The shopping days left till Christmas are disappearing fast, and that John Lewis advert is already well into its journey from somewhat moving to thoroughly irritating. But for most Premier League managers, December will be spent thinking not about what brand of perfume to get the wife, but rather which new players they can spend their owners’ money on in the January transfer window.
The newspapers are already full of rumours, of course, most of them almost certainly ludicrous. How I yearn for the good old days when we could rely on the unflinching accuracy of a tabloid newspaper report, safe in the knowledge that hacking into a voicemail message might be immoral and illegal, but at least what you got from it was true. We’ll leave Lord Leveson to figure that one out, while we contemplate the implications of the many possible deals for the race for the Premier League title, as well as those coveted Champions League places.
The golden rule of transfer speculation seems to be that the more trouble a club is in, the greater its desperation for new players. That is surely why Arsenal, despite improved form in recent games, are linked with more acquisitions than any other club. Failure to finish in the top four would be a disaster, almost certainly bringing Arsene Wenger’s tenure as manager to an end. Defence would appear to be the priority, with Arsenal having conceded more goals this season than any other club in the top half of the table, bar Norwich. Thus, they are linked centre-back Jan Vertonghen of Ajax and defensive midfielders Yann M’Vila of Rennes, Etienne Capoue of Toulouse, Daniele de Rossi of Roma.
Not that Wenger is ignoring new attacking options. Arsenal’s increasing dependence on Robin van Persie must be considered a strategic weakness, so it is no surprise to see them linked to strikers Lukas Podolski of Cologne and Senegal’s Moussa Sow, currently at Lille as well as winger-come-striker Kevin Grosskreutz of Borussia Dortmund. Wenger may also still feel the need to fill the hole left by Cesc Fabregas. His replacement Mikel Arteta – bought in something of a panic in the last transfer window – hasn’t exactly failed, but nor has he succeeded in filling Cesc’s boots. A couple of attacking midfield options are apparently being lined up: Josep Ilicic of Palermo and Mario Gotze of Dortmund, although each might cost anything up to £30 million.
Chelsea are not that far behind the Gunners. To mount any serious title challenge in the next few years they are in need of some serious re-building, as an ageing core left over from the Jose Mourinho era has been supplemented with a hotchpotch of additions from his five managerial successors. The only question is whether Roman Abramovich has enough faith left in Andre Villas-Boas to hand over his chequebook to him again.
It is clear that some are on their way out of Stamford Bridge, with former strike partners Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka both linked to a host of clubs, including Milan, super-rich Russians Anzhi Makhachkala, and possibly even Spurs. Several strikers have been mentioned as replacements, including Gonzalo Higuain of Real Madrid, Kevin de Bruyne of Genk, and Ricky van Wolfswinkel of Sporting Lisbon (surely the best-named player in world football today). There are frailties at the back to address, too. Bolton’s Gary Cahill seems destined to arrive at some point, with AVB allegedly also looking at defenders Alvaro Pereira of Porto and Diego Godin of Atletico Madrid, as well as Valencia’s defensive midfielder Mehmet Topal.
Liverpool have the next longest list. Kenny Dalglish’s spending in the summer hasn’t quite panned out as expected, but John Henry can probably be convinced to let him have another go. Kenny could be tempted to take advantage of the financial woes of neighbours Everton, with possible interest in both Leighton Baines and Seamus Coleman. But with Steven Gerrard’s ongoing injury problems, and now Lucas ruled out for the season, central midfield must be the priority: Philippe Coutinho of Inter Milan and Seydou Keita of Barcelona have been mentioned. A lack of goals this season also needs to be rectified: one rumoured striking target is David Villa, who has apparently fallen out with Lionel Messi at Barcelona.
At the other end of the spectrum, two clubs having fine seasons appear to have quiet Januarys planned. Newcastle United aren’t going to let their early success go to their heads – certainly not while Mike Ashley remains in charge, anyway. There is talk, however, of continuing the successful ‘Buy French’ strategy, with Auxerre’s Alain Traore and Montpellier’s Olivier Giroud possibly on their way to the Sports Direct Arena.
Meanwhile, Manchester City can’t avoid being associated with every player who has ever fluttered his eyelids at a passing oil billionaire, although the need to ensure compliance with UEFA’s financial fair play rules will limit spending. The aforementioned Yann M’Vila and Mehmet Topal have been linked, both defensive midfielders. Gossips are probably latching onto the relative lack of clean sheets for City this season compared to last, although they’re failing to comprehend that Mancini doesn’t have a shortage in this department – he’s just choosing to play a team full of strikers instead.
The biggest story at the Etihad Stadium this winter will probably be Carlos Tevez’s final destination: both Milan clubs are sniffing around, no doubt expecting a discounted price, although Juventus have ruled themselves out. Seeing him link up with Robinho at AC Milan would be interesting, allowing City fans to ponder a “what might have been” scenario involving the club’s current and former record signings. When I let my imagination run away with me, I conjure up a swap deal involving Tevez joining Barcelona, with David Villa moving in the opposite direction.
It’s at least as likely to happen as Tevez feeling less homesick in Italy than he does in England, and David Villa lowering himself to join a club that ultimately wasn’t ambitious enough for Fernando Torres. (NB This does not constitute the start of a new rumour. Or does it? These things have to start somewhere.)
Manchester United aren’t exactly having a poor season, but the pressure to catch up to their neighbours may tempt Sir Alex Ferguson to spend splash. With Javier Hernandez possibly out for a while with an ankle injury, the anticipated departure of Dimitar Berbatov – to Galatasary or Anzhi Makhachkala – could be postponed, but perhaps not if Ferguson buys either Alejandro Pozuelo from Real Betis, Miroslav Klose from Lazio, or Chelsea target Ricky van Wolfswinkel. The need for a playmaker to replace Paul Scholes has also been apparent for some time, with Rasmus Elm of AZ Alkmaar, Christian Eriksen of Ajax, and Inter Milan’s Wesley Sneijder (still) all being discussed.
And then there’s Spurs, a club whose contradictions make it difficult to predict how they will approach the transfer window. After failing to keep hold of a Champions League place last season, it was reasonable to expect an exodus from the club. Luka Modric almost joined Chelsea in the summer, and this move could easily have been resurrected. Gareth Bale, meanwhile, was touted as a Barcelona target a few weeks ago. But such has been Spurs’ form of late that neither departure now seems likely. Bale might eventually feel the need to move on, but Modric must surely be thankful that Daniel Levy helped him dodge a bullet by keeping him away from Stamford Bridge.
Instead, Spurs must now be thinking of new investment. This window will be their last opportunity to use Harry Redknapp’s famed wheeler dealer skills, should England come calling in the summer, and they have been linked with players in nearly every position. At the back, they are eyeing Sporting Lisbon’s Joao Pereira and might compete with Arsenal for Jan Vertonghen. In midfield, they might go for Josip Ilicic (another rumoured Arsenal target), Borja Valero of Valencia or Blackburn’s Junior Hoilett. Up front, Anelka or Drogba might arrive from Chelsea, while Leandro Damio of Internacional has also been mentioned. Finally they might try to beat you-know-who (you can tell they really want to win that North London mini-league) to the signature of Lukas Podolski.
And there we have it, or at least some of it. If even half of these moves do go through, the stimulus to the British economy would be so large as to eliminate George Osborne’s troublesome structural deficit overnight. And if there’s one thing we all want more than a new Moldovan left-back or a Paraguayan holding midfielder at our football clubs, it’s the return of stability in our nation’s public finances. Let’s get spending.