Time to hit the beach? Not if you want to land this summer's Michu, Christian Benteke and Santi Cazorla
The Weekend Dossier
When the final whistle blows, and they have spoken to the players, the media and the chairmen, the Premier League managers will breathe a collective sigh of relief, then head off to the beach for six weeks R&R before pre-season training begins at the start of July.
"If only", they and their families will think. The reality is very different. In his forthcoming book on management, The Gaffer, Neil Warnock writes of one close-season at Queen's Park Rangers: "People think football managers have the summer off. I wish. I felt absolutely zonked after this one. Mentally it was more tiring than when the games are taking place. You are always thinking about strengthening the side. When the season is finished that becomes the main focus."
Performance in the transfer market can make or break a season – and a manager. Roberto Mancini left Manchester convinced that if Robin van Persie had signed for City last summer instead of United his team would have defended their title and he would still be in employment. Two disastrous transfer windows at QPR cost Mark Hughes his job and the club their Premier League status.
Since January, Warnock adds, managers will have been "planning, talking to agents, scouring the papers for bits of info on who might be available, trying to extend the contracts of players you want to keep, and whenever you watch matches, in the flesh or on TV, you are on the lookout for someone who might be able to do a job for you."
Some of those plans are already coming to fruition. Yesterday Arsène Wenger all but confirmed Arsenal had secured Auxerre striker Yaya Sanogo, Fulham converted Sascha Riether's loan into a permanent deal, and Andre Villas-Boas spoke optimistically of luring David Villa to White Hart Lane.
Villas-Boas, like Mauricio Pochettino earlier in the week, stressed the need to move fast. Many chairmen like to buy late as prices may come down – and it means they are not paying players for two months when there are no games for them to play in. But managers like to get their transfer dealing done early for fear of missing out on targets, and also so new recruits can be bedded into the tactical structure and dressing-room environment. Which means even if they take a break the mobile phone will always be by their side.
The pressure to buy well is at its greatest when budgets are tight. Eden Hazard and Oscar have been good signings but at a combined £57m that is no surprise. Even if they were not, Chelsea can afford to get it wrong. By contrast for several years David Moyes has only been able to make one or two major signings a season, which may explain why he is so famously thorough. This season, once again, he got it right with Kevin Mirallas.
The best buys of the season, however, have been Michu and Christian Benteke. Michu's start to the season set Swansea up for a comfortable campaign, adorned by silverware, Benteke's finish to the season saved Aston Villa. By contrast it could be argued the £36m Mancini spent, to no great effect, on Scott Sinclair, Javi Garcia and Jack Rodwell was as significant in terms of his job security as the failure to secure Van Persie. Even a club with a limitless budget has to have a better track record than that (in fairness to Mancini, Matija Nastasic was one of the buys of the season).
Sinclair, Garcia and Rodwell are young enough to be assets in the long-term, as are the season's other main duds, Joe Allen, Gaston Ramirez, Esteban Granero Adam Johnson and Marko Marin, though in reality some will be moved on this summer.
Villas-Boas spoke enthusiastically yesterday of the appointment of a technical director to act as a bridge between manager and board in recruitment, and other matters. This is unsurprising as it is the Continental way, but it is not an appointment that would have been embraced by his predecessor. Harry Redknapp was most unhappy when Velimir Zajec was appointed director of football when Redknapp managed Portsmouth.
A manager is only as good as his players so it stands to reason he would want to control recruitment. It is his neck on the block. The irony is, from a club's point of view, allowing him to do this works best when there is managerial stability. The four longest-serving managers in the top flight, Sir Alex Ferguson, Wenger, Moyes and Tony Pulis, are all masters (within budget) of their own transfer policy.
At clubs where managerial turnover is high it makes commercial sense to take recruitment out of his hands, otherwise there is the danger of the squad ballooning as each manager brings in his own choices (see QPR). The drawback is that the manager may be less successful when players have been foisted upon him (see Chelsea managers and Fernando Torres).
