There must have been something in the transfer water on Merseyside because Everton and Liverpool had diabolical windows. Moises Caicedo’s wasn’t much better.
The winners are here if you want something a little cheerier…
There is a morbidly humorous paradox to what might be Everton’s final transfer window as a Premier League club for some time. The Toffees got themselves into this situation by consistently spending exorbitant sums stupidly; they must escape it with neither the money nor the pull to bring anyone else on board a sinking ship. Well, well, well… if it isn’t the consequences of your own actions.
It might be that Everton have timed their pathetic haplessness to perfection, at just the moment they could call on Sean Dyche in an act of desperation and he actually picks up the phone. Having proven his alchemy in squeezing the maximum out of precious little at Burnley, the 51-year-old faces arguably the toughest challenge of his career in the short term.
His new employers have done nothing to help him. There are few more damning indictments of a club’s lack of direction, coherent thought, cogent planning and general expertise than entering consecutive mid-season transfer window deadline days under new management. Frank Lampard was appointed on January 31 last year and had Donny van de Beek and Dele Alli frantically bestowed upon him. Dyche took the poison chalice on January 30 and Everton sourced no external antidote.
The sight of Dyche leaving Finch Farm at 9.39pm, with the only hint of Everton signings being the autographs he stopped to give masochistic supporters, was stark. The Toffees end the month weaker than they started it in terms of league position, squad strength and self-esteem, which will happen if you are beaten to the signings of Kamaldeen Sulemana, Dango Ouattara and Georginio Rutter by relegation rivals Southampton, Bournemouth and Leeds respectively, while being turned down by Conor Gallagher and pie-faced by Arnaut Danjuma, before apparently having to wonder whether bringing 33-year-old Andre Ayew in on a free is a worse idea than signing no-one at all.
In this, the highest-spending January transfer window in Premier League history, Everton could not make a single move because their past profligacy and historic negligence hamstrung them to the point of inertia. It’s almost poetic.
The Liverpool machine which could turn a transfer profit on Kevin Stewart, sell Rhian Brewster, Ki-Jana Hoever and Ovie Ejaria for £30m at the height of a financially crippling global pandemic and barely ever make a misstep in terms of incomings is broken. Their stranglehold on market mastery has become slack in every sense of the word. No sooner has the off-pitch operation which once made them extraordinary faltered, than they have become excruciatingly ordinary on it.
This time last year, the sycophantic inside stories kindly shared by those with an ear on the Anfield ground went to painstaking lengths to underline how the signing of Luis Diaz proved that Liverpool’s succession planning and long-term thinking was seamless and, until then, close to faultless.
Julian Ward, according to The Athletic, ‘led the negotiations’ as Liverpool deputy sporting director, with Michael Edwards having announced his impending resignation two months prior.
‘This kind of stealth has become synonymous with Liverpool, and is evidently set to continue under the sporting directorship of Julian Ward when Edwards exits,’ said The Independent.
‘It’s also viewed as a big feather in the cap for Ward, whose soft launch as Liverpool’s sporting director starts impressively,’ wrote the Liverpool Echo.
Even Jurgen Klopp noted his “appreciation to our ownership and football operations team for how they have managed to act so decisively to get this done”. But impressive stealth and decisiveness have been replaced by uninspiring public hesitancy and inaction.
Edwards has gone. Ward, director of research Ian Graham and some other key figures in the club’s transfer department are going. Mike Gordon, director and bridge between Klopp and FSG – the owners looking to sell the club – has stepped away from his role. Liverpool are said to be rethinking the entire model which has delivered their success and the manager has become more ‘hands-on’ with recruitment. Everything is in flux.
The shared thinking has been replaced by a disjointed muddle of ideas. The data-driven culture is dissolving quicker than Liverpool’s midfield, improvements to which have been ignored once more in favour of signing a £40m forward who is being used out of position in part to accommodate for those same midfield deficiencies.
Liverpool have had a poor January transfer window and the ramifications are profound enough to mean this summer is make or break. Klopp signed up for this period of ‘transition’ but so many eggs have been placed in the summer 2023 and Jude Bellingham baskets that the Reds will likely end up walking tentatively on the shells again.
For all the hype, conjecture and inflated valuations, Moises Caicedo suddenly finds himself slipping down the desirable midfield pecking order already.
Chelsea persisted over Enzo Fernandez when shaving £30m or so off that fee would have matched Brighton’s asking price. There was an interest in the Ecuador international from Stamford Bridge but once the transfer window reopens, Caicedo will expect to be overshadowed.
