Only five days to go until the end of the transfer window, and thank goodness for that. With only a week to go I cannot imagine what some managers have been up to when you look at them signing six or seven players. For whatever reason you just cannot get off the phone this month. It is non-stop from 1 January to the last minute. Whether it is working on players coming in or players going out I've been inundated. It got to the stage where I had to start writing everything down: I could not remember which agent was with which player.
It is not just January, either. You start being inundated with DVDs and videos from agents in October. We have probably had nearly 50 sent to us, all about foreign players. Unless it comes from someone I trust, who has already told me about the player, I pass them on to Mick Jones, my assistant manager, or Alan Gemmill, the chief scout, to plough through. If they think it is someone we might be interested in, then I will have a look.
I like to watch full games on video myself. It can be pretty monotonous but you get a better picture of what someone can do. A lot of them now, though, are highlights packages. Agents cleverly put all the best bits of a player on DVD and it makes the player appear the best thing since sliced bread. You start thinking: "Why on earth does this player want to play for us?" and "Why are his club prepared to let him go?"
We've seen some cracking videos, we can't believe our eyes with some of them. It's all great goals and saves, strikers getting on the end of crosses, keepers diving at people's feet. You don't see too many holding midfielders, you can't see on a highlights video what Claude Makelele does for his team.
If we fancy a player, then it is a case of getting on a plane. Mick or Alan will go first. If they like what they see, I'll go and have a look. I don't believe in signing players by video. I know some managers say they have to, but I remember a player I did take a gamble on, a back-up keeper. The video, which was set to the most fantastic music, made him look like the next Gordon Banks. Unfortunately, over the next few months, after we took him on, it became obvious the bits on the video were his only good catches and saves.
The next step is to get them over if possible for a trial. You can now get good players who will come for a week as they are so desperate to play here. It helps that many leagues have a break for winter or, like Ireland and Scandinavia, are out of season.
We'll also take a bit of advice and do some research. Rothmans Football Yearbook used to be the bible, and I'm sure Mick still uses it, but it's no good for the foreign players.
A lot of the information is on the Internet now: there are professional scouting networks, one of which we subscribe to. You also get to know people who will give you an honest, informed opinion, even though they work for someone else. One of the most knowledgeable is Martin Ferguson, Alex's brother. You can ring him up and ask him about any player in Europe. It doesn't cut across his work for Alex: there's no way any club I've been at will be competing with Manchester United for a player.
I'm mainly looking at English players. At Palace we can still get them. When I was in the Premier League with Sheffield United the players capable of playing at that level carried extortionate prices, so you had to look overseas.
I'm happy with the business we've done. We've tied up two players who were on loan, Clint Hill and Shaun Derry, brought in John Halls from Reading on loan, and this week picked up Neil Danns from Birmingham City, my first "big money" signing. I might do some more, but the good thing is I've not needed to be as busy as I thought when I arrived. I figured I'd be looking for up to eight players, but the kids I've brought in have done well, and the senior players have also responded.
Neil's a smashing lad, who will fit in well. We need goals from midfield and competition for places does encourage the lads. The fact he cost a bit doesn't get him a place in the team. We're on a good run and I told him while I think he will be a good asset I can't guarantee a place because of the way the team are playing. He has come knowing that but he's been standing still career-wise since leaving Colchester and you can already see in training his desire to make a good impression.
2. Cole's goal inverts commentator's curse
I was out on Wednesday and tuned in to the Everton-Chelsea match on the radio. Graham Taylor was co-commentator. I love listening to him. He and David Pleat know what they are talking about, they tell you things the ordinary viewer, or listener, would not notice.
In the second half Graham was talking about how disappointed he was in Joe Cole's contribution. In the space of a few minutes it was, "Ball from Malouda ... oh what a fantastic finish! That's sent Chelsea to Wembley." Normally it's the other way, commentators praise someone and they give a goal away.
The actual commentators were saying they couldn't believe David Moyes' tactics in playing just Andy Johnson up front. They ought to manage a team which has to play these top clubs. If you play 4-4-2 and have a go, nine out of 10 times you'll concede on the break and the game's over. By the sound of it Davie got it right. If Peter Cech had not been in goal Everton would have scored.
I remember when we beat Arsenal 1-0 at Bramall Lane last year. It was a fantastic night. I listened to a phone-in the next night and someone said: "I can't understand Warnock's tactics. I know we won, but he was so negative."
3. Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner...
What was it Kevin Keegan said last week? "Up north people go to football, down south they go to the theatre. "I've only been in London a few months and I'm concerned I've gone native. Instead of going to a match today, I'm off to a show. At this rate I'll soon be having jellied eels for tea instead of chip butties.Reuse content