Nevertheless, the trend is towards the Continental fashion, which makes sense with managerial turnover increasing in England and more managers coming from abroad.Liverpool and Manchester City operate by committee with the manager involved (Allen and the unfortunately injured Fabio Borini were obviously Brendan Rodgers' own choices). At Newcastle the chief scout, Graham Carr, is the most influential figure. At West Bromwich Albion, where there have been four managers in five years, the key man was Dan Ashworth until his recent appointment as the Football Association's director of elite development. Albion, incidentally, have been one of the transfer market's best exponents in recent years.
In the best operations a manager suggests he needs, for example, a centre-back who has good distribution, or a winger with a good stamina who can tuck inside, and the director of football either provides one, or presents several options. However, this can go awry, as Rafael Benitez said memorably as his time at Valencia soured: "I asked for a sofa and they gave me a lamp."
Quality shopping: Top 10 transfers
Michu (Rayo Vallecano to Swansea, £2m),
Christian Benteke (Genk to Aston Villa, £7m)
Robin van Persie (Arsenal to Man United, £24m),
Santi Cazorla (Malaga to Arsenal, £16.5m),
Kevin Mirallas (Olympiakos to Everton, £5.2m),
Matija Nastasic (Fiorentina to Man C, £12m)
Jan Vertonghen (Ajax to Tottenham, £10m),
Chico Flores (Genoa to Swansea, £2m),
Matthew Lowton (Sheff United to Aston Villa, £3m)
Jay Rodriguez (Burnley to Southampton, £6m)
Best bargains: Clout for nowt
Mohamed Diame (Wigan-West Ham)
Steven Davis (Rangers-Soton)
Claudio Yacob (Racing-WBA)
Ryan Nelsen (Tottenham-QPR)
Romelu Lukaku (Chelsea-WBA)
Sascha Riether (Cologne-Fulham)
Danny Rose (Spurs-Sunderland)
Waste of money?
Marko Marin (Bremen-Chelsea, £7m)
Scott Sinclair (Swansea-Man C £8m)
Javi Garcia (Benfica-Man C, £16m)
Adam Johnson (Man C-S’land £10m)
Joe Allen (Swansea-L’pool, £15m)
Gaston Ramirez (B’gna-Soton, £10m)
Esteban Granero (R Madrid-QPR £9m)
*on form so far, may yet prosper
1.Taylor’s smart Under-20 move prepares for trouble
It is a cunning ruse from Peter Taylor to name a 35-player provisional squad for this summer’s Under-20 World Cup in Turkey. England’s head coach will cut it to 21 players on 7 June, a fortnight before the tournament starts, by which time, based on previous age-group tournaments, clubs will have withdrawn so many players there will be about 21 players left. He and the FA will then be spared the embarrassment of making a welter of late call-ups.
Other countries take these competitions seriously and players gain experience that helps them at senior competitions. Italy and Spain would be good examples. In England, however, the clubs have the whip hand and they would rather a promising young player rests ahead of a season spent sitting on the bench, or playing out on loan, than enhancing his game by representing his country on the global stage.
2. Freedman rewarded for Bolton falling short
Dougie Freedman was yesterday named Championship manager of the month. Nice as it is to be recognised, that is scant consolation for his Bolton Wanderers team missing out on the play-offs after drawing with Blackpool on the final day of the season. There are times when these awards look daft.
3. A Champions League final for only a fiver
Can’t get a ticket for next Saturday’s Champions League final at Wembley? Try the female version at Stamford Bridge on Thursday. Wolfsburg play Lyons, kick-off 7.30pm. Tickets £5-10, from www.Chelseafc.com/uefawomensfinal, Uefa’s Champions Festival at Stratford next week, or on the gate.
4. Consistent Cole merits captaincy – not criticism
Ashley Cole has made some poor decisions over the years, notably the “£65k-a-week! I nearly crashed my car” comment in his ghosted autobiography, but the blame should be shared with his advisers. Cole has been England’s most consistent player over the last decade and it is a pity he feels so vilified he is likely to reject the chance to captain England later this month.
5. Rafa at Goodison? If he could survive Chelsea...
The possibility of Rafa Benitez going to Everton was being floated yesterday. Inconceivable, not least because Bill Kenwright, unlike Roman Abramovich, is wary of upsetting the fans. Benitez does appear confident and masochistic enough to take it though. Then he could go to Old Trafford...
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