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Premier League: Defensive reinforcements dominate transfer window, but attacking talents continue to avoid English clubs

Premier League: Defensive reinforcements dominate transfer window, but attacking talents continue to avoid English clubs

Turns out there is not enough money in the rich, extravagant Premier League after all. Every transfer window brings its own storm of wealth from the island of the football elite. Yet, so careful were some that Tottenham Hotspur spent nothing all summer — the first side to do so since the window became an inextricable part of football in 2003 — while Manchester United was no more pleased despite three signings as they could not land a much-coveted centre-back.

Other clubs did better. With a few business deals still to be completed, the Premier League’s transfer business stood in the region of £1.4 billion. It is slightly down on the figure of £1.7 billion from last summer but an early end to the transfer window may have had something to do with it.

As months will pass, there will be some signings which may turn out to be panic buys; certainly there was an air of desperation about Everton’s four arrivals on deadline day. But at least the new schedule does not allow managers to recruit a ‘messianic’ figure in response to early blows.

In spite of the inept approach to transfers by some and the change to the calendar, the Premier League still has plenty of new talent to sample. A theme has emerged to the recruitments as well. After Manchester City were mocked for spending what was seen as exorbitant fees for defenders last season, seven of the ten most expensive buys this summer have been predominantly defensive-minded players.

Surprisingly, two goalkeepers head the list — list – Kepa Arrizabalaga to Chelsea, and Alisson to Liverpool. Pep Guardiola raised eyebrows in 2017 when Ederson was scooped for about £35 million, but the Brazilian goalie turned out to be one of the signings of the season. It is a measure of the impact left by City’s success across the league that clubs are no longer averse to spending big on defensive reinforcements. Liverpool’s goalkeeping troubles had been apparent for a while, and Chelsea were forced to break the record set by Alisson only three weeks ago because Thibaut Courtois had his head turned by Real Madrid. Both situations warranted a strong solution and the clubs in question were not averse to splashing the cash.

The trend sustains even when you go below the names of the two custodians. Premier League clubs have been defensively fragile for a while and this summer has brought attempts to operate the wound. Jorginho (Chelsea), Fabinho (Liverpool), Fred (Manchester United), and Lucas Torreira (Arsenal) will add more steel to their respective teams. Each of those sides is better for the defensive cover that will be provided by these acquisitions, after suffering in different ways last term.


Yet, the lack of new attacking talent shows the limits of the Premier League’s riches. For all the money in the bank, English clubs are not necessarily the first-choice for the world’s best offensive players. In this respect, the highest point of this summer’s business was the arrival of Felipe Anderson at West Ham for a club-record £33.5 million. And he does not even belong to the highest echelon of football stars in Europe.

More importantly, Cristiano Ronaldo did not make his anticipated return to England as Juventus were able to lure him away while the much sought-after Frenchman, Thomas Lemar, preferred Atletico Madrid. Even the likes of Gonzalo Higuain and Arturo Vidal stayed in Serie A. This happened in the shadow of a World Cup where Premier League stars performed remarkably well, an upturn from previous major tournaments. Clearly, that is not a crucial factor when players decide their next destination.


But of course, England’s top division is already bursting with blinding talent in the final third. Understandably, it would not be an appealing proposition for a prospective player to sit on the bench at Manchester City. But what is more stunning is that the likes of Chelsea and Manchester United failed to plug the holes in their attacking unit. Spurs too, in spite of the financial pressures imposed by a renovated White Hart Lane, have little excuse for accomplishing no business — although they did manage to attach key figures like Harry Kane and manager Mauricio Pochettino to longer-term contracts.

The biggest winner of the transfer window were, of course, Liverpool. There was much noise about the money spent by Jurgen Klopp, especially in light of his past comments which were critical of extravagant buys by his counterparts. But the debate is a red-herring as no one club can be held responsible for spending an astronomical amount on its latest bench-warmer, in the absence of a larger critique which analyses the unfair game played by the English football elite. Where all are affluent, hypocrisy is an overrated concern.

Liverpool, though, have shown themselves to be ahead of most competitors. One can add Manchester City in the Reds’ company as well. For both clubs have demonstrated that it is not about the money alone. In a league where no title contender is poor, the planning that goes into transfers can prove decisive in acquiring a player at the right time.

After last summer’s protracted saga over Virgil van Dijk, some lessons were clearly learnt at Anfield and it has resulted in flourishing activity this time around. Those behind on the learning curve right now will do well to follow Liverpool’s example. Money, after all, cannot buy everything.

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