This appeared on SB Nation first, if you read it there I’d leave it this time.
This phenomenon, which peaked with the 1978 arrival at Tottenham Hotspur of Argentinean World Cup winners Ossie Ardiles and Ricky Villa, has become less popular in recent years. Perhaps this is because it pretty much stopped working: Manchester United’s post Euro 96 coups Karel Poborsky and Jordi Cruyff were disappointing, Liverpool’s importing, post 2002 World Cup, of the Senegal internationals Salif Diao and El Hadji Diouf failed and the 2006 arrival at West Ham of another pair of Argentine World Cup stars almost resulted in relegation.
Most likely, though, this guy turns up less often because international football is less good than it used to be. We also know who a lot more of the players are before the tournament kicks off than has been the case in the past.
Someone, though, who played at the Gold Cup or is playing at the Copa America (we can rule out the Women’s World Cup, for now) will end up signing for an English club. Whether, as was the case in the past, we can put this down to their international performance is debatable. Although I’m pretty sure Venezuela’s Renny Vega had never occurred to Arsene Wenger as a solution to his goalkeeping conundrum until his country’s draw with Brazil…
The guy who just became available
In spite of definitely not being an effing wheeler-dealer, Harry Redknapp specializes in these sorts of non-specific squad additions. An outspoken adherent to the ‘buy good players’ school of football tactics, Redknapp (or, apparently, his chairman Daniel Leavy whose money Harry is so loath to spend) is always on the lookout for a bargain.
This approach has had some notable successes; Paolo di Canio was pretty good at West Ham after becoming untenable at Sheffield Wednesday and it’s fair to say that Rafael van der Vaart had a decent first season at Tottenham having been deemed surplus to Madrid.
It has failed on occasion too. Why did Tottenham bail Liverpool out of most of the twenty million pounds worth of toxic debt they incurred after the Robbie Keane bubble finally burst in 2009? Did Redknapp even know who David Nugent was when he arrived at Portsmouth in 2007?
Lower down the food chain, newly promoted clubs and those managed by Sam Allardyce also follow this recruitment model. Usually, these have the same mixed results: Djorkaeff to Bolton, good, Harewood to Brighton, bad.
It is too early in the summer to speculate on specifics, unexpected availability being more of a deadline day condition, but were Samir Nasri to leave Arsenal before the end of August he would fall into this category. So too would Lionel Messi were he to rock up at White Hart Lane.
The guy you’ve always wanted
This guy can arrive in one of two pretty much opposite ways. There’s the ‘Cesc Fabregas way’, which is where an inevitable transfer is finally concluded, and there’s the ‘Bacary Sagna way’, which is where a player you’ve watched for ages (various Arsenal scouts watched Sagna play for Auxerre over 40 times) and in secret (Alan Shearer doesn’t know who he is) finally arrives. Incidentally Arsenal’s current business model, where an expansive and expensive scouting program designed to source cheap players potentially worth a lot of money, means that they will most likely continue to appear as both buyer and seller in this type of transfer, especially if their now well-worn trade routes to Manchester and Barcelona remain lucrative.
The ‘Bacary Sagna way’ represents, perhaps, the perfect transfer. It requires cogent planning and, as a result, should have a good chance of success. It probably won’t result in the immediate unveiling of a superstar (although one might develop, like Javier Hernandez) but superstars need help and this guy should provide it. Moneyball depends on this kind of approach, and Liverpool’s summer acquisitions will be interesting in this regard. Having purchased Andy Carroll, it makes sense to bring in Stuart Downing and Charlie Adam to construct chances for the big man. Examples from abroad, as a consequence of the secrecy of this type of move, are harder to predict. When well executed, this guy will remain an unknown until he arrives at his new club.
In contrast, the ‘Cesc Fabregas way’, also known as the ‘Cristiano Ronaldo model’, represents the most boring and annoying of transfers. The type habitually, as if contractually, referred to as a ‘saga’. Cesc Fabregas himself will, of course, be the archetypal example of this type of transfer. Whether the Arsenal captain realizes his destiny this summer or not (and honestly at this stage who cares) remains to be seen – which is sort of the nature of this guy’s moves.
The guy who was too good to go down, but got relegated
One of the oddities of the most recent Premier League season is that whereas teams that comfortably stayed up, Stoke or Bolton for example, consist of well-drilled conglomerates of journeymen, those who were relegated contain one or two outstanding individuals. Charlie Adam has, seemingly, signed for Liverpool and Scott Parker will most probably end up at Tottenham; if Bolton were relegated, would Kevin Davies be rewarded with a move to Arsenal?
Both these players featured in Player of the Year shortlists – Parker even won the writers’ version – and are extreme examples. They are not, however, unique. When last relegated, in 2003, West Ham boasted the talents of Joe Cole, Michael Carrick and Jermain Defoe and although the latter two waited out a season in the Championship all three transferred to relatively top-level Premiership outfits (Chelsea, Totthenham and Tottenham respectively). Likewise Leeds United, relegated the following season with a squad that included Mark Viduka, Paul Robinson and Alan Smith saw their top players transfer to Middlesbrough, Tottenham (again) and Manchester United the same summer.
Off the pitch, this guy makes sound economic sense. His club are likely keen to get his Premier League wages off the books and a player whose appetite has been based on or whetted by a Premier League diet is unlikely to fancy a season in the ‘rough and tumble of the Championship’.
On the pitch however, he represents a significant risk to the balance of your team and the harmony of your squad. Having been the best, and probably best paid (apart from Keiron Dyer of course), player at his previous club and used to a system designed to get the best out of his talents, will this guy perform to the same standard against raised expectations and lowered status?
History suggests, sometimes.
While Michael Carrick definitely worked out for Tottenham it is fair to say that Alan Smith for Manchester United did not. Adam and Parker, both internationals, are certainly too good for the Championship and will perhaps flourish at larger clubs.
Some of their teammates, the likes of DJ Campbell and Carlton Cole, will probably secure moves back into the Premier League, as will Birmingham’s Scott Dann. These players are probably solid Premier League performers and have at best established themselves in the stable of reliable journeymen – and done enough to attract the attention of the 9th-15th echelon of the Premier League – at worst, they will be attractive to newly promoted sides seeking consolidation.
The marquee signing
This isn’t really a guy, as the myriad quotes separating player from price tag which follow such a move testify, but rather a guy turned into a statement. There are probably only two players in the world right now who have marquee value in their own right, and neither is going anywhere. Marquee signings will still be made though in the manner of presentation rather than personnel.
Robinho was signed on deadline-day 2008 as a statement of intent by Manchester City’s flush new owners; Fernando Torres’ move to Chelsea in January of this year signaled Roman Abramovich’s return to fiscal irresponsibility.
Apart from Neymar, it is hard to see who could be signed and then unveiled as a game-changing portent of great things to come. Of course it’s all relative, perhaps Joe Cole could arrive as an ‘England International’ at Queens Park Rangers and embody their upward aspirations. Maybe Arsene Wenger will bring in someone whose experience thus far isn’t limited to the French Ligue 1 and reassert Arsenal as a club playing everyone else’s game.
These categories, especially the last one, are not mutually exclusive. Cesc Fabregas would be a marquee signing and the guy Barcelona has always wanted; Neymar could be the guy you’ve always wanted, the guy who had a good international tournament and a marquee. But they will ALL happen, and you won’t find certainty like that anywhere else this transfer window.