(This article was published in Toffeeweb 05/06/2007)
It's the silly season again in football as the transfer window opened 1st June. This time I was bored to death about it even before it opened. It's completely ridiculous that newspaper and other places basically just invent transfer rumours to fill up pages. Even more ridiculous is the way some people believe them.
Take Everton. Some hack hears that David Moyes might be interested in a player (or, more likely, just invents the whole thing). He then comes up with a figure, say "4 million pounds" which is a nice number as far as transfers go because it's a hefty sum, but not quite massive yet. Evertonians read this and jump and rush to fill the forums about messages on how Moyes is crazy to pay 4 million for a shitty player like that. You can get literally hundreds of messages of this kind about one invented transfer link. It also works the other way, if some journalist decides to add "Everton" to a list of teams that might be interested in a certain decent player there will again be hundreds of messages speculating what position that player might play, if he worth the price mentioned, and should we sign X instead. In any other situation people would laugh stuff like that off but not when it comes to transfer rumours. The most ridiculous part of this all, however, is the way fans invent prices for players. "I would only pay X million for him" is a very common comment. I'd like to see the catalog that lists prices for players.
This summer is particularily problematic because of two factors. Firstly the Premier League has signed a new TV deal with Sky which increases TV revenue and prize money considerably, teams can expect to increase this money by 10 million or more. Secondly several teams are desperate to strenghten their teams and have the money to do so. So values and wages will be hugely inflated this summer. It has already started with reports that West Ham United will pay Scott Parker 72,000 pounds per week. Parker is a good player, but that money is completely ridiculous. Even the 60k he was getting from Newcastle was a lot. Tottenham Hotspur paid ten million for an 18-year old fullback with no experience at the top level (although I guess quite a lot of that sum is made up of incentives only paid if the player plays enough matches for Spurs etc). West Ham, Spurs, Portsmouth, Newcastle, Aston Villa, Sunderland, Wigan all have money to spend and WHU in particular is desperate to spend heavy after a season that very nearly ended in disaster. Sunderland are recently promoted so they want Premier League quality players to stay up and Wigan also had a poor season but money to spend thanks to the owner of JJB Sports backing them up. On top of that all the top clubs seem to have nice warchests to work with with Arsenal reportedly "only" having 20 million. So money will be splashed this summer and wage demands will be high. I wouldn't be surprised if some players hold their decisions on where to move until quite late. I bet their agents are telling them that teams will get more and more anxious as the transfer window draws to a close. I wouldn't be surprised to see a few ridiculous signings (as per fee and wages) come August.
It has been reported David Moyes has some 15 million to spend on players. Problem is the squad is thin on numbers so he needs to buy several players just to cope with next seasons fixture list. Even without the UEFA cup and with poor domestic cup runs the team was strained to it's limits this season. Next season should see quite a few matches more. I counted only 1 senior goalkeeper, six defenders, five midfielders and five forwards that played any significant part. And two of the forwards (James Beattie and James McFadden) hardly had an impact, except for James McFadden's last minute winner against Charlton Athletic. And two of the strikers are 19. The team should have 2 keepers, 8 defenders, 8 midfielders and 4 decent forwards. Possible 15 million in the pocket, inflated prices and need to get at least 5 or 6 players is not an easy formula.
So how will Moyes cope with this? I think I can see a pattern emerging. Moyes is first of all after players who can play in several positions such as Sheffield United's Phil Jagielka. He is young (25), athletic, strong and extremely quick and can play across the defence or midfield. And he wants to move to Everton. Not the most exciting player and a lot of fans are against this but that's mostly because he's not the flavour of the month. But it's easy to see the appeal. With a thin squad you'd like to have a few players who can fill in at several positions in case of injuries.
He will obviously also be in the look for good value players but so is everyone else. That's probably the biggest reason behind his interest on Joey Barton. Thankfully that didn't go through. Barton is obviously bad for team spirit, something that has been one of Everton's biggest strenghts in the last few seasons. Barton is a useful player but hardly good enough to offset possible bad blood in the team.
