The madness of the January transfer window is about to begin and clubs are already being linked with moves to improve their squads. Most experts would agree that Manchester United is the club that has the largest holes to fill. The club’s failures to add quality to its midfield/defense during the summer transfer window is well-documented and most feel that United must spend heavily in January if they are to have any chance at finishing in the top four; or as title contenders.
Premier League legend and television pundit Alan Shearer has voiced his opinion on what Manchester United needs to do in order to remain as the top club in England, as well as one of the major forces in Europe. He recently told The Sun: “I would keep midfield duo Tom Cleverley and Darren Fletcher in the squad. But really, they need another four or five top-quality players to be able to go straight into this team to get them back in the mix at home and in Europe. That means an outlay of £100million-plus. I know January is a difficult time to get players in, but they have to try and if not, then they must do so in the next window. The noises from the boardroom are that the money is there. Well, it needs to be spent. The days of this team being regarded among the best in Europe are a world away and that is where United should be.”
The key points of Shearer’s statement are buried within his message: “They need another four or five top-quality players to be able to go straight into this team” and “January is a difficult time to get players in.”
You will hear these statements repeated over and over during the next month, but rarely will the media or the fans put the proper thought behind any transfer speculation their club is linked to. Fans will get caught up in the story and won’t think things through logically; and the media will take advantage of this thought process while pumping out ‘fresh’ rumors each day.
The hard facts are, the time for clubs to bring in players was during the first window; preferably early in the summer. That way the player could have a preseason and a handful of games to get acclimated to his manager, teammates, the league, his living situation, a new culture, new climate, etc. That adjustment period is huge in regards to how a player gels with his new club; it takes time.
Manchester City got the majority of their transfer business done early in the summer window and are just now (in recent weeks) hitting their form on the road as well as at home. Tottenham are still ‘struggling’ with their new players, so much so that it resulted in their manager being fired.
It takes time for players to understand a manager, a manager to understand his players, teammates to understand one another, and most importantly, it takes time for players to adjust to a new league.
Whether or not you consider the Premier League as the best league in the world, or the most competitive league in the world, doesn’t matter. What can’t be argued is the Premiership is very fast and extremely physical. Other European league share similar characteristics to the Premier League, but they don’t have all of them. So it isn’t guaranteed that a player coming in from La Liga, Serie A or the Bundesliga is going to hit the ground running once they arrive at an English club.
If a club does bring in a player during the January window, there is no time for that player to adjust. He HAS to hit the ground running because there are only 18 games (maybe less) before the league fixtures run out. The odds of finding a player to fit seamlessly into a squad are remote.
Another reason why January is a difficult time to bring players in is because the ‘marquee’ players at big clubs are in the middle of their seasons. Most are competing for league titles and/or are involved in Europe. At this point of the year, why would the player want to leave? And most importantly, why would a club’s owner (board of directors) want to sell one of their best players while the team is competing for silverware?
Take for example Manchester United and one of its most rumored transfers: Atletico Madrid’s attacking midfielder Koke.
Atletico Madrid is currently tied with Barcelona at the top of La Liga after seventeen games; only separated by goal difference. The Atleti are on pace to accumulate more than 100 points in the Primera Division, have already beaten Real Madrid in the Bernabeu, and were one of only three teams to finish the Champions League group stages undefeated.
Right now, Atletico Madrid are one of the top five clubs in Europe (some would argue that they are the third best team behind Bayern Munchen and Barcelona).
Over the past four seasons, Atletico Madrid has won two Europa League titles, two UEFA Super Cups, and a Copa del Rey title. The club has had a vision of where it wants to be and has been building towards it for years. They have sold players in the past, but only after holding on to that player until the club felt it had a suitable replacement lined up.
Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich was rebuffed for years while trying to sign a young Fernando Torres from Atletico Madrid. And just this past summer, Liverpool was keen on signing Diego Costa and had offered to pay his buyout clause. But the Atleti turned them down because they had sold Falcao to Monaco, and Costa was now going to be the ‘point man’ of their attack.
