Neymar, Bale & Kaka ... signing star names takes precedence over the needs of the squad

Aditya Bajaj comments on the worrying trend this transfer market among teams that gave more importance to star signings that don’t plug the gaps in the squad.
 Aditya Bajaj
 Comment | Europe
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Another transfer window just ended recently and as always it was exciting until the deadline day. Football has always defied the worrying state of recession elsewhere and this season was no different. Big signings gave way to bigger signings, records were broken, market prices went absurdly north and it was business as usual.  

What’s worrying though is the growing trend among big clubs to splash money on the star players irrespective of whether they plug the gaping hole in the squad and make it complete. Whether it’s a striker or a defender or even someone who could come off the bench and increase the depth of the squad, it doesn’t matter. The whole point is to identify these weak spots from the previous season and go about doing your business in that direction which should take precedence over everything else. If you still have the resources to buy someone big outside of the squad’s need, feel free to buy him and make a statement but first put the need of the ‘squad’ before the need of the ‘club’.

Does Neymar make Barcelona stronger? Definitely. But does he cater to their need in defense? Well, that’s self-explanatory. Yes, their over-reliance on Lionel Messi was understood last season and much before for that matter but the thrashing at the hands of Bayern Munich in last season’s Champions League semi-finals was down to their shabby defense which was left exposed even against weaker opponents like AC Milan and Paris Saint Germain only to be laid bare by the brilliance of the Bavarians who did not misfire like the Italians and the French.

Real Madrid on the other hand, went a step ahead and countered Neymar’s arrival at the Camp Nou by breaking the transfer record to sign Gareth Bale on deadline day but leaving Carlo Ancelotti with no cover for Karim Benzema except for Alvaro Morata. Following Gonzalo Higuain’s departure to Napoli, it was logical to pursue a striker first but obviously that did not happen. It has been reported time and again that perhaps Cristiano Ronaldo would be pushed further up front to play as a striker but with his transfer record already shattered, one can’t be sure as to how the sensitive player would react to making way for the Welsh winger. Perhaps pursuing Luiz Suarez would have been wiser and with Liverpool reluctant to sell him to a direct rival in England, maybe they would have been more open to pack him off to Spain.

Over in England, Manchester United atleast had their head in the right place but the way they went about pursuing that one central midfielder throughout the transfer window rendered them as the butt of all jokes with less credibility. Though Marouane Fellaini was signed on the last day after their failed pursuit of almost all the midfielders on earth, it was overshadowed by the failed signing of Ander Herrera which made more headlines and will continue to do so until they get it right perhaps the next time around which would add more pressure on the manager and the ones responsible for the whole farce.

The Brazilians are useful but can they shore up the ailing defences of Milan and Barca?

Milan are the perfect example. Kaka was bought back home after four years, and the moving scenes outside the Via Turati office balcony where the former Ballon d’Or winner waved the famous red and black shirt to the hundreds of fans were enough to confirm that the club played the perfect card to ease the pain of an otherwise average transfer market. There was no fee attached to bringing the Brazilian back, but can he play at the heart of the defense? Already carrying a top heavy squad that has one of the best attacks in Europe, what the seven time European champions needed was some cover for the defense that has been clueless in the opening two fixtures of this season against smaller sides like Hellas Verona and Cagliari. It seems like clubs today are more concerned with pleasing the fans rather than the manager who would need personnel he could utilise, not players who could cause selection headaches in a bad way

Arsene Wenger has been hailed and praised throughout the circuit for the incredible coup of Mesut Ozil from Real Madrid and rightly so. But it is anyone’s guess as to why a manager who has so relentlessly stuck to his principles of not spending needlessly (or not spending at all) went out of his way to break the bank and sign the German who no doubt makes the midfield one of the bests in the Premier League? Perhaps, they wilted under immense pressure to just make a signing and save face but that’s the whole point. But signing Gonzalo Higuain earlier while he was available would not only have given him a proven goal scoring alternative to Oliver Giroud, it would have pleased the fans as much.