Fans demand top-class signings as if getting into the UEFA cup suddenly gives the club a big pot to spend. That is not true, any serious money requires the team to get at least into the semis. Rather than chasing pipe-dreams I would rather see Moyes make solid signings. The core of the team is already good. Howard, Yobo, Lescott, Arteta, Cahill, Johnson are already good players are Stubbs, Hibbert, Neville, Carsley, Vaughan and Anichebe are all useful players with the last two, Vaughan in particular, offering promise of better things to come. So the core is good. Hopefully Moyes can find one quality player to remove some of the burden from Arteta's shoulders as his role as the creative spark is too big. If he struggles so does the team. Moyes is trying to sign Manuel Fernandes on a further year's loan. I wouldn't mind that. He is not the Messiah some fans are making him but he definitely has class. He showed flashess of brilliance but also does have the habit of drifting in and out of matches.
One of the interesting things is that even though Moyes has deployed the 4-5-1 system quite succesfully in the past years he will need to deploy 4-4-2 more. Some teams will simply try to stiffle our game and playing the same game will make it hard to win matches. This season the number of losses was good, ten, only three teams (Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal) lost less games. It's the draws that stopped us from pushing to fourth. The problem with 4-4-2 is it opens up the midfield if the central players don't have the required pace and positioning. If they don't the opposition will simply run through. That's why the defensive midfielder is so important in todays game. Every top team has a very good player in this position. Alex Ferguson just spent a massive amount in Owen Hargreaves and a lot in Michael Carrick last year. Chelsea has spent heavily to find the right guy in recent years and so on. Arsenal has struggled ever since Patrik Vieira left them for Juventus. The magic is that this player allows the creative players more freedom to their stuff and can also support in attack if needed. Vieira wasn't a great scorer but he did score many important goals.
Everton can't unfortunately afford a player of this calibre. And as it's a very tough position to play many players who look promising fail to live up to the expectations after moving to England. The pace is still much more relentless in England than in the continent, Spain and France in particular and this makes the position even harder. Concentration has to be 100% all through the match. Jagielka, however, has many of the qualities that make a good defensive mid. He is very quick and strong and apparently has a good range of passes. He has also been selected player of the season for Sheffield United for the past three seasons. Whether he can grow in stature to be a backbone of a team like the top players are remains to be seen.
Pace will also be important in Europe. That's what cost us the last time, in autumn 2005. Our players struggled to keep up with their continental opposition. This time the team is better prepared, however with the acquisitions of Joleon Lescott and Andrew Johnson. Couple more players with pace would be valuable, however. The three most important abilities any player can have are footballing brain, pace and technique. The first one is the most important because without it most of his other abilities are not realised to their fullest. A player with a good footballing brain can offset lack in other areas. I personally try to look at this when evaluating players. The method is simple: how often does the player do or at least try to do the correct action versus how often he takes the wrong option? Whether a certain pass is succesful is not so important than whether it was the right one to make. Some players can offset a lack in footballing brain by being brilliant in other respects and by relying on these abilities. A very quick player who is a good dribbler can just use those skills rather than try to be a play-maker, but an average player trying the same would just keep loosing the ball. But if the otherwise average player has a good footballing brain he knows when to try to dribble and when not to. The average player might not be so flashy but he can be just as valuable to the team. The trouble is that in order to evaluate this you need to watch the player quite a few times. The flashy player you can just check in the weekly highlights programme.
So what do I think Moyes is planning? I reckon he will want most of the signings to be ones with good brain rather than flashy simply because the latter tend to be more expensive. He will also want to maintain the team spirit. Pace would be nice. And because of the limited funds he will need to try to find a few loans or cheap signings. Hopefully he can pull a rabbit out of the hat like he did with Cahill and Arteta who both cost just over 2 million. In todays prices that's not much. Unfortunately I believe the 2 million players of a few years back are now 3 million. It's hard to find decent Championship players for 2 million, let alone anything better. Hopefully he is as succesful in the transfer front as he was a year ago. If he can find three players of that caliber plus two or three decent ones we should cope ok no matter what the others do. Some of the other teams have a lot more team building to do, Moyes will be able to build on a solid foundation. The teams that generally do well in the Premier are settled sides and it takes a team a season or even two to settle. That's one of the reasons why clubs who keep changing the manager often rarely do well. Each new manager starts the building process over again. Everton doesn't need to do this which is a big bonus. Of course Moyes has had his misses on the market as well, so fingers crossed. At least he doesn't act on a whim and sign anyone who is available.
So I'm bored about the silly season, yet I can't help myself looking for all these useless gossip and rumours. There's just something that tickles the football fan in all this. So it's not just the hacks to blame, they just write what we want to read. C'est la vie.