The Nick Townsend Column: Can Curbs' Not So Magnificent Seven be a match for Harry's Pompey Nine?

Biscuit barrels of cash, with no certainty it will have any effect
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The Independent Football

Perhaps it was unkind, but you had to smile at Glenn Roeder's attempt to get his tongue around the name of his loan signing Oguchi Onyewa. Yet somehow the moment did encapsulate the scepticism most of us have about purchases made in the January window. Roeder finally appeared satisfied with his pronunciation, even if he made the player sound like an Irish designer label.

No doubt Roeder is fully conversant with the attributes of the American from Standard Liège. Just as the Wigan manager, Paul Jewell, is familiar with the qualities of Julius Agahowa, a player who Harry Redknapp, a past master at browsing the market stalls of available footballers, says "can rip you apart on his day", even if he then proceeds to ask the somewhat mischievous follow-up question: "How many times has he been watched playing for Shakhtar Donetsk in Ukraine?"

Mystery will surround many of the new names appearing on some clubs' next teamsheet, ranging from those who are deemed "for the future" to others very definitely designed to make an impact before the season's end - or, to put it another way, signed as sheer acts of desperation as fear stalks the lower reaches of the Premiership.

Last year, of course, Redknapp had embarked on his own mega-spree. And he had the last laugh, too, with his band of nine conscripts. It has merely encouraged the others; not so much at Charlton, whose purchases have been modest and whose most positive act has been to place a preservation order on Darren Bent, or Watford, who have effectively conceded their status with the sale of Ashley Young, but definitely the panic buyers of West Ham United.

The beauty, or if you like the craziness, of our system is that it does allow owners, chairmen and managers to throw biscuit barrels of cash - in the case of the Hammers' chairman, Eggert Magnusson - at transfer targets, with absolutely no certainty at all that it will have any effect.

Bolton's manager, Sam Allardyce, has alluded to the panic created and the inflationary effect on both transfers and wages "that is dangerous to a club like ours". But such economic considerations will not trouble Alan Curbishley, whose record is no improvement on that of his predecessor at West Ham, Alan Pardew. He was forced to move, though one has to question whether his acquisition of Matthew Upson, Luis Boa Morte, Callum Davenport, Nigel Quashie, Lucas Neill and Kepa Blanco is predominantly gesture politics designed to impress the new owners.

The last purchase, Upson, went on parade in a footballer's favoured off-field of attire: torn jeans. Combat trousers could have been considered more appropriate, with pockets stuffed full of cash. And a get-me-out-of-here-immediately card, in the event of relegation. Reputedly.

Other managers, from the elite who largely have refrained from buying (Manchester United's signing of Henrik Larsson on loan is arguably the best deal of the window) to those in mid-table, who have speculated more cautiously, can have afford to indulge in some enjoyable rubber-necking as they listen to Curbishley's self-justification. "I don't think we've been held to ransom. I don't think we've been outrageous," says the West Ham manager, whose sentiments have been about as risible as Upson's claim that Birmingham's agreement to sell him was purely "a business decision" on their part.

West Ham's Yul Brynner, who, himself included, has amassed more of a So-so Seven than one of genuine Magnificence, with those hirelings recruited at a premium, may emulate Pompey's feat of last season, when Harry Redknapp's nine preserved the club's Premiership status. But then many would have opined that West Ham had a decent chance of survival anyway, particularly if Dean Ashton is available again this season.

But there is a simple equation which applies in football: new owners + new manager = new signings. Hence Aston Villa and West Ham have been the most prodigious spenders. However, Martin O'Neill, whose team are still shy of safety, can be said to have invested for the future, even though the £8 million (which could rise to £9.65m) spent on Watford's Young still appears an extravagance.

Young, of course, could also have joined Curbishley. A deal between the clubs had been agreed. What the 21-year-old did not desire was immediately to be thrust into a relegation scrap, having experienced more than enough of that misery already at Vicarage Road.

One senses that Young has enhanced his career by working under O'Neill. Whether that is true of the gifted Gareth Bale's decision to remain at Southampton is open to question. The suspicion is that the Saints were primarily looking out for themselves when they endeavoured to agree an 18-month loan-back deal with a Premiership club. The Championship side simply desired to retain him for as long as possible, yet still be guaranteed a substantial return.

True, we are familiar with the tribulations suffered by Shaun Wright-Phillips and, maybe more appositely given the club involved, Theo Walcott, but surely a talented teenager with ambition needs to place his future in the hands of a Martin Jol or a Sir Alex Ferguson and enhance his abilities now rather than become involved in a scrap for promotion which may not necessarily be all about quality.

So, Bale was not among the 496 deals in total during this window, 147 involving Premiership clubs, who spent £60m. The only thing for sure is that the Mr Fifteen-per-cents will have been laughing. By season's end, who else will be doing so?

Americans have a field day, and an Anfield day

They appeared unlikely bedfellows, Liverpool FC and Dubai International Capital. But then not too many concerns eschew Sheikh Mohammed's money. Not least because most can't afford to do so. Just as crucially, his name is a byword for honourable dealings. Whether Liverpool and their chairman, David Moores, live to rue the day they lost the opportunity of a takeover by Sheikh Mohammed's DIC when the board considered an enhanced bid for their shares by an alliance of American tycoon George Gillett and Tom Hicks, the George Bush-backing Texan who brings us, among other things, Weetabix, remains to be seen.

Takeovers are rarely clean-cut affairs, with their elements of brinkmanship. The upshot is that once again the Yanks are coming - with a £450 million deal. Three of England's big-gest clubs, Manchester United, Aston Villa and now Liverpool, are in American hands. One can only imagine the chagrin of the Sheikh's associate Sameer Al Ansari, a Liverpool fanatic who persuaded the ruler of Dubai, not by nature a football follower, to stake his interest. When a Dubai source declared that "the Maktoums had a verbal agreement and a handshake from Mr Moores and they thought they had a deal", be assured that was how they expected to do business.

Gillett and Hicks now appear to have the field to themselves to acquire an established English "franchise"; one the former may presumably regard as the best a man can get. Though the Dubai source reportedly claims Gillett "would not know Liverpool from a hole in the ground", Rafa Benitez will be primarily concerned that revenue for reinforcements should be forthcoming. His only other wish isthat there should be no interference.

For all the initial condemnation, Malcolm Glazer's cross-Atlantic stance has been beneficial at Old Trafford. Sir Alex Ferguson has apparently had no cause for complaint.

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