By Paul Gardner
All the noise and the breathless hyped-up drama surrounding the closing of the transfer window seem to me to have raised an intriguing question: is the soccer world’s superstar market drying up?
From the television screen comes exhaustive coverage of frantic last-minute deals in the English Premier League ... plenty of names to ponder, but there’s no escaping that mostly this is merely a reshuffling of players who are already playing for EPL clubs.
Given that the EPL has established itself as the chief importer of star players this is rather surprising. Where are the big names? Briefly, there aren’t any. There are a lot of not-quite-big names, or were-once-going-to-be big names in the news. Bobby Zamora, for instance -- moving from Fulham to Queens Park Rangers. Louis Saha, from Everton to West Ham. Wayne Bridge from Manchester City to Sunderland.
Great stuff, eh? To keep up the excitement, here are some more names involved in moves throughout Europe: Srdjan Lakic, Simone Padoin, Pavel Pogrebnyak, Kevin de Bruyne, Vedad Ibisevic, Angelo Palombo. So it is not just the EPL owners who are reluctant to spend big money or make big moves.
If you’re looking for the next great South American star who’s on his way to Europe, you’ll have to make do with Internacional’s Juan, signed by Inter Milan. Juan is 20 years old.
Talking of South American stars, Carlos Tevez does not feature in any of this activity. So a wonderful player who really is a big star, sits around -- as he has done now for four months -- doing nothing while his club Manchester City could certainly use him and many others would like to “secure his services.” But ManCity won’t use him because of coach Roberto Mancini’s hot-headed vow that Tevez will never play for the club again. Not one of the saner coaching decisions of recent times.
Mancini, looking for some sort of strengthening for his wobbling team, has actually turned to South America. Almost. The guy he’s bringing in, midfielder David Pizarro, is Chilean but he’s been playing in Italy for six years. Pizarro is a 32 year old, and he’s been signed on loan. Hardly a blockbuster deal.
The big Spanish duo of Real Madrid and Barcelona don’t figure in this transfer activity at all. Manchester United’s most significant move was to ignore the transfer market altogether, and to bring the 37-year-old Paul Scholes out of retirement.
So what is all the hype about? Nothing, really. Just another example of the extent to which the demand for constantly exciting soccer news has outstripped the ability of the sport to supply it.
We’ve just lived through one such example right here, with the absurdly inflated importance that MLS likes to attach to its SuperDraft. Now the Europeans are going through the same motions, trying to convince the world that a rather tame series of last-second signings is going to shake up things over there.
The truth evidently is that clubs are feeling a financial pinch and are simply not willing to shell out the money needed for major transfers at this time of the year -- in the middle of the season.
If that is what is happening, then it could represent the long-awaited and oft-predicted arrival of financial sanity in the soccer world. Possibly this is connected with the UEFA reforms - Michel Platini’s reforms - that are to be introduced in 2014. Reforms that, basically, are designed to stop super-wealthy clubs (think Manchester City and Chelsea -- but possibly also Real Madrid) operating at a perpetual deficit, depending on their owners’ willingness to accept huge losses, or on the banks’ willingness to float huge loans.
That pro soccer is unbalanced in virtually all the main soccer countries is without doubt. A small group of top clubs rule. In this, the sport is merely reflecting a world in which unbridled capitalism has been allowed to run riot, funneling ever more riches into the pockets of the rich. I wish the UEFA reformers luck, while reminding myself that attempts to legislate the activities of the super-rich never meet with much success.
Maybe soccer is ready for another bout of fan activity. What was that rather unpleasant-looking guy doing handcuffing himself to a goalpost during yesterday’s Everton-Manchester City game? Could that have marked the beginning of an Occupy Soccer movement?
As the curtain descended on the final minutes of the “January transfer window”, one would have thought that the truth had already sunk in that this was all much ado about nothing. Not a hope. There were the trusty Brit television commentators talking to a young man sitting in the front passenger seat of a car.
At last -- a major signing to announce! Not quite. The boy looked shy and embarrassed at the attention he was getting. Which was greatly to his credit. This was Australian teenager Ryan Williams being asked how he felt about his move from Portsmouth to Fulham for “an undisclosed fee.”