, David Moyes, is a man who likes to go about his transfer business privately, and in the past it has worked wonders. He has signed such players as Mikel Arteta, Tim Cahill, Steven Pienaar, Joleon Lescott, Phil Jagielka, Leighton Baines, Phil Neville and Yakubu. Most of these (all bar Yakubu) came in for not much money, often on loans witha view to a permanent deal. But what was crucial, was that they weren’t bandied about all over the papers.
I remember the day we signed Arteta, I was at school in a maths class, and we were on the computers doing some sort of stats project. Naturally I was also browsing Everton’s home page and saw the announcement of Arteta’s signing. Not a whiff of this bit of business had been seen in the papers prior to this announcement, and though I’d heard of him from his time at Rangers, I had no inkling that he would soon be running our midfield. Similar stories could be told of the signings of Lescott, Pienaar and Jagielka amongst others, and all these players have gone on to become top class Premier League players.
It is the nature of their transfer that helped them to bed in so well too. They did not arrive at the club to a host of cameras and swarming press men. They were allowed to enter casually and gain their own more welcoming first impression. They were not burdened with a massive pressure to succeed, but allowed to bed into the side and find their feet. For me, this plays a big part in a player truly settling in at the club. We now have one of the closest playing squads in the league, the chemistry between them is tremendous. At clubs where players come and go in a blaze of publicity, it will always be that bit harder for them to settle in and become comfortable with their fellows, who may ressnt the attention that the new arrivals have been given.
It is telling though, that last summer, Moyes struggled in the transfer market. He made a few late signings, with Segundo Castillo and Louis Saha arriving on loan, but neither has made a great impact yet (though Saha can, as usual, point to injuries on this front, but when you sign Saha, you sign his injury record). He also got in Lars Jacobsen who is out for the season now, and Maruouane Fellaini. The big Belgian has made an impact, he has looked very good in the centre of midfield, and despite some harsh treatment by referees will feel he has had a great start to life in English football.
But he did cost fifteen million pounds and so doesn’t fit into Moyes usual trend of picking up players for not much money. And overall, it was a very frustrating summer for us. We had a great season last year, and what we needed was simply to invest in certain areas to add more strength in depth to what was a very good team, especially the first eleven players, We simply needed too add more depth so that we could keep our form going right until the end of the season, as we rather dropped away from 4th place as the season wore on.
However, for certain reasons, that didn’t really happen. One major factor will of course be that Everton are by no means the richest club in the world. We don’t have a lot of cash and that is why it is so important to have a manager like Moyes who has an eye for a cheap player with quality. However, the growing fascination that the press has of all things transfer related certainly will not, and I believe did not, help Moyes’ transfer attempts.
With the press constantly following and hounding every club and getting wind of every transfer target, and all agents of players immediately spouting off about who is in for their player in the hope of getting them a bigger deal (and thus themselves a bigger cut), it is simply impossible to work as Moyes has previously done. And this in turn leads to the rising transfer prices, because as everyone is aware of who is on the verge of moving, or who is available, it allows several clubs to bid, rather than the buying club reaching an acceptable fee with the selling club and that being that. Now, that fee will be reached, and then someone will come in and top it.
What is then bemusing then, is when we get the very same press who have helped to raise the transfer prices of all these top players, suddenly turning round and criticising managers for paying such high prices. Or indeed, when they come out and go to town on a player who has cost a fortune and not performed. They just love to build things up and knock them down, it is what they live for, but ultimately it will be harmful to the British game.
A good example of this, I think, is Everton’s attempts to sign Joao Moutinho over the summer. He had a good Euros and a host of clubs were looking at him, but Everton were the ones who actually made a move and attempted to sign him. The player even said that he felt the time was right to leave Sporting and that he would like to join Everton. In the end though, the deal fell apart because the fee that was being mentioned became too high for Everton. Early in the summer, he had seemingly been available for around 12 million pounds, but then, as the press linked other clubs, often bigger, richer clubs, with the player, the suggested fee kept increasing, and we are led to believe that eventually Sporting were holding out for around eighteen million pounds.
If Moyes had had his way, he would have quietly been in contact with Sporting, they’d have named their price of between twelve and fifteen million, we would have agreed, the player would have agreed terms and then, out of the blue, he would have been announced as an Everton player. But in today’s media soaked society, that just cannot happen, and ultimately, we paid the price as we missed out on signing a top quality player. The Arshavin saga over the summer was another good example. Media hype gave Zenit an unrealistic impression of his true value and so the player didn’t get his dream move to Spain or the Premiership.
With all this going on, all it means is that more and more, money will talk in football. Those who can afford to pay the inflated fees will continue to reap the rewards and the escalating cycle will continue. There is no wonder then, that there has been this season an almost unending scramble for clubs to be taken over by ‘foreign investors’. The clubs know that unless they can keep up with their rivals spending, they will fall behind, and the best way for them to achieve that is to have some rich ‘sugar daddy’ come in, buying them success (or so they hope).
As this continues it will mean simply that for clubs operating on a smaller, more realistic budget, to achieve success (and in this case, success must probably be a relative term anyway, i.e. a fourth place finish rather than a league title) is becoming more and more impossible. A few seasons ago, Moyes took Everton to fourth place and Champions League qualification on a budget the fraction of the ‘big four’s. It was a tremendous achievement, and showed that money doesn’t guarantee success. But the value of money in football has continued to rise since then in football, and the likelihood of that feat being repeated seems slim.
Even if Aston Villa manage to break the top four this season, it will not be the same, because they have spent quite a bit of money over the past few seasons. They have a foreign owner willing to invest heavily in the club and so they in a way, are just ascending into the richer circles. But Everton are still there and thereabouts. Even though we have had a tricky first half of the season, we are still in touch with the big four just about, and will hopefully run them close again. That is a testament to the skill of Moyes as a manager and the talent and commitment of his close nit bunch of players. We don’t have any superstars, but we do have a lot of honest quality, and that is often better.
Now January is here again, the rumours are flying round again and the cheque books are coming out. It will be interesting to see how the big movers in this transfer window eventually fare this season. Everton will not spend much, but I’m willing to bet quite a bit that we’ll still be there come the end of the season. Just imagine what we could do then, if we weren’t being priced out of the transfer market by all these crazy rumours. Next time you read the ‘gossip columns’ etc. in your paper and on the web, just remember what an impact these sort of things have on football as a whole, and perhaps on your club like it does on mine. Ultimately, is it really good for the game?