The summer transfer window annually presents an opportunity for clubs to reshape their squads. The basic premise for teams is that by the end of the window, two things should have happened:
1) The team has improved their squad by buying better players or by filling positional needs in order to make a better-rounded squad.
2) These players should have sufficiently improved the squad in order to secure a higher league position for the season ahead, or for the promoted and title chasing clubs, consolidate their positions.
Well, that’s the idea at least. In the past, it worked that way, where teams that splashed the cash before the start of the season were expected to move up the table. Nowadays, most of the time what happens is sort of like the Red Queen’s race from Through the Looking-Glass (where Alice was running as fast as she could in order to stay in the same spot), where teams spend as fast as they can and end up more or less where they were to begin with.
Now the dust has settled on the summer transfer window, despite Premier League clubs having spent a combined £485m, with £100m being spent on the final day alone, I can only think of two teams that I would expect to finish substantially higher than they did last season, which are Stoke and Sunderland. I don’t think anyone else will really dramatically improve on last season’s performance as a direct result of their summer spending.
There are some good reasons for this. Some clubs have been forced to sell players just to balance their books, or the player wanted to leave. With inflated transfer prices, many clubs were priced out of buying the right players and had to settle for second best, or their board bowed to fan pressure and end up signing players that weren’t an improvement, just to placate fans worried that the club wasn’t showing enough ambition in the transfer market. There were also the signings that are rushed through at the end of the window that reeked of desperation (like Yossi Benayoun, signed without a medical), where a manager felt that he needed to sign someone, anyone. Some teams are in such perilous financial positions that they couldn’t buy at all.
Sunderland have been very active in the transfer market this summer, and they’ve definitely beefed up the squad, bringing in the strength in depth that has been lacking in the past and really hurting them when they run into injuries, and it’ll be interesting to see how Bendtner will do (I think he’ll do well), and I think those signings give them a fighting chance to challenge for a top 7 place that may lead to Europe.
Stoke are the other team who have made some big signings, Woodgate (if by some miracle he stays fit) and Upson could prove to be the best signings of the summer, and the addition Palacios improves the midfield. Peter Crouch could thrive from the service of Etherington, Pennant and Delap. These signings should help Stoke finish in the top half of the Premier League and will help them in their Europa League campaign. Other than those two clubs, there are a lot of teams that have spent tens of millions, but probably won’t finish that much higher in the league than they would have anyway. There are even some teams that have spent money but look worse as a result.
Liverpool have spent over £50m, and have addressed some of their weakest areas. However, and I would be delighted to be wrong, there are still too many holes in the squad to see Liverpool being able to challenge for the title this season. 4th place is a very achievable aim for Liverpool, which would represent an improvement on last season, but with Arsenal and Spurs seemingly weaker than last season, there’s a good chance they could’ve spent nothing and got 4th place anyway. So Liverpool have spent £50m just to get a position that they had a good chance of obtaining anyway.
Manchester City once again spent big over the summer. Aguero’s already got off to a great start and Nasri and Clichy should prove to be good signings, but City’s big weakness in the past wasn’t that their team wasn’t good enough, but that they didn’t have the unity and team spirit required to win the league, and that’s not something money can buy, so only time can tell whether or not City can sustain a serious title challenge over an entire season. Similarly, Manchester United and Chelsea have improved their squads with some big signings, but they were both strong anyway, so their scope for improvement was small. Both of those teams would have been title challengers without their new recruits.
Conversely, Arsenal have spent over £50m and look worse overall. Losing players of the calibre of Fabregas and Nasri would hurt any team, but Arsenal have struggled to replace them. Arteta hasn’t been at his best for a couple of seasons, so maybe for him a change of scenery may be a good thing. I don’t think Benayoun was the player they needed, and the jury’s out on whether Mertesacker and Andre Santos can plug Arsenal’s leaky defence. Despite Arsenal’s problems, it’s still hard to envisage them not being in the top 6 this season, and their transfer dealings will mean they will be in good financial shape when the Financial Fair Play comes in, but is that good enough for Arsenal fans, who want to see some success now?
Tottenham aren’t much better than last season, they still look light up front, and their policy of waiting until late in the window has backfired this time, but again, you’d still expect them to finish in the top 6 once again.
None of the three promoted clubs have significantly strengthened, Swansea have managed to assemble a good squad for the Championship, but haven’t signed anybody with proven Premier League experience. Similarly, Norwich haven’t really made any significant signings that will help their efforts to stay up.
QPR were hurt by the boardroom instability, meaning they were unable to actively strengthen their squad until late on. Joey Barton’s exactly the type of player they needed, and Shaun Wright-Philips, Luke Young and Anton Ferdinand’s combined experience should be an asset, but it’s up front where QPR will struggle. All of their strikers have had previous Premier League spells, and none of them did very well, and none look to have improved in the meantime.
Everton’s off-field problems meant that they were inactive until deadline day, and haven’t made any permanent signings. Losing Mikel Arteta so late was a blow (though not as much as some people think) and selling Jermaine Beckford leaves Everton’s strikeforce consisting of the ever-injured Louis Saha, the often ineffective Victor Anichebe and Denis Stracqualursi, who’s totally unproven in English football. Despite Everton’s inability to participate in the transfer market, the team they have should be good enough to finish in the top eight once more.
You could make convincing arguments that Bolton, Wigan, Blackburn and Newcastle (with their policy of selling their best players for no good reason), have got worse over the summer, and most of the other Premier League teams have stood still, despite making some big money signings and will probably do about as well as they did last season.
Many managers want the transfer window to be reformed. Some want it shortened to end before the start of the season, some want it abolished altogether. I don’t see any changes being made anytime soon, and the madness will continue once again next season.