The Nick Townsend Column: The window pain: buy in haste, repent in penury. But there is another way

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The Independent Football

It was Arsène Wenger who, on New Year's Eve, retorted drily to the question which greets every manager during the festive season: "Tomorrow I will open my window, as I do every day. But not to make a transfer..."

Well, that remains to be seen, of course, with the Gunners temporarily silenced in front of goal, and their young midfield lacking a Vieira-like sergeant-major figure to instil authority. Thomas Gravesen is said to have excited the interest of both Wenger and Sir Alex Ferguson, who has already been at the forefront of the winter sales, laying out £12 million on Monaco's Patrice Evra and the Serb Nemanja Vidic from Spartak Moscow.

A week on since the month of opportunity began, and after a sedate start dominated, almost inevitably, by United and Chelsea (Jose Mourinho having signed his compatriot Maniche on loan), momentum is gathering. Liverpool's Rafa Benitez has also indulged in "swapsies", with Villarreal's Jan Kromkamp changing places with Josemi. Lower down the supply-and-demand chain, Neil Warnock, who used to portray himself more like a Big Issue seller lurking outside Bramall Lane than a manager, is ready to spend at least £2m on Cardiff's Cameron Jerome to reinforce his Premiership-bound Sheffield United.

It is a fascinating spectator sport. Yet, like overexcited shoppers, will these managers question the wisdom of their purchases and loans once they get them home? It is one thing a club seeking to augment beleaguered troops: Steve Bruce's dash for Celtic's giveaway but decidedly mercurial striker Chris Sutton could be the catalyst for salvation, as Christophe Dugarry was. It is a chance worth taking. But when it comes to buttressing a club's ambition, speculating to accumulate midway through a season can be a questionable calculation.

The transfer window can bring a breath of fresh air or, as Steve Coppell, the manager of Premiership-destined Reading, worries, the howling of an ill wind. Now, you or I may consider it remarkable that Coppell, whose club have a Foinavon-like advantage over all but Warnock's men, is even questioning whether to bolster his team. But with the same circumspection that makes him refuse to discuss promotion, Coppell is guarded about fracturing the team spirit which has carried his men so far.

"We have the potential to bring in new players, but whether to do so is a delicate decision because I don't want to disrupt what I have," he says, like the owner of a bone- china shop fretting about allowing too many strangers on to the premises.

His chairman, John Madejski, who prefers acquiring the works of Degas to footballers who tend to depreciate in value with age, will give him no unnecessary encouragement to depart from a cautionary stance. And that despite a recent windfall.

Suddenly, from a man who has had to "sub" his player's wages - he once showed me the stubs of a well-worn personal cheque book - Madejski is running a club in the midst of Silicon Valley with a surfeit of money and jobs in them thar hills, producing numerous come-latelys determined to acquire season tickets for next season. Madejski has already talked about adding an extra tier on the "Mad Stad", as it is known, to cope with the eager influx.

Blessed with admirable patience, Madejski bears witness to what can be achieved with seemingly modest transfers - the Irishman Kevin Doyle at £78,000 from Cork City, scorer of 11 goals, to name one - the evolution of a squad and astute management, all allied to an esprit de corps. The same formula is evident at Sheffield United, and almost certainly Leeds, Watford and Crystal Palace in the Championship, and the promoted Wigan and West Ham in the Premiership. It should be an education for all those who harbour similar ambitions.

Madejski learned his own harsh lesson on transfer deadline day 1999, when he allowed Reading's then manager, Tommy Burns, to bring in seven players in a vain attempt to stave off relegation. Whether his manager this time will yet invest beyond the England Under-17 international Scott Golbourne, who was signed from Bristol City last week, remains to be seen.

The answer will be a matter of sober analysis; not just a question of looking out of that celebrated window and seeing what's blowing in the wind.

More to Mourinho than the money

Chelsea are easy prey for the sceptics; there are aspects of their spending and attitude that suggests an indolent teenager with wealthy parents splashing out on ostentatious sports cars, some of which spend too much time in the garage.

But those who contend that Jose Mourinho has simply bought the title off the shelf could consider this question: assuming they do win the Premiership, will it be principally the result of Mourinho's main purchases - Asier Del Horno, Michael Essien, Ricardo Carvalho, Didier Drogba, Paulo Ferreira and Shaun Wright-Phillips?

Or will it be because of the presence of Claude Makelele, Joe Cole, Damien Duff, Eidur Gudjohnsen - "the blond Maradona", according to his manager - Frank Lampard, William Gallas and John Terry, who were all in situ before the Mourinho era?

Indeed, the latter quartet, who embody the team spirit at Stamford Bridge, were around even before the Abramovich revolution.

The Russian owner's largesse has meant the introduction of new players, mostly at inflated prices, but should not rather more credit be reserved for Mourinho and his successful fusion of old and new? And judging by that soporific encounter between two supposed superpowers at Highbury on Tuesday, it's as well that he has.

Unhealthy trust in belated justice

Am I alone in being troubled by the creeping preoccupation with retrospective justice in football?

What began as a kind of insurance - although only in Premiership games, covered by numerous camera angles, mind - against players getting away with heinous crimes unseen by officials has become an unhealthy obsession, with commentators and pundits assuming the powers of judge and jury.

"That was nasty. The FA will want to have a look at that," they growl. The truth is that incidents of real, premeditated malice are rare. What is disconcerting is that, rather than leaving it to the Football Association, managers such as Sam Allardyce are attempting to turn it into something akin to the perverse "citing" system that rugby union employs.

His observations about what was essentially a stumble by Liverpool's Steven Gerrard over the chest of Bolton's Kevin Nolan chest were not only unnecessary but plain wrong. Manchester City's David Sommeil is the latest on the rap sheet, although he has elected to contest the FA charge, after catching Spurs' Lee Young-Pyo on the knee last week.

His manager, Stuart Pearce, declared: "If it was a poor tackle, I will have a chat with the player and tell him it is unacceptable." That is what we really need: a manager not in denial about his own players' misdemeanours. We won't be holding our breath.

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