Transfer Window Analysis: Every EPL Club's Biggest Mistake of the Summer of 2012
There is so much at stake for every club in the EPL. It doesn't matter whether you're Manchester City, Manchester United or Chelsea—desperate to win the League—Arsenal, Liverpool, Newcastle or Spurs—determined to break through into the Champions' League places;—or maybe all the rest where the first task is to avoid relegation.
Lesser clubs can find it hard to hold onto their best players, often only assuaged by a handsome fee in compensation. Now even Arsenal are not immune, losing one top player after another.
It may be hard for supporters to understand why their club can't simply say no. Daniel Levy is a past master at this, usually wringing a big fee out of an eventual transfer. But this can be counter-productive when, for example, a player as good as Dimitar Berbatov leaves in the last minute of the transfer window.
Every year, every single club will have targets in the window. No doubt they would all like to get their business tied up in the first week or two, as Sir Alex did last summer with his three signings, Ashley Young, David De Gea and Phil Jones.
The trouble is, it hardly ever works out that way.
Most clubs either know that certain players are going to attract interest or that they will have to sell to buy. Even City appear to have fallen into that category this year, especially with so many strikers still on their books.
You can please some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time, but you can't please all the people all of the time.
And so with this article, if it's your club being talked about, you're sure to disagree on principle. That's your right. So say so, and tell us why. Here goes.
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Yeah I know, some of you will think I'm gloating, but I'm not.
It's like Sir Alex letting Wayne Rooney go. And he didn't. He paid what it took, and United won the title.
The mistake isn't letting Van Persie go to United; no other club came near to matching Wenger's fee demands. He also seems to have been determined not to let the Dutchman go to City.
But why didn't he wait and try to bluff Van Persie out? Yes, it could cost money to make him play out his contract, and he could have been retained until January when surely Van Persie would still have commanded a fee. Transfers somehow seem to cost more in January, often due to desperation.
RVP seems like a decent guy. Surely he would still have put in a shift if he had been retained for the rest of the season. He could have been the difference between success and failure.
After all, how do you replace 37 goals in 48 matches? Not with Olivier Giroud or Lukas Podolski.
If Arsenal ship goals at the rate they did last season, they will be in trouble without enough going in at the other end.
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At a distance, it's hard to tell the difference in the shirts. How ironic is it when a player moves clubs, and the first match of the season pairs those same two clubs?
Sam Allardyce knows a defender when he sees him, and with James Collins previously having played for the Hammers, it was not really a surprise for him to find his way back there.
He was in his last year at Villa, but he has often looked like one of the more useful central defenders in the Premier League. On Saturday he had an "outstanding game" against his former club.
Unless he finds another striker, Paul Lambert's team is going to have difficulty scoring enough goals to make an impact this season. Darren Bent can't do it on his own; James Collins made it doubly hard when they came together as foes for a change.
The Express & Star claims Collins wanted to stay, but Lambert let him go. Would the result have been the same if Villa had had both Collins and Ron Vlaar on Saturday?
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In June 2011, Chelsea paid Anderlecht up to £18 million for Romelu Lukaku. In May 2012, Chelsea let Didier Drogba go on a free transfer, having let his contract run down.
Unless Chelsea can find another striker in the transfer market, a great weight will fall on Fernando Torres' shoulders. God knows what will happen if he gets injured. Look at Aguero with a knee injury in the first half of the first match of the season.
Meanwhile, they have let Lukaku go on a season long loan to West Brom. He's not happy.
From the moment he was signed, as one of the most expensive 18-year-olds ever, he has looked a like for like replacement for Drogba. He is physically very similar: very strong with real pace.
He made an immediate impact yesterday, heading in the third goal against a shabby Liverpool, having come on as a late substitute.
To be honest, he looks a better option than Daniel Sturridge and may of course come back a better player next season.
Right now, unless Hulk, Cavani or someone similar comes in, it looks like a big gamble to leave Chelsea so short of striking options, unless their plan is to play the Barca way. They certainly have enough midfielders on the books.
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OK, so the logic is sound: a 32-year-old player on £55,000 a week being let go.
