Chelsea are unlikely to be the joyous attacking force that they were for large chunks of last season.
Jose Mourinho is obviously a great manager but his strengths lie in organising sides defensively – he needs to get results back to the levels of old, and I would anticipate a more negative approach under him.
Andre Schurrle and Marco van Ginkel are excellent young players, but that is not very Mourinho, who historically has signed experienced, proven talent. Joe Cole’s career effectively ended when Mourinho arrived at Chelsea, all the flair was rubbed out of him. Schurrle should take note.
Which makes you wonder – who is signing all these talented creative prospects at Chelsea? It doesn’t seem like Mourinho is making these decisions. Will he be submissive to Roman Abramovich’s whims again? I can see continued conflict and, certainly, a lot of frustrated playmakers, whether the new signings or existing stars like Juan Mata, Oscar and Eden Hazard.
Leopards can change their spots though, and there needs to be a nationwide shift in transfer dealings if this summer’s window is anything to go by.
A lot of foreign players seem to be avoiding the Premier League at the moment. It started with Radamel Falcao choosing Monaco, and now David Villa has snubbed a reportedly larger offer from Spurs to join Atletico Madrid. Henrikh Mkhitaryan has rejected Liverpool to join Borussia Dortmund, and Robert Lewandowski will sit out the last year of his contract to join Bayern Munich – he isn’t interested in Manchester United. Arguably Mario Gomez has slipped through the net too, electing to join Fiorentina when English clubs were sniffing about.
There are different reasons for all of these rejections of England – in some cases players prefer to stay local as it is a World Cup year.
Villa is a case in point – he should be starting for Spain but isn’t, so why risk a move abroad (which his style may not suit) and potentially miss out on Brazil? Generally, Spanish players may view moving to England with suspicion this summer. Vicente del Bosque would prefer his players to be at Liga clubs, playing the Spanish style and getting first-team football.
Thiago Alcantra is looking less and less likely to move to Manchester United as a result. Reluctant to leave Barcelona, he wants first team football for sure – but he will look at the mini-nightmare Shinji Kagawa has had and think ‘can I risk this now?’ Certainly his stock has never been higher after some fantastic performances for Spain’s U21 team. You would imagine Del Bosque having a word with Thiago – after all, Spain’s midfield looked knackered at the Confederations Cup, and with Xavi’s legs not as willing as they were, someone has to make those late runs from midfield.
Moving away from Spain and, for foreign players looking for a big move, there are factors that countries other than England can fill.
Over the last decade or so we have been used to the Premier League’s cash being able to blow everyone apart from Real, Barca and Bayern out of the water.
Europe is much more competitive in the transfer market now, and not just financially.
If it’s a massive payday you’re really after, Russia is no longer the only option – oil money has turned PSG and Monaco into major, major players, as Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Falcao will testify.
If it’s high-octane football with passionate support you’re really after, Germany has now trumped England for that. The clubs are better run, the money almost as good, and the crowds arguably better. Dortmund being a case in point – they are a blue-collar side who had a moment of glory in the 90s, but they have returned to the top simply by being well-run and having passionate support. They are self-sufficient, here to stay, and not the only ones when you look at Leverkusen, Schalke and all the smaller teams like Eintracht Frankfurt, Gladbach and Mainz.
Of course, clubs like Manchester United, City and Chelsea are still hugely competitive in the transfer market – but they are no longer guaranteed first-choice of players.
Liverpool and Spurs will struggle because they cannot offer Champions League football – we’ve seen this with Mkhitaryan and, in addition to the World Cup question, Villa.
History was a big thing when I was a player, but nowadays you have to be in the Champions League – and ideally in the latter stages – to get the most lucrative sponsorship deals.
When I played your wage was your main income, but these days it is just part of the income. The club alone is no longer the only factor – what they can bring you is now hugely important. This may well have been a factor for Gomez, who plumped for Fiorentina despite them having not been great in recent years. But they are in Europe next season, so they automatically move to the head of the queue.
Clearly the Premier League is suffering in the transfer market – for a multitude of reasons, many of which are out of its control.
Perhaps it is a victim of its own success – because teams are not built up of local players, there is no clearly defined style in the league. It is at the whim of individual managers, who are usually foreign, and who in turn will look to players of their own football or cultural heritage.
The solution is for English clubs to turn to their own youth. Not only is it cheaper and more sustainable, but it creates an identity, a culture. While there is a technical deficiency, that can be coached away if the top-quality staff at Premier League clubs switch their attention from the superstar imports to those coming through youth systems. For that you probably need more British managers – Sir Alex Ferguson trusted British and Irish players and that was key to United’s long-term success.
That’s what teams in Germany, Spain and even Italy did when they were getting blown out of the transfer market by English clubs, and it did all right for them didn’t it?