And so the transfer window has closed once again, not to open again until January (which, incidentally, seems to be a poor time for a window to open.
Perhaps they should call it the transfer flue.) As usual, the rumors flew fast and furious and then not much actually happened, at least in comparison to what happened in the reality that is the Mirror’s Twitter feed. Javier Mascherano, Asamoah Gyan, Rafael Van der Vaart and Robinho got most of the headlines, but few truly marquee moves took place. Several clubs did fairly well for themselves, however, while others…well, not so much. Today we’ll look at two clubs on each side of that equation. (And for the record, the purpose of this particular piece is to discuss what took place during the last few days before the deadline. Manchester City, Chelsea and plenty of others did well for themselves over the course of the summer, but here we’re only talking about how the clubs utilized the last moments available to them.)
Birmingham City – The thought of actually typing this was so mentally painful that my brain would not allow the necessary coordination, so off I went on a shopping trip to my local combination pet and magic supply store for a bag of catnip and a copy of “Hypnotism for Dummies.” It took a great deal of time and several gallons of hydrogen peroxide, but I have trained my cat to both use the internet and take dictation. I think it worked out fairly well, but I could do without the IP ban from the Cute Overload forums. Oh well.
At any rate you’d be hard pressed to find a more unexpected signing than Birmingham City’s inking of Alexander Hleb to a season-long loan deal from Barcelona. Richard Summerfield eloquently outlined what Hleb’s signing could mean for the Blues in this piece from yesterday, but suffice to say Hleb is a massive coup for Alex McLeish. The 29 year-old playmaking midfielder lends another dimension to Birmingham City’s attack, and it will be interesting to see what sort of partnership he is able to forge with striker Cameron Jerome.
Joining Hleb in the midfield is 26 year-old Chilean winger Jean Beausejour, most recently of Mexican side Club América. Beausejour impressed during this summer’s World Cup and is a wonderful fit for Birmingham; Beausejour is fast on the wing and an accurate crosser, quite a valuable skill with a target like Nikola Žigić in the center of the box. Birmingham didn’t neglect the defense, adding Czech central defender Martin Jiránek from Spartak Moscow. Jiránek is nowhere near as flashy as Hleb or Beausejour, but he’s a solid player that fills a need for the club. He’ll add depth and flexibility in the defensive end, something the Blues could certainly use should they hope to improve upon last year’s ninth-place finish while holding their own in the League and FA Cup competitions. Other squads may have added more talent, but it would difficult to argue that any improved their squad as much as Birmingham. Carson Yeung’s continued investment and Alex McLeish’s eye for complimentary pieces should have Villa supporters-as well as those of the rest of the Premier League clubs that hope to compete for a place in Europe-looking over their shoulders.
Wigan Athletic – Argentine striker Franco Di Santo was available for a bargain-basement price and Roberto Martinez was more than willing to pay it. Wigan appear to be stockpiling young attacking players, and it’s a strategy that’s certainly not without merit; strike gold and at best you end up with a player capable of taking the club to new heights while at worst you end up with the revenues from a sale that can help keep the club competitive for years to come. Di Santo wasn’t able to make much of an impression at Chelsea and his loan stint with Blackburn could most charitably be described as uneven, but at 21 years of age Di Santo is years away from entering his prime. His signing is the perfect mix of high-reward/low cost that a club such as Wigan should be making.
While Di Santo is a player Wigan see as part of the future, bringing in Tom Cleverley on loan from Manchester United is clearly a move for the present. Cleverley is a gifted young attacking midfielder that Sir Alex Ferguson has spoken highly of on many occasions, and his contributions were instrumental in helping Watford stay up in the Championship while on loan last season. It’s entirely possible that Cleverley is not quite ready for the top flight just yet, but it’s equally possible that the youngster is primed for a breakout year; Sir Alex most likely wouldn’t have permitted his being loaned to a Premier League club if he expected him to spend the season on the bench. If Cleverley disappoints, Wigan are out his salary. If his game has progressed to the point of being ready for the next level, Wigan very well may have struck paydirt.
Also worth counting as a win for the Latics is their hanging on to winger Charles N’Zogbia. N’Zogbia appeared to be bound for Birmingham City, but the deal fell apart at the last moment and Wigan’s valuation wasn’t met by another club. N’Zogbia is Wigan’s reigning player of the year, and with the additions of Di Santo and Cleverly the club find themselves in the position of having a fairly impressive and deep attacking force. This isn’t a club that’s likely to move into the top half of the table, but their odds of being relegated seem at least a bit lower than they did this time last week and with breakthroughs in the right places, they could surprise quite a few people.
Aston Villa – Being without a manager, Villa’s lack of movement at the transfer deadline doesn’t come as much of a surprise. With that being said, Villa came into the season with several notable holes and that was before the loss of James Milner to Manchester City and the £18 million that came in return. It’s somewhat understandable that Randy Lerner was wary to spend money on players that a new manager might not favor, but even with that being the case it’s tough to see the transfer window closing with Villa making no notable signings (aside from Stephen Ireland, who came to Villa as part of the Milner deal) as anything but a missed opportunity.
It’s not only the lack of movement inwards that should concern Villa supporters; Martin O’Neill had a somewhat nasty habit of signing players to high-wage contracts and never playing them, and moving one or more of Curtis Davies, Habib Beye, Emile Heskey, Steve Sidwell and possibly Luke Young could have gone a long way towards taking some of the pressure off of the budget and giving whatever manager is in place come January a bit more freedom to operate. Aside from James Milner’s departure, which appears to have been inevitable and in any case was fairly compensated, Villa didn’t lose much in the way of talent from last year’s sixth place team. But they didn’t improve, either, and they had the impetus and the funds to do so. Tough to see that as anything but a loss.
Arsenal – People have been talking about how desperate Arsenal must be to replace Manuel Almunia in goal for at least a year now. And yet, two transfer windows gone, and Almunia is still in goal. It’s reasonable to say that the importance of goalkeepers is overrated by many. It may also be a fair extension of that conclusion to assume that Arsene Wenger, being a smart man who seems to have little concern what others think of his approach, decided that upgrading the position was not worth the expense. And that may very well be a rational way of looking at things.
And yet, Manuel Almunia is still Arsenal’s goalkeeper. And it’s tough to see that as anything but bad.