The trouble is that in this case we are talking about the talismanic Tim Cahill. He may have only scored three goals in 35 matches last season, but he averaged more than nine in the previous seven seasons.
More to the point: Whether scoring an astonishing number of headed goals for such a diminutive man, or coming on as a late substitute, few players in Everton's history have been able to inspire the belief that a draw or a win could be wrested from adversity.
He lifted hearts and voices as soon as he began to warm up. He could be the miracle-worker as, for example, he was against Chelsea so often.
There are two sides to any exit transfer: the player going out and how or whether he will be replaced.
Surely nobody could replace Cahill like for like? He was an impact player, rather like Michael Owen during his better days at United.
He was also intelligent and could make space out of a crowded penalty area, as well as score vital goals, many with his head.
So he's gone, but how can he be replaced?
There's an old cliche in business that when the chief executive leaves, the office boy gets promoted. Think about it.
You have to consider who was being held back while Cahill was getting game time. Some would have thought that Ross Barkley would benefit if Cahill went. He's not like for like, but he's potentially the "next big thing."
But Barkley seems likely to go on loan (h/t the Daily Mail), which seems odd with another midfielder, Rodwell, being sold to City.
David Moyes doesn't get many things wrong, and you can't fault the cold logic of letting Cahill go.
But will Everton miss those late goals and his overall impact this season? After all, he repaid his £1.5 million transfer fee years ago, so why the worry about his wages?
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The one that got away!
How could Fulham, having had Pavel Pogrebnyak on loan for half a season, let Reading of all clubs nick him from under their noses?
PP is quite clear on the matter. Mohammed Al Fayed didn't try hard enough to keep him.
Fulham offered a one-year deal to the striking sensation, who scored five goals in his first three matches for the Cottagers. Reading offered a four-year deal. No contest.
Not that Fulham seemed to miss him yesterday as they slammed five past a naive Norwich side, even without Clint Dempsey.
Martin Jol has some tricky decisions to make. He knows Al Fayed is careful with money and that there is no shortage of takers for Moussa Dembélé and Dempsey.
If both of them go and no striker of quality comes in, the shine may soon wear off the season's entree.
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He may be 32, but for my money, Dirk Kuyt has been one of the best servants Liverpool have ever had.
He always seemed to an outsider to be typically unselfish, prepared to do whatever his manager asked of him. Despite being a competent striker, he played on the wing, through the middle, up front or wherever best suited the team.
Kuyt joined the Reds from Feyenoord for what turned out to be a bargain £9 million. He left at the end of last season, probably due to frustration at lack of appearances. The exercise clause in his contract was only £1 million.
It seems that Brendan Rodgers wanted to give everyone a chance to prove themselves, but Kuyt moved on.
When the times have been tough in recent years, or when Liverpool have needed a result, Kuyt could be relied on to come up with something. He was very popular with the fans.
When you look at Andy Carroll's relative failure—at a cost of £35 million—and Rodgers' apparent preparedness to let him go, it makes you wonder why Liverpool have somehow failed over the last year or so to make Kuyt still feel a valued member of the squad.
He may be earning a reputed £3 million at Fenerbahce, which is some compensation, but surely he could have given the Reds at least another couple of years and, being essentially a team player, probably would have fitted neatly into Rodgers' remake?
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It's not Roberto Mancini's fault that City didn't sign Robin Van Persie, but they did submit a bid and, despite Sheikh Mansour's seemingly limitless wealth, didn't follow through.
At the time, Mancini seemed to place the blame at Brian Marwood's door, but the fact is City didn't get him.
There is no certainty that Manchester United will now win the Premier League title, but surely the signing of Van Persie that got away from City would have kept it at the Etihad?
And then to add an ironic note, main striker Sergio Aguero got injured in the first match of the season.
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I'm not one of those who thinks it is catastrophic that United haven't bought what they would regard as a creative playmaker—"a replacement for Paul Scholes" as some would put it.
I totally support Sir Alex's view that Carrick can be pivotal this season, with Kagawa, Rooney and Van Persie ahead of him.
