Chelsea legend Pat Nevin has known the transfer market as both a player and a chief executive and with the rest of the week bound to contain plenty of media rumours of player movement, devotes this week’s column to the subject…
Like most football folk, I have good and bad memories of last-minute January transfer window mayhem. Every football fan now recalls that seemingly brilliant coup his team pulled off in the last moments on the 31st. For what admittedly seemed like just a bit too much money at the time, it quickly turned out to be shed load, indeed Airbus 380 hanger load of too much money for a player who didn’t live up to the hype. Every club has been there.The last day of the window has much in common with those Black Friday sales. The moment you get back in the house having half emptied your bank account, you realise those alternative purchases you panic-bought were nothing like the single thing you had your heart set on originally. That thing was probably never available in the sale anyway. This is why it is important to have a clear head and not get caught up in the madness this week. Have a plan and stick to it if you can.To be fair to the biggest clubs in England, some of the recent January sales have been relatively sensible affairs. Having had their hands burnt more than a few times with damaged goods, or those well past their ‘sell by’ date, a bit of circumspection has become apparent. There is an old saying that goes, ‘Get hitched in haste, repent at your leisure.’That will not stop everyone from the agents to the media to the fans and of course almost the entirety of social media driving the demand to spend, spend, spend. While everyone gets whipped up into a frenzy by 24/7 hype on sports channels, it is worth knowing for any fan that a decent percentage of transfer stories in the press come from straight from agents trying to drum up interest and business when there is no real interest at all from the clubs mentioned.
This January, however, sees what I suspect is the biggest temptation for years for clubs to have a few mad bidding wars on ‘two up two down’ players being marketed as ‘penthouse perfection’.If you are Arsenal, Manchester United or Spurs it is the perfect storm. They have new or newish managers desperate to add to their squads. These clubs are known to be very wealthy on a planetary scale which isn’t a great initial bargaining position. There is also a perceived need of new blood to lift each of them from what is, historically, a low point in terms of league position and points at this stage of the season.The agents are circling in the water, they can sense the panic and they can almost smell the blood. They are expecting a feeding frenzy, but it can’t happen until the first one bites. It could be a lively few days after that first big deal.I can recall one manager I worked with explaining that he thought he could get a player who was ‘maybe a little better than what we had at the club already’, but there would be a hefty financial outlay. I didn’t see that as a sensible long-term viewpoint/punt and stopped the excessiveness in its tracks. He wasn’t happy, but by the summer better players who could be more considerably sourced were available and we hadn’t blown the budget.Another danger of panic buying is that everything hasn’t been considered, such as the player’s attitude, his fitness and the likelihood of him fitting in with the group. If you get a player who is on a big wage, maybe even bigger than your current players, it can cause discontentment. If he then doesn’t play every week after arriving and the players already there see him getting paid more than them for sitting on the bench or in the stands, then expect a few knocks on the door and demands for renewed upgraded contracts. They will understandably demand, at the very least, parity of pay.So, there are unexpected effects of unwise January buys and the clubs need to be wary of these. Fortunately, Chelsea aren’t in a bad position compared with others in this regard. There is a desire to improve the squad, there always is and always should be, but it isn’t exactly a desperate situation. The market knows this and as such we should be able to make a deal or two if we want to, that is still good value.There have been plenty of reports in the ether regarding Chelsea, from Zaha at Palace to Piatek at Milan and who knows how serious or informed any of these stories are. Most of the names mentioned have been impressive and obviously well-researched by the club’s people. Piatek would have been one of my first options a year ago, so I believe they are ‘all over’ the available players in the market that Frank Lampard has been interested in.
It may also help that Man City, Liverpool and even Leicester City are not looking in the same places as we are at the moment. The teams above us in the league look fairly settled with their squads so it may make our deals that little bit more likely.The next few weeks are hugely interesting not just with the possibility of new blood. Leicester, Manchester United, Spurs and Bayern Munich make February a period that is as exciting as it is unpredictable. The one defeat in six during January (and that one a horribly unfair one at Newcastle) seemed to steady the ship after the ups and downs of December. With a possibility now of an FA Cup tie against Liverpool at the Bridge on top, this could be when we find out the reality of where we really stand as a team.Still one game at a time as they always say and Leicester at the weekend should be a cracker. I have been to see their last couple of games against West Ham and Brentford and Brendan Rodgers has got them playing an open, entertaining style of football that in some ways mirrors our own. For once we will not be playing against a team that sits deep and frustrates. So, we might sing about travelling over land and sea and Leicester, but at least this time the journey up the M1 should give us 90 minutes of entertainment, from both sides.Who knows, we might even have a new player or two by then who will give us the little edge we have needed in turning huge amounts of possession into more goals and more wins?