Chelsea to set transfer pace as beautiful game begins festive season

Despite gloomy predictions from the analysts and financiers, this summer promises more significant arrivals - and departures from - Premiership clubs. Jason Burt reports
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The Independent Online

Being a football agent, said Jon Smith, one of the leading purveyors of the profession, is "like being a toy manufacturer. You have three months in which to do all your business," said Smith, "and, like Christmas, you have to be careful that you are not left with too bad a hangover."

Being a football agent, said Jon Smith, one of the leading purveyors of the profession, is "like being a toy manufacturer. You have three months in which to do all your business," said Smith, "and, like Christmas, you have to be careful that you are not left with too bad a hangover."

That festive season starts in earnest today and the signs are that it will - despite early expectations from analysts and financiers - be a busy summer once more. The tone, as has been the case for the past couple of years, is likely to be set by Chelsea. It will not be as hectic as last year, when their manager Jose Mourinho arrived, or the year before when Roman Abramovich took over, while the value of transfers is likely to be half of what it was. But there will be some significant business.

"What happens is that one or two players come out and that leads to the shake-up," said Smith, who is chief executive of the First Artist Corporation, one of the big five agencies, of the market in general.

This time round those players are likely to include Scott Parker and Mikael Forssell, while Chelsea are due to sign Asier Del Horno, for up to £12m, although, it has transpired, they continue to monitor another left-back while negotiations are being undertaken.

That's £22m worth of business straight away before the possible departures of the much-in-demand Carlo Cudicini as well as Geremi, Mateja Kezman, Hernan Crespo, Juan Sebastian Veron and William Gallas are dealt with. And for almost every departure there will, of course, be an arrival.

But, for once, it's not all about Chelsea and it's not difficult to identify the clubs who need to do business. The underachieving Newcastle United have already released a number of players and their manager Graeme Souness, under pressure himself, has been given a mandate for change even if, in truth, the club could do with generating some cash from the sale of Craig Bellamy - and possibly Shay Given - first.

Both are men in demand but Bellamy is one wanting to bide his time over a move, which will only irritate their chairman Freddy Shepherd further.

Arsenal desperately need a goalkeeper as do Manchester United - which is where Cudicini and Given may come in, as well as Southampton's Antti Niemi and Norwich City's Robert Green, while many believe that Wigan Athletic and Sunderland require a "whole team" and that Southampton will sell, Portsmouth will buy. Aston Villa also need to impress, with a new striker, and Mark Hughes is keen to change things at Blackburn Rovers while Charlton Athletic's Alan Curbishley knows he needs an overhaul and the introduction of new strikers. A surprise spender could be Ken Bates' Leeds United from the Championship.

Everton have tried to get their transfers completed early. While other managers are on the beaches of Mauritius and Majorca, David Moyes knows that he has a huge rebuilding job to do for the Champions' League and has been admirably busy.

Across Stanley Park, the Liverpool chief executive Rick Parry has revealed that manager Rafael Benitez has presented him with a daunting wish-list in the wake of the Champions' League triumph.

Whether Liverpool have the cash to fulfil it is another matter and one that many in the industry doubt unless they can move players on first.

At Birmingham City - a perennially busy club - manager Steve Bruce said he is taking a different tack this year. "Last year I was very active, very quickly, with Muzzy [Izzet], Emile [Heskey] and Julian [Gray] in the bag by the end of May, but I don't think that will be the case this year. I have a list of players I would like to sign this summer, but it is not a big list, and certainly not as big as last summer's list." Bruce said he wants "three players" and is prepared to wait to get them but conceded that the big clubs dictate the market. "We'll be governed by what the big clubs do first," he said. "We'll look at what the Chelsea situation is, what the Newcastle situation is, and Tottenham have got 40-odd players on their books."

Spurs will indeed be busy, as they were last year and in January, and have taken the approach of striking early with the strikers in the hope of landing Crystal Palace's Andy Johnson and off-loading Robbie Keane. Neither move has transpired as yet, but their sporting director Frank Arnesen is a seasoned, global deal-maker.

It is the way the market has gone. "There is more and more choice out there," said agent Barry Silkman who expects a summer as busy as last year's. "And there are more agents as well which means there are more names circulated. The market has been getting bigger for years but, still, some clubs don't have very good connections."

It is easy, therefore, for them to make mistakes and Dan Jones, a partner in the sports business group at Deloitte Touche, said he expected caution. "It will be a much more subdued market not least because there is not a big tournament this year in which players can be showcased. In 2005 we don't have that," he said. "It's an in-between year."

Interestingly, he agreed with the agents that "big deals" these days amount to £8m while the norm is around £2m and more players will be traded for free while deals of £4m will be deemed increasingly noteworthy.

"There was a clear downward trend until Abramovich came in at Chelsea," Jones said. "But we now think that the temporary boost is done. The market will slow and calm down this summer."

He expects there to be around £100m worth of players arriving in the Premiership. "The big players still command the big fees, but the Bosman ruling changed everything." There was no need, he said, for some clubs to pay any transfer fees at all.

Jones maintained that Chelsea have been "good for the game". "They have introduced another club into the mix at the top," he said. "Other people are not trying to fight Chelsea in terms of spending power, because that would be pointless. It's not a winnable battle. You have to fight on other ground and you can see they are doing that."

Itchy feet: Three players in demand

* 1 CRAIG BELLAMY

Likely to leave Celtic and, despite interest from a host of Premiership clubs, led by Aston Villa, Birmingham City and Blackburn Rovers, will bide his time. He is hoping for Liverpool or a team assured of Champions' League football. His best bet may be Everton but there will be no shortage of offers - except from St James' Park.

