Mystery deals that rattled the window

In an age of greater transparency clubs are still not obliged to make fees public
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The Independent Online

Commenting on Sky Sports last Monday, Tony Gale predicted of the frantic week's transfer dealings to come: "There's going to be a few desperation buys, that's for sure." Which of the 51 deals subsequently concluded fit that category will become clearer in the next four months, until football agents' second Christmas of the year comes around.

If many within the game still feel the whole idea of a set period for transfers is an unnecessary imposition, its closure for four months does offer the chance to summarise all business done since the end of last season. Financial exactitude in such matters is not easy, since in what is supposed to be an age of greater transparency clubs, ludicrously, are still not obliged to make transfer fees public. Indeed, the most sensational deal of the summer, for Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano, appears to have been concluded between West Ham United and a company allegedly being investigated by the Brazilian government for money-laundering.

As the matter is shrouded in such secrecy, it will be difficult to establish how much West Ham have paid for their coup, but unless it amounts to £8 million, which is highly unlikely, they will not have altered the trend of the past two summers, which is for exactly the same four clubs to have emerged as the highest net spenders - ie, outgoings on transfers minus receipts.

The quartet comprise two of the accepted big four of English football and two wannabes desperate to rejoin them after briefly achieving membership of the Big (Champions') League: namely Chelsea, Liverpool, Newcastle United and Everton.

Chelsea continue to insist they aim to break even within the next few years, though their transfer dealings offer no clue as to how this might be achieved. Outgoing players are still sold at huge losses, and premium fees paid for replacements. This time they will claim that handing over only £5m plus a disenchanted player for Ashley Cole was a good result.

Paying over the odds is a syndrome of which Manchester United have long complained, and it can hardly be disputed when they were forced to go to £18.6m for Michael Carrick in July. By restricting themselves to that one major purchase, however, and collecting £11m for Ruud van Nistelrooy, they are for the second year running not among the highest spenders.

Arsenal's case is a differ-ent one, a second successive year of modest recruiting having been conditioned by financial prudence ahead of the move to the Emirates Stadium. Liverpool have yet to make the giant step away from a beloved home and in the meantime are backing the judgement of Rafa Benitez as handsomely as they once did Gérard Houllier's. Benitez can at least claim that last summer's main purchases - Peter Crouch, Jose Reina and Momo Sissoko - have proved their worth and that Dirk Kuyt, Craig Bellamy and Jermaine Pennant ought to do the same.

Newcastle are another club where every manager seems to be given even more money to spend than the last in a display of faith that is either touching or hilarious according to point of view. Glenn Roeder will have to go some to match Graeme Souness, who went through £30m net in taking the squad from 12th to 15th in the Premiership; but he is halfway there already after buying Damien Duff, Oba-femi Martins and Antoine Sibierski, and would have been much closer had last week's cheeky bid for Mark Viduka succeeded.

Everton's board may feel that 11th place was a poor reward for the £17m spent last summer, especially as the most expensive recruit, the Danish defender Per Kroldrup, had to be ditched at a loss within six months. David Moyes has still been backed this time, to the tune of over £13m for just two players, Andy Johnson and Joleon Lescott, the club's only business immediately before the deadline being to recoup £2m from Wigan for Kevin Kilbane. Tottenham were busy until the last minute, but having collected so much for Carrick, ended with a net deficit of only £6.2m and half a dozen new players to show for it.

If there is a surprise among the list of spenders it is the prominent position of Charlton Athletic, frequently praised for the best husbandry in the Premiership. Last week's acquisition of the Senegal defender Souleymane Diawara for £3.7m took the new manager Iain Dowie's spending to almost £12m in three months on nine players, raising a number of eyebrows, including those of his predecessor, Alan Curbishley.

What that emphasises is the sort of sum now available each year to all Premier League members; last season even the bottom club, Sunderland, made £15.5m from television contracts alone, a minimum figure that will rise significantly from next August.

A desire to remain among the élite in time for that hand-out might have been expected to prompt the three newly promoted clubs into doing more shopping. Yet Reading, Watford and to a lesser extent Sheffield United have proceeded cautiously. Meanwhile, as Sunderland launched Operation Keano to propel them straight back to the land of milk and money, the new man was linked in Thursday morning's newspapers with no fewer than 10 players. In a serious statement of intent, he signed six of them.

Spend, Spend: Best buys, bargains and big gambles

BIG DEAL: Arsenal have the perfect replacement for Ashley Cole and Sol Campbell in William Gallas. The 29-year-old France defender will form a formidable partnership with Kolo Touré, can play at full-back and scores goals with his head, a rarity for the Gunners. No problems with the Francophone dressing room, where he will be among friends.

TOP PROSPECT: Argentina's Javier Mascherano is one half of the top deal of the summer - and should be the better half. Despite his mere 22 years, he already has a huge reputation as a holding midfielder who can break up play and orchestrate the attack. An ideal complement for Alan Pardew's thrusting youngsters. While Carlos Tevez may struggle, Mascherano could be in his element.

INSPIRED CHOICE: Spurs were in the market for a winger all summer and have zillions to spend from the Michael Carrick deal. They wanted Stewart Downing but landed Fulham reject Steed Malbranque. They may have struck gold with the attacking Frenchman, who has plenty of experience and can play wide as well as through the middle.

RISKY BUSINESS: He may have played with Roy Keane at Old Trafford in the good old days, but Dwight Yorke is hardly hewn from the same rock as the new boss. Will he keep smiling? And will the 34-year-old play up front, or take the strolling midfield role he played for Trinidad & Tobago at the World Cup?

GREAT GAMBLE: The Big Sulk is back, but is Big Sam Allardyce the man to keep Nicolas Anelka happy, let alone his ever-present agent-brother? Then there's the way Bolton play. But he will not be sidetracked by international duty, and still has great pace.

Andrew Tong

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