Koke is hugely important to the club’s success. He makes up the “spine” of Atletico Madrid along with goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, defensive midfielder Gabi and striker Diego Costa. He has been compared to Xavi, Iniesta and Alonso; he is a major talent who has been described by his manager Diego Simeone as “irreplaceable”. The connection between Koke and La Liga’s leading scorer Diego Costa (19 goals in 17 league matches; 23 goals in 23 competitive matches) is ‘umbilical’ because Koke is assisting on 90% of Costa’s goals. Koke is robust and could cope with the physical nature of the Premier League.
If you were the on the board of Atletico Madrid, why would you sell this player in January? Why risk losing a player who can directly help the club topple Barcelona? Or risk selling the player who could lead you to Champions League glory?
(For those of you who are going to comment about Atletico Madrid’s financial problems, the club has been in debt for a few years. They have had a structure in place to make payments every year. As recently as September 2013, Atletico Madrid paid £42.6 million ($70.2 million) to the Spanish Tax Authority, thus refinancing their outstanding tax debt and paying in installments in the future. So the club is fine for this season.)
If Koke is eventually sold, it would be during the summer. And it would be for a fee that would rival the one Real Madrid paid Manchester United for Ronaldo (£80 million/$131.6 million).
Another rumored Manchester United transfer is Borussia Dortmund’s Marco Reus. The media and fans on Twitter will tell you that Dortmund has dropped out of the German title race and are ready to sell.
Borussia Dortmund are in fourth place in the Bundesliga and trail league-leading Bayern Munchen by a hefty 12 points. But they are also holding on to the last Champions League spot in their league (two points above Wolfsburg and four points from Hertha Berlin/Schalke) and are currently in the Last 16 of the European competition (finishing on top of their group).
So why would Borussia Dortmund sell one of their best players in January? To make it harder on themselves to finish in the top four of the Bundesliga? Or to upset any chance of progressing further in the Champions League? How would Dortmund’s fans react to a decision like that?
The last example of a potential marquee signing will be Cruzeiro’s (Brazil) Everton Ribeiro. This is the kind of player who will pop on to the media’s radar from time to time.
Ribeiro is a very good player and would be a fantastic signing for Manchester United. He’s a young, attacking midfielder that has already been named Brazil’s player of the year by the Brazilian Football Confederation (an award once presented to Barcelona’s Neymar).
But once again, he would have to adjust to the speed and physicality of the Premier League in a short period of time while also adjusting to a completely unique climate and culture. To ask a player from the Brazilian league to arrive and seamlessly adjust to playing in England (and Europe) is a huge ask.
Ribeiro is a summer target.
He has also stated that he is staying at Cruzeiro this season. Ribeiro recently told the Brazilian press: “I’ll present myself at Cruzeiro on January 6th to have a good pre-season and another great year at Cruzeiro. I don’t know what will happen after Libertadores. Football is very dynamic.”
For those who don’t know, the Copa Libertadores begins in early January 2014, runs until the summer, and is the pinnacle of South American football. Players from this part of the world do not turn down an opportunity to play in this competition. Ribeiro will be staying for this season but has left the door open for a move next summer.
The player is set to stay for this season and Cruzeiro is not going to sell Brazil’s player of the year before the Copa Libertadores. Their fans would never allow Cruzeiro’s board to let Ribeiro leave before such an important event in South American football.
Those are just a few names, but there are plenty more; Everton’s Ross Barkley has become the new ‘hot’ transfer link.
Take these suggestions every time you hear, or read, of a new “rumored” transfer target.
-If you were the “selling” club: “Why would I sell this player? Does it make sense to let him leave at this time of the year? How would his loss effect my club season? How would my fans react?”
-If you were the “buying” club: “Will this player be able to fit in seamlessly with my team? If not seamlessly, how fast will his addition pay off for the club?”
Manchester United supporters will not want to hear this, but it’s the truth. The club’s failure to engineer deals during the summer transfer window has left David Moyes with the options solely on his current roster. There will be no “star’ signings in January. The best United can do is build a relationship with a club and hope to it leads to an eventual summer deal.
There is enough quality on United’s squad to compete this season. But because of the club’s failure during the first transfer window, the current squad has no room for error; or to underperform like they did during the early part of the season.
David Moyes and his players are going to have to repeat the performances United fans have seen over the past few weeks in order to make up for Manchester United’s lack of activity over the summer.
There won’t be any marquee arrivals at Old Trafford in January.