Also, I don't think we need an out-and-out midfield destroyer, like people think Roy Keane was. He wasn't. He was an outstanding box to box player with bite.
All summer, however, I have been convinced that the last piece of the jigsaw should be Javi Martinez. He can be creative, he can break up play and, most importantly, he can play in central defence.
Now, of course, it's easy to see how crucial he could have been. Smalling is out until October; Evans may come back for Fulham; now Jones and Ferdinand appear to be out. All this leaves United with only one fit centre back, plus Michael Carrick.
Everything's so much easier with hindsight. But if Martinez had been signed, he would have slotted straight into defence for Monday—just part of his versatility. He is a hugely talented player and still only 23.
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This is a hard one, because Alan Pardew has made hardly any mistakes since taking over, despite losing top striker Andy Carroll without a ready-made replacement.
However, not only has he made his owner, Mike Ashley, a handsome profit, but many people think Newcastle were unlucky not to make the Champions' League places last time.
Along the way, they played attractive football and scored some spectacular goals.
Now, of course, it is one of those spectacular goalscorers who has kept Guthrie out of the first team: Cheick Tioté.
For as long as Tioté remained fit, Guthrie couldn't hold a candle to him—and that was assuming Pardew always played a defensive midfield. With brilliant attacking players in the side, like Yohan Cabaye and Hatem Ben Arfa, why would you?
But Tioté can be an excellent attacking player too, viz his wonder strike in the 4-4 draw with Arsenal. He looks right now to be the nearest thing to Roy Keane in the EPL.
And that is why letting Guthrie go could be a mistake.
OK, Newcastle only have to last out another 15 days without selling him and they're home free. But suppose an unmissable offer came in from the likes of Chelsea?
Or he gets injured. There were a few worrying minutes after he went down on Saturday.
The secret to sustaining a title challenge is strength in depth. There is no denying the talent that Pardew has brought in. If he could get Andy Carroll back for £15 million, you would have to take them seriously.
But if Tioté goes, let's hope they don't regret letting a squad player like Guthrie go.
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Chris Hughton did a marvellous job of getting Newcastle back into the Premier League, despite not being first choice as manager.
Let's hope he doesn't do the reverse with Norwich City. Frankly, they were woeful on Saturday, almost unrecognisable from the team that Lambert built.
Yes, Hughton has some Premier League experience at Newcastle, but you can't say Mike Ashley made the wrong decision replacing him with Alan Pardew.
For my money, Hughton is a good championship manager and an excellent coach. Let's hope Norwich don't regret not getting former captain Malky Mackay, who is doing an outstanding job at Cardiff and is surely ready for a step up.
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How long will Mark Hughes last this time? After Saturday's shambles, QPR must already be one of the favourites for relegation.
So where do you start in looking for their biggest mistake of the summer?
It was absolutely necessary for Hughes to shift some of the over-heavy squad. To date, there have been 14 outs and nine new signings.
That is the sort of pattern you normally see in the lower leagues. Is Hughes shopping in the bargain basement or trying to build a Premier League side?
But has there been too much disruption?
Compare the actions of Michael Laudrup with Hughes since coming to Swansea. He has lost a key player, but with shrewd signings, he walloped QPR on Saturday.
If pressed, you might think that letting Heidar Helgusson go, even at 34, was a mistake. Will QPR be able to replace his goals and assists?
And while Paddy Kenny hasn't always been convincing (such as against City last season), Robert Green has a number of bloopers to his name. Why would West Ham have released him?
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Many shrewd judges rate Brian McDermott, especially his success in guiding Reading back into the Premier League.
The owners will be careful with money and, being realistic, will not want to bust the club by trying to buy success. Despite the amazing achievements of Swansea and Norwich last year, Reading must be fancied to go back down again.
Reading are now owned by a Russian billionaire who has made it clear he isn't going in for lavish spending. His interview makes Reading sound like a hobby.
Maybe he was offered some tips by the outgoing owner, Sir John Madejski, on how not to lose a fortune on a football club. Unless he's bluffing, he seems unlikely to "splash the cash."
And that may be a mistake. Reading got a creditable draw on Saturday but were pretty unimpressive, except for work-rate.