‘Caicedo is concerned that he may not get the chance to join Arsenal or Chelsea in the summer, with the clubs set to go head-to-head for West Ham captain Declan Rice at the end of the season,’ read one British tabloid line towards the end of January and those fears are hardly unfounded considering Jude Bellingham will be paraded on that very same market. Caicedo was the flavour of the month but tastier dishes will be on the next menu.
Antonio Conte and Spurs
In the pantheon of transfer misdeeds, not realising that an international loan limit exists and precludes a planned six-month excursion to Atletico Madrid for Matt Doherty, whose remaining year and a half on his contract is subsequently paid off for probably £3m or so, with Spurs having spent the entire month trying to knock off what was only ever likely to be a similar amount from Sporting’s Pedro Porro demands, which they eventually agreed to pay in instalments from this summer onwards after an initial loan deal, which leaves Emerson Royal as their second-choice right wing-back after Djed Spence was allowed to go until next season and robs them of probable back-up left wing-back Doherty, is pretty Spursy.
As is loaning Bryan Gil to Sevilla, who have now received £21.6m, Erik Lamela and Bryan Gil as a result of the July 2021 part-exchange deal which saw Spurs sign Bryan Gil.
Antonio Conte’s contract situation is the problem. The uncertainty has left Spurs trying to balance his and their needs, resulting in a pair of loans in – albeit one with an obligation to buy – the addition of a specialist wing-back who likely won’t suit the next manager’s system, an undercooked central defence, a couple of loans out with no purchase option and a handful of unsettled squad players.
When even the present is relatively unknown, it is impossible to plan for and build towards the future. Spurs need to make the call if Conte won’t.
Matt Doherty is arguably the only player Conte managed to demonstrably improve during his entire Spurs tenure, so spontaneously terminating his contract mid-season is mildly hilarious.
— Tottenham Independent Transfer Stories (@bankruptspurs) January 31, 2023
Considering how David Moyes has used the majority of his summer signings, perhaps it is no substantial problem that Danny Ings represents their only first-team addition in January, nor that the striker subsequently suffered an injury on his debut. But the £3m sale of 21-year-old Harrison Ashby tells a story about the manager’s supposed wish to focus on developing youth, while letting Craig Dawson depart for a similar fee to leave the sub-par Thilo Kehrer and injury-prone trio of Kurt Zouma, Nayef Aguerd and Angelo Ogbonna as the remaining recognised centre-halves was certainly a choice.
How much of Bournemouth’s transfer approach was steered by results is unknown. As they entered January the Cherries were 15th and while Bill Foley outlined the need to “bring in four or five new players” in December, it took them until January 19 – after goalless defeats to Man Utd and Brentford – to welcome Dango Ouattara as their first of six.
“We’re going to be active, and we need to get active quickly,” was another pledge from new owner Foley, whose takeover teased Bournemouth fans into expecting something far greater; five of their half-dozen signings were made in the final week – and, potentially more damaging, after the 1-1 home draw with Nottingham Forest.
Gary O’Neil needed the help to arrive more promptly. Bournemouth are 18th and sliding and the claim that Foley nixed a resuscitated move for Roma midfielder Nicolo Zaniolo on the grounds they had spent enough in January makes little sense considering the cost of relegation, even with at least £20m each committed to three different signings. Ouattara, Illia Zabarnyi and Hamed Traore will help their cause, but only if they settle fast enough.
Having said all that, chief executive Neill Blake wins the bluster award for extolling Darren Randolph’s “Champions League experience”. Two career appearances in either leg of a 2012/13 third qualifying round 5-0 defeat for Motherwell against Panathinaikos should inspire Bournemouth to safety from the bench.
The Premier League leaders spent more than £50m to consolidate their five-point advantage with a game in hand, while Manchester City signed another South American prospect and loaned out £60m, two-time PFA Team of the Year veteran Joao Cancelo with no replacement. Only a fool would bet against Pep Guardiola but it’s a weird way to go about things.
Hakim Ziyech and Omari Hutchinson
Some poor saps were always going to get stuck at Chelsea but a paperwork mix-up is a killer for Hakim Ziyech and 19-year-old Omari Hutchinson could really do with the minutes. It’s starting to feel like the latter probably shouldn’t have left Arsenal in July.
Twenty-eight first-team signings in one season? Pathetic. If you get that close to making it a round 30 then at least sign a couple of Ayews as free agents.