* 2 ANDY

JOHNSON

Feeling is that the Crystal Palace striker will end up back in the West Midlands even though he has four more years on his contract and declarations that he will stay. But, despite interest from his former club Birmingham City and West Bromwich Albion, it is likely to be Aston Villa. However, Tottenham Hotspur are strong rivals and have already had one offer rejected.

* 3 MICHAEL ESSIEN

The Ghanaian midfielder has long interested the top clubs in the Premiership and it seems that Chelsea's London location - and cash as well as cache - will win out ahead of Arsenal and Manchester United, who are not so keen. Expect him to move from Lyon and midfielders to depart from Stamford Bridge.

Summer sales: Who will be in and who will be out at Premiership clubs during the transfer window

* ARSENAL

IN: Possible: Alexander Hleb, Fernando Torres, Dean Ashton, Shay Given, Robinho, Fernando Torres.

OUT: Definite: Edu.

Possible: Jens Lehmann.

* ASTON VILLA

IN: Patrik Berger, Aaron Hughes. Possible: Kevin Phillips, Andy Johnson.

OUT: Possible: Gary Cahill.

* BIRMINGHAM CITY

IN: Possible: Walter Pandiani, Olivier Bernard, Nicky Butt, Craig Bellamy, Vladimir Smicer.

* BLACKBURN ROVERS

IN: Possible: Shefqi Kuqi.

OUT: Definite: Craig Short, Nils Johansson, Jon Stead.

* BOLTON WANDERERS

IN: Possible: Olivier Dacourt, Patrick Kluivert.

OUT: Definite: Fernando Hierro, Anthony Barness, Julio Cesar, Kevin Poole, Ricky Shakes, Blessing Kaku, Florent Laville, Stelios Giannakopoulos.

* CHARLTON ATHLETIC

IN: Possible: Bernardo Corradi, Darren Bent, Damien Francis.

OUT: Definite: Simon Royce.

Possible: Jason Euell, Mark Fish, Francis Jeffers, Jonathan Fortune.

* CHELSEA

IN: Possible: Asier Del Horno, Michael Essien, Benni McCarthy, Samuel Eto'o.

OUT: Definite: Juan Sebastian Veron. Possible: Geremi, Mateja Kezman, Scott Parker, Mikael Forssell, Hernan Crespo.

* EVERTON

IN: Definite: Simon Davies, John Ruddy.

Possible: Djimi Traoré, Scott Parker, Mikael Forssell, Carlo Cudicini.

OUT: Possible: Alan Stubbs, Steve Watson, Alessandro Pistone.

* FULHAM

OUT: Definite: Lee Clark, Jérôme Bonnissel, Malik Buari.

Possible: Steed Malbranque, Luis Boa Morte, Mark Crossley.

* LIVERPOOL

IN: Possible: Dirk Kuyt, Jose Reina, Luis Boa Morte, Gabriel Milito, Owen Hargreaves, Patrick Evra, Stelios Giannakopoulos.

OUT: Definite: Vladimir Smicer, Grégory Vignal, Jon Otsemobor, Richie Partridge, Patrice Luzi, Paul Harrison, Igor Biscan.

Possible: Djimi Traoré, Milan Baros, Harry Kewell, Jerzy Dudek, Alou Diarra, Salif Diao, Bruno Cheyrou.

* MANCHESTER CITY

IN: Possible: Henri Camara. OUT: Definite: Steve McManaman. Possible: Jonathan Macken, Danny Mills.

* MANCHESTER UNITED

IN: Possible: Antti Niemi, Paul Robinson, Shay Given, Michael Owen, Fernando Torres.

OUT: Definite: Roy Carroll, Ricardo, Michael Stewart.

Possible: Kleberson, Louis Saha or Ruud van Nistelrooy.

* MIDDLESBROUGH

IN: Definite: Yakubu Aiyegbeni. Possible: Stephen Appiah, Gérémi, Andy van der Meyde.

OUT: Possible: Szilard Nemeth, Massimo Maccarone.

* NEWCASTLE UNITED

IN: Possible: Robbie Keane, Daniel van Buyten, Dado Prso, Luis Boa Morte, Roy Carroll, Michael Owen.

OUT: Definite: Patrick Kluivert, Aaron Hughes, Jamie McClen, Hugo Viana.

Possible: Laurent Robert, Craig Bellamy, Shay Given, Nicky Butt, Shola Ameobi, Peter Ramage.

* PORTSMOUTH

IN: Possible: Kim Kallstrom, Marcia Amoruso, Sébastien Grax.

OUT Definite: Yakubu Aiyegbeni, Patrik Berger, Shaka Hislop, Steve Stone, Hayden Foxe, Valéry Mezague.

* SUNDERLAND

IN: Possible: Kelvin Davis, Darren Bent, Tommy Miller, Clinton Morrison, Danny Mills, Jonathan Stead.

OUT: Definite: Marcus Stewart, Michael Bridges.

* TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR

IN: Definite: Paul Stalteri.

Possible: Wayne Routledge, Rodolph Douala, Andy Johnson, Aaron Lennon.

OUT: Definite: Simon Davies, Rohan Ricketts. Possible: Robbie Keane.

* WEST BROMWICH

IN: Possible: Roy Carroll, Szabolcs Huszti.

OUT: Possible: Kanu.

* WEST HAM UNITED

IN: Possible: Efe Sodje.

OUT: Possible: Tomas Repka, Don Hutchinson.

* WIGAN ATHLETIC

IN: Possible: Michael Brown, Brett Ormerod, Alan Stubbs, Gary Cahill, Fitz Hall.

OUT: Possible: Matt Jackson.

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