Thank heavens for West Ham. From absolutely nowhere, this has become the most interesting week in the transfer market since Ardiles and Villa joined Spurs.
I don’t really have to say here that the arrival of Teves and Mascherano at Upton Park comes as a surprise. I was as shocked as anyone else. Pleased for Alan Pardew, who is one of the genuinely good coaches in English football, and who deserves to have that kind of young talent in his squad. And looking forward to watching them play. For all that I want Reo-Coker to join Manchester United this evening, a good part of me wants Nigel to stay where he is, as West Ham are beginning to remind me of many an excellent non-mainstream side from the past – 1979’s Palace, the Greenhoff Stoke, but above all Robson’s Ipswich: if Pardew can keep his current team together, they can do great things. He’s done it cheaply, too…
But there are rumours flying around that Roman Abramovich is involved. I’m not sure that I believe them. For one thing, the company that owns the rights to Tevez and Mascherano has also been involved in takeover talks at West Ham. That could signal the end of West Ham’s time as a popular, intelligent, attractive team forever on the margins. Rather than this transfer being some kind of subterranean corruption seeping eastwards along Bazelgette’s sewer, it could be the start of great things for the club that won England the World Cup.
Yet there are sides to those rumours that are not being talked about and that should be talked about. Let’s imagine, for a moment, that someone in Abramovich’s position could have been involved. What would that mean?
In the first place, it would mean that someone was prepared to spend that much money – more than many times enough to set most of us up for a lifetime – on the game. He would want to win that much, and that’s funny. Enough, that if his own team is already sufficiently overloaded to prevent him buying them still more players, he’s willing to buy them for middle-ranking clubs just to keep them out of the hands of his rivals. Enough to pay to see them put out of harm’s way. (I don’t think West Ham is out of harm’s way. Their current squad is now as good as any of the top four save Chelsea).
And, in the second instance, suddenly the game starts to even out. An Abramovich figure (and I do stress that I don’t think he’s involved) distributes the players he can’t have himself to clubs who could do with the talent. The top-heavy finances of the Premiership start to do the unexpected thing – even out the talent differentials between all of the clubs save the top one. It begins to resemble, as though in a broken mirror, that laudable American Football set-up where the best new players each year go to the previous year’s worst franchise, keeping the competition open and interesting.
Otherwise, it’s been a strange, undistinguished-strange, transfer window. What were Newcastle doing, trying to offload James Milner, after his Bellamyesque start to the season? (On-the-pitch Bellamy, of course). Arsenal seem to have won last year’s principal target, Julio Baptista, for the price of the principal target of the season before, Reyes. A good deal for both parties, for all the confusing time travel element.
All kinds of rumours are circulating about Manchester United, all mad and all Decline of Rome. Solskjaer to Sunderland (now scuppered) – and, both real and worse, Rossi to Newcastle on loan, quite the stupidest move of the night. Of course, moves for Senna, Hargreaves, the aforesaid Mascherano and Tevez, Berbatov and a host of others have come to nothing. What price the same happening to Reo-Coker?
For whatever reason, it’s perfectly clear that top players do not see Manchester United as the place to go at the moment. There’s no blood in the water at Old Trafford, but it’s obviously leaking out somewhere. My own suspicion – sorry, George, and it’s not a lack of faith – is that this is Ferguson’s last season. I also see this as Mourinho’s last season – at Stamford Bridge. The two facts are connected. Mourinho has always sought personal growth and new challenges, and I don’t think he’s enjoying Chelsea for all his success there. He’ll have a year in harness with Shevchenko, which he’s wanted for a long time, and then move on.
It’s the only thing tonight that you’ll read here first.
The quietest, most important news of the day is Sir Clive Woodward’s resignation from Southampton. I can’t help connecting this with the fallout from England’s World Cup, and the country’s subsequent, increasingly obvious flight from intelligence where its football is concerned. Adrian Boothroyd has had the sense to bring Clive in on a consulting basis. Will anyone else?