By Aditya Bajaj
Another transfer window has closed and, as always, it was exciting right up until the last minute. 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 - business as usual then.
What’s worrying though is the growing trend among big clubs to splash money on star players irrespective of whether they plug the gaping hole in the squad. 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 campaign and strengthen them. That 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 defence? Well, that’s self-explanatory. Yes, their over-reliance on Lionel Messi was understood last season and well before it, but, the thrashing at the hands of Bayern Munich in last season’s Champions League semi-finals was down to their vulnerability at the back and they've left themselves exposed again this year by not bolstering their backline.
Real Madrid on the other hand, countered Neymar’s arrival at Camp Nou by breaking the transfer record to sign Gareth Bale. However, that signing has left Carlo Ancelotti with no cover for Karim Benzema except for Alvaro Morata following Gonzalo Higuain's departure to Napoli. 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 Luis 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 at least 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. Though Marouane Fellaini was signed on the last day after their failed pursuit of many midfield targets including Barca's Cesc Fabregas, it was overshadowed by their attempt to sign Athletic Bilbao's Ander Herrera which consequently turned into a last-minute farce.
|The Brazilians are useful signings but can they shore up the ailing defences of Milan and Barca?|
Milan are another 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 Rossoneri shirt to the hundreds of fans was enough to confirm 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 defence? 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 a backline 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 coach who would need personnel he could utilise, not players who could cause selection headaches in a bad way.
Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger has been hailed 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 to sign the German who no doubt makes the midfield one of the best in the Premier League.
Perhaps, they wilted under immense pressure to just make a signing and save face, but that’s the whole point. They had chances to sign Gonzalo Higuain earlier on in the window, giving Wenger a proven goal scoring alternative to Oliver Giroud and also pleasing the fans just as much.
What happens when Giroud gets injured or runs out of form over the course of the season where they will likely to be competing alongside neighbours Tottenham for a top-four finish? Not to forget the difficult fight they have to get through the group stages in Europe where they have been pitted against Borussia Dortmund, Napoli and Marseille in Group F. This is not to say that Ozil is a worthless signing, in fact, the German’s been one of the best signings of the summer, just that he was not a priority for the Gunners.
|Top clubs that did not prioritise their weaknesses from last season|
|Club||Achilles Heel||Biggest signing||Fee|
|Barcelona||Defence||Neymar (Forward)|| €57m
|Real Madrid||Centre-forward||Bale (attacker)||€100m|
|AC Milan||Defence||Kaka (Midfielder)||Free|
|Bayern Munich||Centre-forward||Thiago (Midfielder)||€25m|
When it comes to defence, though, maybe clubs can be forgiven to some extent due to the dearth of good options these days. Thiago Silva is one of those rare world-class defenders and he was linked repeatedly with a move away from Paris Saint-Germain.
PSG had another typical summer splashing money everywhere but was it in the right places? They still look weak at right-back, with neither Christophe Jallet or Gregory van der Wiel proving to be good options, but instead they have spent €64 million to buy Edinson Cavani to partner the already prolific Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
On paper that looks like a ferocious attack capable of thrashing any defence that comes their way, but from what we’ve seen until now, the duo have struggled to play together and that has been reflected in their poor start 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've been left with an abundance of creative players but haven't signed a replacement for Mario Gomez after being linked with a move for Robert Lewandowski. Excessive quantity in midfield can create a polarised dressing room which could prove to be detrimental to Guardiola 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 doubt 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 Spurs 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 Partenopei have raced ahead in Italy and Andre-Villas Boas' men 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.
Juve and Dortmund were the only clubs that recuperated 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. Similarly, at Signal Iduna Park, the departure of Mario Gotze is a distant memory now with the excellent signings of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Henrikh Mkhitaryan. The pair have already started to stomp their authority in the Bundesliga, with a brilliant start to the season. Also, former Milan defender Sokratis Papastathopoulos provides good cover in defence as he can play both at the centre and out wide.
Either these days the clubs are focusing too much on pleasing their fans by making marquee signings regardless of the manager’s needs or, it's just about doing ‘’business’’ for the ones who run the club as the merchandise and marketing of these players is financially rewarding.
However, signing the right players has to be the absolute priority as on-field results matter the most to fans as pleasing them with star names alone is like fooling them into believing that their beloved club is headed in the right direction.
It’s a worrying trend, and, given the way the transfer window operates, forcing teams into panic buying and spending over the odds on players, it is one that is likely to continue.
Do you serve the needs of the ‘’squad’’ or the ‘’club’’? There was a time when both were interrelated.