With just two months of the season gone only a fool would judge the signings of the summer’s transfer market already… so here goes. Starting with the “obvious now you mention it” award for Bayern Munich’s signing of Xabi Alonso.
He has been collecting man-of-the-match awards like Panini stickers since joining, settling into Pep Guardiola’s side before anyone could say “Oktoberfest”. The nearly 33-year-old body was creaking a little at Real Madrid but it was nothing international retirement would not be able to fix. Meanwhile, because Alonso did not want to tarnish the way he is remembered at Liverpool by moving to another Premier League side, the transfer to Germany was as smooth as his midfield performances – and all this before we see him link up with the soon to be fit again Thiago Alcantara.
The “sometimes it’s right under your nose” award has to go to Barcelona for the acquisition of Jérémy Mathieu. He may be the wrong side of 30, a self-confessed occasional smoker, and anonymous enough to be mistaken for Southampton’s Morgan Schneiderlin when the French press greeted players arriving for international duty this week but Mathieu has brought all the versatility, speed of recovery and aggression Barcelona have missed since Carles Puyol and Eric Abidal departed.
They scoured the earth for replacements when all the time a two-hour drive down the east coast of Spain to Valencia would have taken them to Mathieu’s door. Barça have not conceded a goal in La Liga yet and Mathieu’s France call-up reflects that.
The “did you really turn that down?” award has to go to Arsène Wenger for his decision to pass on Cesc Fabregas. The suggestion in Munich is that when Guardiola lost Toni Kroos to Real Madrid he pinpointed Mesut Özil as a replacement. Guardiola had tried to sign Özil before at Barcelona and, such was his desire to work with him, Bayern would have paid Arsenal enough money for them then to take up their option on Fabregas. Yet Wenger refused to take back someone who had walked away from his club while giving up on Özil after just one year. Admirable? Or – in view of Fabregas’s greater suitability to the Premier League, as shown by his displays for Chelsea – just plain daft?
For the “price bordering on the extortionate but worth every penny” award it has to be Angel Di Maria. There comes a point when a player is so good it does not matter if he is not exactly what you need; he is still what you need. Di Maria has made things happen at Manchester United not just with moments of sublime skill but also with sheer drive and belief – those shots that cannon off defenders and end up as inadvertent assists. With his contribution to Argentina reaching the World Cup final, and his man-of-the-match display in the Champions League final, he should be on the Ballon d’Or podium. It has been a while since United had someone there.
The “it might have been better to have bought no one and sat on the money” award goes to Liverpool for Mario Balotelli. Imagine how the season could have started had they not bought the Italian and kept Divock Origi instead of farming the £10m Belgium striker back out on a season-long loan to Lille. Is Origi , tried and tested at the World Cup, not ready for the Premier League? Would Rickie Lambert not have responded to the show of confidence?
And finally the “after-hours signing of the season”, by which Victor Valdes could move to Liverpool. The out-of-contract goalkeeper was on the verge of becoming Spain’s No 1 when injury struck last season. He has the personality to boss Liverpool’s defence, the ability with his feet to assist their pass-and-move style and he is one of the world’s best one-on-one keepers. Rewind to 27 April last season: Demba Ba through on goal after Steven Gerrard’s slip, Valdes just might have got there.Reuse content