Where they are woefully short is in attacking options. While Sir Alex Ferguson can boast a world-class quad of strikers, together with two more who wouldn't go amiss at Reading (Macheda and Berbatov), Brian McDermott's resources up front and in midfield are perilously thin.
Danny Guthrie is a useful signing who will add bite in midfield, but he's not going to be a match-winner on his own.
If Reading reach Sept. 5 without further attacking ammunition, they will be a safe bet for relegation.
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If rumours from the Daily Echo are to be believed, Southampton had been after Alexander Buttner for much of the summer but baulked at a third-party payment.
Now, Manchester United have stolen in at the 11th hour and signed Buttner for a reputed £3.9 million (via the Manchester Evening News).
The Saints were mesmerising as they surged forward against Manchester City on Sunday, turning a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 advantage. The trouble was that they were paper-thin at the back and looked panic-stricken at times before finally conceding defeat.
Nigel Adkins seems more interested in signing wingers for now, when he clearly needs defensive reinforcements.
Maybe they should have pushed the boat out, swallowed their pride and signed Buttner earlier, because they may end up as "sick as a parrot" if they go straight down again.
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Michael Owen is still a relatively young man and a wealthy one, believed by the Independent to be worth at least £40 million.
He is seemingly after one last hoorah and apparently being choosy over who that is with.
After an injury catalogue at Newcastle and Manchester United, one would have to assume that any club wanting to take him on would offer a "pay-as-you-play" deal. The current favourites appear to be Everton.
But ESPN Soccernet claims Tony Pulis has supposedly been after him for maybe three years. Owen clearly wants to sign for a Premiership club, and Stoke are the only name that has been mooted until recently when Everton entered the fray.
It would be no surprise if the Toffeemen signed him, as they were his boyhood club. But how come Stoke have missed out?
Was Owen always holding out for the biggest club possible, or did Stoke fail to match Owen's ambition with the right package to which he couldn't say no?
If Peter Coates had doubts three years ago, when Owen was 29, surely those would have been greater now, especially with him having played so few games during his stay at United.
You can't blame Owen if he was looking for a permanent contract, nor could you blame Stoke if they preferred a "pay-as-you-play."
But it's not that simple for Owen. He also needs to be needed and to feel part of a family. This is what he found at United.
Because of his horse-racing business near Chester, only clubs in the North West would have appealed. When he was at Newcastle, he used to commute by helicopter.
If Everton sign him, and he produces like Louis Saha did in his first season, Stoke may regret that they didn't move heaven and earth to land one of the most naturally gifted strikers England has ever produced.
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Sunderland's biggest mistake of the summer may be leaving their signings until this late.
So far, they have only secured Louis Saha (who cannot be relied on as an ever-present) and Carlos Cuellar, who was released from his contract at Aston Villa, despite wanting to stay.
To be fair, they have been linked with a number of pricey acquisitions: Steven Fletcher from Wolves (the Daily Mail), Adam Johnson from Manchester City (Sky Sports), Joao Caminata from Porto (Sky Sports) and Aly Cissokho from Lyon (Sky Sports).
Maybe none of them will come. Fletcher is likely to leave Wolves according to Sky Sporst, but will O'Neill snare him or any of the others in the next two weeks? If not, Sunderland may not set the Premier League on fire. It's cutting it fine.
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Swansea's biggest mistake may turn out to be Joe Allen's also.
Having persuaded Brendan Rodgers to sign an exit clause preventing him returning for Swansea players, they also apparently left a clause in Joe Allen's contract allowing him to leave for one of the bigger clubs if they bid £15 million.
While his move to Liverpool may not have been in the spirit of Rodgers' contract, £15 million is a lot of money for a club that was in the championship just over a year ago.
You can't blame Allen for agreeing a move to Liverpool, especially as he has rejoined his mentor. On the evidence of Saturday's mediocre performance against West Brom, Allen may have moved too early.
Meanwhile, Swansea can hardly be complaining, having thrashed QPR 5-0 at Loftus Road.
One swallow doesn't make a summer, however, and both Swansea and Allen might have been better served by him remaining another couple of years.
