Manchester City and Tottenham spend big but in a controlled manner

They identified their targets in the transfer window and brought them in with a minimum of fuss – as did Chelsea, apart from missing out on their main target Wayne Rooney

Wow. The studio presenters on Sky Sports News' increasingly unwatchable deadline day special kept saying that to each other, as if something truly remarkable had happened rather than the usual story of football clubs falling over themselves at the last moment to tip money into the pockets of players and agents.

Yes, I am aware than Arsenal obliterating their transfer record to pacify their fans with a thoroughly decent signing represents a more upbeat ending to the summer than many Gooners were predicting, though finally splashing the cash was only remarkable in the light of Arsène Wenger's previous years of caution verging on stinginess.

Personally I thought the most amazing bit of business Wenger did in the window was persuade Roma to part with £8m for Gervinho, and while I wish Mesut Ozil all the best I hope he can cope with all the expectation now that Arsenal have effectively put all their eggs in one basket.

What Sky were mostly wowing about, however, were distinctly unimpressive bits of news, such as Manchester United leaving it to the last minute to pay over the odds for Marouane Fellaini, a player they could have targeted the moment David Moyes took over from Sir Alex Ferguson, or Romelu Lukaku being redirected late in the day from West Bromwich towards Everton. This was not dramatic, it was business as usual, given that many clubs now seem to prefer to conduct their trading in a chaotic hurry, as if participation in the annual homage to It's A Knockout was a stipulation in the small print of the television contract.

Even top-four clubs do not really need to do this, as Manchester City proved with £88.5m of spending before the season started, topped up with a modest £3.5m for Martín Demichelis as defensive cover as the deadline approached. That might be termed sensible spending, though as City parted with £92m, and only managed to rake in around £16m, mostly through the sale of Carlos Tevez, the outlay seems neither sensible nor sustainable. That is not to say the owners cannot afford it, but City's spend accounted for almost a sixth of the total Premier League outlay. So what? Tottenham accounted for even more, though at least the £100m or so they shelled out was balanced by the money received for Gareth Bale, Tom Huddlestone, Clint Dempsey and Steven Caulker.

What City and Spurs had in common was not just that they spent pots of money, but that they did so in a controlled way. It looked as though they identified their targets and brought them in with a minimum of fuss. So did Chelsea, apart from missing out on their main man, whereas hanging on to Wayne Rooney was just about the only unalloyed success Manchester United were able to claim at the end of the window.

If the window is an inflationary device, as its critics claim, and not only that but one that promotes disharmony and panic-buying, then at least some clubs appear capable of rising above it. But not every club has the spare cash to augment the squad with a £32m Willian here or a £27.5m Fellaini there.

The three promoted clubs, for example, all spent summer overhauling their squads and bringing in about 10 players each for roughly that sum of money.

Cardiff spent most, yet their total spend only matched what Chelsea paid on the spur of a moment for a player they scarcely needed but suddenly fancied pinching from under Spurs' nose. Because of the Shane Long deal collapsing at the last moment Hull spent only around half that amount, and it remains to be seen whether a lack of goals will now cost them in terms of Premier League survival.

Again, you have to wonder about the priorities of the Premier League, or even whether it counts as a league in any meaningful sense, when Bruce's hopes were scuppered because West Brom realised late in the day that Lukaku had been told to report to Everton. That tells you everything you need to know about the struggle for survival in the bottom half of the table. It is one thing when a chain of major transfers is predicated on a record signing such as Bale, quite another when loan deals for a reserve surplus to Chelsea's immediate requirements can throw the plans of two smaller clubs into disarray.

Yet it is worth remembering, instead of merely moaning about the madness of the (late) summer transfer window, how and why the present arrangement came about. It was not introduced at Sky's request, despite all appearances, and neither was it really about levelling the playing field and making sure the bigger clubs could not buy themselves out of trouble in mid-season.

Lip service was paid to such lofty ideals at the outset, but the real reason the window came into being was that football did not have a ready answer to the new problem of post-Bosman freedom of contract, and the agents who appeared almost overnight to exert a greater hold on players than their clubs and agitate for lucrative moves whatever the state of play or time of year.

Clubs suddenly felt the ground shift beneath their feet, and when governing bodies were advised that the transfer system might be illegal any way under the terms of the Treaty of Rome, it was hastily decided to usher in restricted periods of trading to at least reduce the disruptive effect to the close season and a few weeks in January.

It was a botch from the outset, in other words, and the transfer window remains a botch. It still needs refining, though all those arguing for a return to year-round trading need to remember that agents and new freedoms have arrived since the good old days. What you would have, in effect, is the Rooney situation with Chelsea going on all year, or Liverpool never being able to sit back and relax in the knowledge that Luis Suárez would remain their player for a given amount of time.

As the window is itself the best the game can make of a bad job, it seems inevitable that clubs' experiences will be uneven, sometimes comically so.

Alan Pardew says that even with Joe Kinnear's help he could not identify any players better than the ones Newcastle currently possess, and I am sure everyone believes him. West Ham appear to have had a quiet summer but in addition to breaking their transfer record actually spent £20m on two English players, so fair play to them. Andy Carroll is probably at the stage where he wishes he could join a new club without breaking its transfer record, and according to his detractors he soon might be, though if he ever gets fit he could recover a lot of his old confidence at Upton Park.

Carroll gets my vote as wild card of the summer transfer window. The best Premier League signing is undoubtedly Ozil, but he could also be the player under the most pressure. The newcomer with most to prove is Fellaini, closely followed by his manager, who on and off the field has begun his Manchester United career in just the sort of uncertain manner he would have been hoping to avoid.

Peter Odemwingie also has plenty to prove, or possibly live down, as he begins with a clean slate at Cardiff. Manchester United kept hold of Rooney, and though no money changed hands, that could still prove to be one of the best overall results of the window.

Some might argue Suárez staying at Liverpool could be an even better outcome, and it might, as long as the striker can improve on his woeful disciplinary record. Liverpool have been quietly impressive in adding to their squad over summer, and arguably the pick of their signings has been Simon Mignolet, who already looks a bargain at £9m. Steal of the summer might be Jonjo Shelvey or Tom Huddlestone, both decent buys at £5m, while riskier propositions include Victor Wanyama at £12.5m, James McCarthy at £14m and Stevan Jovetic at £22m. There is nothing wrong with any of those players, it is just that their prices appear on the high side, especially as Jovetic is still waiting for a kick at Manchester City.

Of the loan deals, Lukaku looks sure to do well for Everton, Victor Moses will shine at Liverpool if given the chance, and even if age is now against him Samuel Eto'o is still capable of making a statement at Chelsea. Indeed, with Moses, Lukaku and Demba Ba all being offered elsewhere, perhaps Eto'o has already made it. If he is only here for a season, chances are it will be a pretty good one.

comments powered by Disqus