What happens when Giroud gets injured or runs out of form over the course of a really long season where they will be competing tooth and nail to fight for a top four finish like never before with neighbours Tottenham breathing down their neck to usurp them as the better team in London? Not to forget the difficult fight to get through the group stages in Europe where they have been pitted against Borussia Dortmund, Napoli and Marseille. This is not to say that Ozil is a worthless signing. Infact the German’s been one of the best signings of the summer, just that he was not really a priority.

When it comes to defence maybe clubs can be forgiven to some extent due to the dearth of good options these days, but Wenger did have the option to snap up Higuain before Napoli took him along to the Sao Paolo to replace the outgoing Edinson Cavani.

 Top Clubs that did not prioritize their weaknesses from last season
  Club     Achilles Heel       Biggest signing   Fee
   Barcelona Defense Neymar (Forward)   €58m (reported)  
   Real Madrid Center Forward Bale (Winger) €91m (reported)
  AC Milan Defense Kaka (Midfielder) Free
  Arsenal Center Forward Ozil (Midfiedler) €50m
  PSG Right Back Cavani (Forward) €64m
    Bayern Munich
Center Forward   Thiago (Midfielder)

Talking about Cavani, PSG had another typical summer splashing money everywhere but at the right places. They still look weak at right back with neither of Cristopher Jallet and Gregory van der Wiel proving to be good options but instead they have spent €64 million to buy a partner for the already prolific Zlatan Ibrahimovic. On paper that looks like a ferocious attack capable of thrashing any defense that comes its way, but from what we’ve seen until now the duo have struggled to play together and that has been reflected in their poor star to the season.

Bayern Munich too have unnecessarily spent on acquiring Thiago from Barcelona which ultimately rendered Luiz Gustavo surplus to Pep Guardiola’s tactics. They are left with abundance in creativity but haven't signed a replacement for Mario Gomez after being linked with a move for Robert Lewandowski. A perfectly balanced squad perhaps could have strengthened in attack to some extent but they were good as they were. Excessive quantity in midfield can create a polarised dressing room which could prove to be detrimental to the Spaniard who is ought to make sure the squad retains the levels of their treble winning season at the very least.

Clear winners this summer were without any doubts Juventus, Borussia Dortmund, Napoli and Tottenham who have splashed only where necessary and built a squad which is better equipped and balanced than last season. Napoli and Tottenham made good use of the millions they earned by letting go Cavani and Bale respectively strengthening across the pitch and need to be given time before the results start to show. The Partenepei have raced ahead in Italy and Spurs have struggled to some extent in England but the next few months will provide a clear picture about whether they are headed in the right direction.

Juventus and Borussia Dortmund were the only clubs that recuperated only where required with the Italians finally plugging the hole in attack with the signings of Carlos Tevez and Fernando Llorente. They were patient until this summer and that paid off which is what big clubs should be doing. If they were struggling with the lack of prolific options last season, they are not anymore. Similary at the Signal Iduna Park the departure of Mario Gotze is a distant memory now with the excellent signings of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Henrikh Mkhitaryan who have already started to stomp their authority in the Bundesliga with a brilliant start to their season. Also former Milan defender Sokratis Papastathopoulos provides a good cover in defense as he can play both at the center and out wide.

Either these days the clubs are focussing too much on pleasing their fans by serving some of the best players on their plate regardless of the manager’s needs or its just about doing ‘’business’’ for the ones who run the club as the perks in terms of marketing and minting money are huge.

However signing the right players has to be the absolute priority as on-field results matter the most to fans while pleasing them with the so called marquee signings is like fooling them into believing that their beloved club is headed in the right direction.

It’s a worrying trend, and transfer activities literally mean business these days but it’s a matter of choice.

Do you serve the needs of the ‘’squad’’ or the ‘’club’’?  There was a time when both were inter-related.


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