By Carlo Garganese
There is under a fortnight to go until the transfer window slams shut for Europe's major leagues. The market closes on September 1 at 1800CET for the Bundesliga, at 2300 local time for Serie A, and at midnight in Spain, England, France and the Netherlands.
This summer has already seen countless big-money transfers, with Barcelona splashing the cash on Luis Suarez, Real Madrid digging deep for James Rodriguez and Toni Kroos, and the English Premier League on the verge of breaking the record for money spent in a transfer window.
But, while there have been some clear winners and losers so far, there are a number of clubs who have been slow to get their chequebook out and who risk a disastrous season unless they start moving fast. Below are five clubs who must spend in the next two weeks.
As Manchester United's 2-1 defeat at home to Swansea in their Premier League opener on Saturday proved, Louis van Gaal can't produce miracles. With the exception of his spell at AZ, the no-nonsense Dutchman will have never begun a job with a weaker set of players at his disposal. "The weakest United team in 20 years," as former Liverpool midfielder Steve McManaman has described them.
The only members of Van Gaal's squad of undoubted Manchester United class are David De Gea, Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie. The club has spent the last couple of months courting countless big names to add to the early, expensive purchases of Ander Herrera and Luke Shaw - including Arturo Vidal, Juan Cuadrado, Mats Hummels and Kevin Strootman - but with just a fortnight until the window shuts, none have arrived.
Under-fire executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward is closing in on a deal for Sporting's Marcos Rojo, but United are desperate for top-class players in defence and midfield. The current options for Van Gaal's back three are Phil Jones, Johnny Evans, Chris Smalling and Tyler Blackett – nowhere near Champions League standard. The alternatives in the centre of midfield are just as meagre, and Utd will continue to be bossed in the middle of the park by Premier League outfits.
If the 2012-13 Premier League champions want to finish in the top four and return to where they belong in the Champions League then they simply must sign at least two or three top players in the next couple of weeks.
Milan endured a disastrous 2013-14 season, finishing eighth in Serie A and going through three coaches in the space of six months. The new campaign will prove to be just as depressing unless Silvio Berlusconi opens his wallet before the market closes. In pre-season, the Rossoneri have lost to Olympiakos, Manchester City, Liverpool and Valencia – conceding 12 goals along the way.
Despite the free signings of Diego Lopez (who endured a miserable debut against the Spaniards on Sunday), Alex and Jeremy Menez, Milan need significant strengthening in every outfield department. The defence and midfield is packed full of average and ageing players, while in attack, Stephan El Shaarawy is returning from a long term injury and Mario Balotelli is not a guarantee either due to his off-field issues.
Pippo Inzaghi's priority is to sign a top-class right winger for his new 4-3-3 formation, with €20 million-rated Alessio Cerci his preferred option. But while the Torino man would inject some dynamism into the side, he won't compensate for all the shortcomings behind him – especially a midfield that will be outclassed by the likes of Juventus, Roma, Napoli, Fiorentina and even Inter. Unfortunately, CEO Adriano Galliani has been given very little money to spend and will have to sell before he can sign players like Cerci (who is closer to Atletico Madrid, anyway). Modest targets like Adel Taarabt are more realistic right now.
This time last year, Monaco looked like they were going to become Europe's next super club. A gross outlay of €166m saw the newly-promoted Monte Carlo-based outfit acquire Colombian superstars Radamel Falcao and James Rodriguez, as well as Joao Moutinho, Geoffrey Kondogbia and Eric Abidal.
But after securing a return to the Champions League by finishing second in Ligue 1, the spending by Dmitry Rybolovlev has dried up. Lower-level players such as Toulouse's Aymen Abdennour have been brought in, while star man James has been sold to Real Madrid and defensive organiser Abidal lost to Olympiakos.
Monaco's start to the new season has been disastrous. They are second from bottom in Ligue 1 with no points from two games, and were thrashed 4-1 by Bordeaux on Sunday. With their current squad, even Champions League qualification could prove to be a struggle this season. The defence is woefully short on quality and will ship goals galore unless at least a couple of stoppers are brought in. Joao Moutinho continues to disappoint and new blood is also needed in midfield and attack if he is to finally show his true colours. Failure to do so may even push Falcao out of the door, too.
After going through a nightmare season last time out, Hamburg need to spend big to avoid a humiliating relegation from the Bundesliga. The Imtech Arena side narrowly avoided the drop via the playoff in May and their transfer activity so far this summer does not inspire confidence. Many of their squad are too old or simply not up to the task, and they have failed to add enough talent to their ranks.
Of the €23m they've spent, a big proportion of it was on Johan Djourou and Pierre-Michel Lasogga, who were already at the club last term on loan. Valon Behrami and Nicolai Muller could prove to be decent acquisitions, but their midfield is still in dire need of regeneration. Most importantly, the loss of Hakan Calhanoglu to Bayer Leverkusen must be compensated for with the signing of more quality.
Feyenoord generated plenty of funds with the outgoing transfers of Daryl Janmaat, Stefan de Vrij, Bruno Martins and Graziano Pelle, yet they have been reluctant to spend much of the money that came in. Heerenveen winger Bilal Basacikoglu has been the only high-profile addition so far and they have suffered on the pitch in the opening weeks of the 2014-15 campaign.
Besiktas proved to be too strong in the Champions League qualifiers, while they have looked unimpressive in their Eredivisie games against ADO Den Haag and Heerenveen – securing a fortuitous late win in the former and rescuing a point in the latter. If Feyenoord are to have any chance of challenging for the title this season, they desperately need to spend in the next two weeks. And if they fail to sign a forward of relative quality, they will even struggle to finish in the top three.
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