Laudrup could build a team round him, and Allen could still have got a big move later on.
It's a tough call: Would you rather be a big fish in a little pond or one of many at a club that may continue to flounder?
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Frankly, Luka Modric could turn out to be a disaster for Tottenham, and not just for the obvious reasons (losing one of their two best players and their creative genius).
The mistake may be Daniel Levy's strategy of bleeding the best possible price out of the buying club (in this case almost certainly Real Madrid) and refusing to sell him to immediate competitors.
From Andre Villas-Boas' point of view, would he rather have had £25 million when he arrived or £30 million perhaps with no time to spend it?
The answer seems pretty obvious. Spurs have been unable to match Emmanuel Adebayor's demands, Jermain Defoe may well want another club, and they could theoretically be left without a striker—or possess a disgruntled one at best.
Levy played the same game with Dimitar Berbatov's last minute sale to Manchester United four years ago.
AVB must be desperate to sign a striker, but it is also about building a squad and a playing strategy. Spurs looked well-organised against Newcastle but uninspiring and, Defoe apart, unlikely to score. In the event, it was a scrambled goal anyhow.
Chelsea were turned down last January. Sir Alex would love to have signed Modric, even at £32 million.
At the moment Real Madrid seem the only option, and they are in a position to hold Spurs to ransom themselves because they are not short in the midfield department.
In the not unlikely scenario that Modric is sold on the last day, AVB could be left unable to make other than desperation buys, like Arsene Wenger a year ago. You can then expect Spurs, like Liverpool, to struggle to rebuild their previous success.
West Bromwich Albion
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Every team needs a utility player.
Paul Scharner has played every outfield position at some time in his career. At West Brom he was usually used as either a central midfield or central defender.
As Peter Odemwingie has shown, when you have a smaller squad than some (due mainly to West Brom's admirable financial prudence), you need players who are flexible and adaptable, especially when injuries come along.
Scharner also scored goals, and he brought with him 40 caps worth of experience for Austria, even though he hasn't played for them for a few years.
Let's hope West Brom don't miss his threat at set-pieces and his ability to play at the back when needed.
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I'd like to say that letting Ravel Morrison go on loan to Birmingham City was West Ham's biggest mistake. But, after luring him from Manchester United and only giving him about 10 minutes playing time last season, it doesn't look like he'll be badly missed.
If he comes back a better player, with his head screwed on, it might be a stroke of genius by Allardyce.
The Hammers' biggest mistake may be yet to come, if they spend a huge sum on trying to make key signings. Allardyce is already rumoured by Sky Sports to have had a bid of £17 million turned down for Andy Carroll.
According to Sky Sports, he hasn't given up on Matt Jarvis, even though he has had £9.5 million turned down. This is frankly ludicrous for a player who, although he was a bargain buy from Gillingham, only cost £500,000 and is unlikely to feature for England again in the near future.
Yes, Allardyce is desperate to keep West Ham in the Premier League, but as we have seen before, once a Board has approved spending at these sorts of levels, the money ends up being spent. Matt Jarvis won't keep West Ham up; Carroll might have done it, but he's not coming.
If Allardyce gets Jarvis, he might as well buy Dimitar Berbatov to get on the end of his crosses, but these are crazy amounts of money for a club that is so much in debt.
According to the Daily Mirror, Owner David Sullivan has admitted that West Ham still owe an eight-figure sum to Sheffield United for the Carlos Tevez "settlement."
In total, their last accounts revealed that they were £91 million in debt.
There is something seriously wrong when West Brom are more likely to survive with virtually no debt and a break-even profit and loss account.
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Ivan Ramis already looks like Wigan's biggest mistake after only one match.
His defending was at times crude, and his tackle on Eden Hazard was naive, to say the least.
Frankly, it is a pity that he was passed fit for the match against Chelsea. Wigan are better than they played against Chelsea who, apart from Eden Hazard and possibly Frank Lampard, didn't look particularly special.
Let's hope Roberto Martinez doesn't end up regretting persuading his countryman to join Wigan at the last moment, instead of West Ham.