By Paul Gardner
Utterly exhausted as I am by the incredible nail-biting, heart-stopping, nerve-wrenching, mind-boggling excitement of the final hours of the transfer window in England, I feel the necessity of revealing to you all the fabulous excitement of these tension-wracked 24 hours.
Where to begin? How about this, to start the cardiac arrest process: Fulham announces the signing of Elsad Zverotic. Just before the deadline, of course. Here’s something else that also came in late, but this time it’s bristling with names we recognize: Arsenal’s Arsene Wenger has finally spent some money and signed Mesut Ozil from Real Madrid, for $64 million.
This is rated as “a major signing” I note. Not least because Arsenal hasn’t signed anyone major for ages. So we can put to rest the absurd notions that Wenger was seriously considering signing a Latin player, that he was really interested in Luis Suarez or Gonzalo Higuain or Angel di Maria. Pah -- everyone knows Wenger won’t sign Latinos. So, enter Ozil who has been playing like a drain lately, massively overshadowed at Real by a suddenly brilliant Luka Modric.
Ozil, it seems, will be all that Arsenal needs to return to the ranks of big clubs that actually win something. We’ve sure as hell heard that before, but don’t laugh, maybe it’ll work this time, and Wenger’s Franco-German alliance will pay off. Anyway, there’s more to tell of Arsenal, which has signed Italian goalkeeper Emiliano Viviano on a season-long loan deal from Serie B club Palermo. That ought to do it.
Rampant excitement, too, at the bottom end of the EPL, where newcomer Crystal Palace left it to the final day to add Scottish midfielder Barry Bannan, defender Adrian Mariappa, right back Jack Hunt, and winger Jimmy Kebe. I’d refer you to the Palace website if you want to know who those players actually are.
Back we go, breathlessly, to the big guys, to find that Manchester United has loaned midfielder Nick Powell to Wigan Athletic. Maybe ManU has acquired Everton’s Marouane Fellaini, which might count as a big deal, except that the last-minute deal seems, for the moment, to lack a last-minute confirmation.
Then we have an explosion of incredible trades for you. You’re sitting down? Right -- West Brom has broken its transfer record to sign Sunderland forward Stephane Sessegnon; Liverpool has signed central defenders Mamadou Sakho and Tiago Ilori, plus forward Victor Moses on loan; Aston Villa has signed Czech Republic striker Libor Kozak; and Cardiff City has signed striker Peter Odemwingie.
Wow! I mean ... Sessegnon, Sakho, Ilori, Kozak, headline names if ever there were any.
There’s a lot more of this amazing stuff -- I could regale you with the tidings that Stoke City has loaned midfielder Michael Kightly to Burnley, that Niko Kranjcar is now a QPR player, and that Romelu Lukaku, fresh from his botched penalty kick that cost Chelsea the UEFA Super Cup, has gone on loan to Everton. Then there’s Leicester City striker Marko Futacs ... but maybe not.
The biggest trade of the lot was hardly a surprise as it has been a regular feature of the rumor mill for weeks, if not months. Real Madrid rolled out the big bucks and captured Gareth Bale from Spurs. A world-record $128 million is what they paid. And before the crypto-moralizers butt in with “he’s not worth it, no player is worth that much,” let me point out that, in the celebrity world (of which soccer is now indisputably a part) an individual is worth whatever people are willing to pay him. Hollywood star salaries have always been obscene; Bale’s $450,000 a week comes under the same heading, especially in Spain, a recession-hit country with 6 million unemployed.
Real Madrid is taking a risk here -- signing a British player on a 6-year contract. Fact is that British players have never traveled well, have rarely been successful in foreign climes. Real Madrid should know that -- despite enormous hype, David Beckham never came over as an outstanding player for Real. But he did, we’re informed, sell a lot of shirts.
The problem for the Brits seems to be cultural. They don’t, or won’t, or cannot learn foreign languages for a start. In the early 1960s when a batch of top British players, including Denis Law and Jimmy Greaves, left for Italy, their sojourns didn’t last long (Law played 27 games for Torino, Greaves 12 games for AC Milan). Often, the players’ wives get blamed for the inability to “settle in.” One wonders about that.
Greaves was English, Law was Scottish. But Bale is Welsh, and that might be significant. Because the one Brit who did make it, big time, as a player in Europe was John Charles, who spent four hugely successful years with Italy’s Juventus.
Oh -- and this just in: to complete this saga of blockbuster trades, Shane Long is moving from West Brom to Hull City. I think.