At this stage of the transfer window, so we were told when it opened 31 trading days ago, Manchester City would have bought anyone who mattered, and West Ham United would have sold everyone they could. And that was to be just the tip of a very large Premier League-wide shopping spree.
It has not quite worked out like that, so far. When the market opened yesterday morning more than half the Premier League's clubs had not bought anyone of significance. City have signed Wayne Bridge, Craig Bellamy and Nigel de Jong, but with due respect those signings are a small return on the billed pursuit of Kaka, Lionel Messi, Gianluigi Buffon, David Villa, Samuel Eto'o, etc. City did get as far as talking to Kaka's dad, but the proposed deal – which they claimed was "99 per cent done" – ended in ignominious retreat and schoolyard name-calling. West Ham, meanwhile, have sold Bellamy, but made it clear they felt they had little choice in the matter. Rumours of a financial implosion were diminished when they spent much of the fee on the unknown but apparently very promising Serie B striker, Savio Nsereko.
Emile Heskey, Jermain Defoe and Jimmy Bullard have, as forecast, moved, though not necessarily to the expected destinations, but other players reported to be on the brink of calling in Pickfords, such as Roque Santa Cruz, Stewart Downing, Andrei Arshavin and Robbie Keane, are yet to do so.
Not that this means they won't soon be on the move. Agents, managers and registration officials are braced for a hectic long weekend before the window closes at 5pm on Monday. As one manager said: "It will all be done at the last minute as always. People wait and wait, then they panic. Part of the problem is most managers don't know how much they can spend until they know who is going out. Then they have to spend it in a rush."
Sometimes they run out of time. Phil Brown's first managerial job was at Derby. At 11.50pm on 31 August 2005, Grzegorz Rasiak, the centre-forward he had worked all summer on basing his formation and pattern of play around, was sold. Derby's form slipped as they struggled to adjust and Brown was sacked. It was nearly the end of his management career. Prior to taking over at Hull City he found opportunities so hard to come by he contemplated leaving the game altogether.
Sam Allardyce, Brown's old mentor, will be well aware of that as City push to sign Santa Cruz. Yesterday's acquisition of El-Hadji Diouf suggests he is already beginning the spend the petrodollars about to come his way. Other deals will be lined up but as the Blackburn manager would prefer to hold on to Santa Cruz, at least until the summer when he has more chance of securing a replacement, he must be tempted to turn his phone off this weekend – and hide the chairman's.
He would not be alone. Most managers hate the window. Gareth Southgate (Middlesbrough) complains it distracts players, while Steve Bruce (Wigan) believes, with some justice, it is weighted towards the big clubs who wreck his painstaking squad-building. Most would prefer a return to the old system, which allowed transfers until late March, but Portsmouth's Tony Adams would shut the door on 1 January – ruining many a New Year's Eve.
But for those who have cash to spend and a squad to strengthen, like Mark Hughes, Arsène Wenger and Harry Redknapp, the next few days could shape their season.
Trading stepped up a notch yesterday with Blackburn and Newcastle making their first major signings of the window. That took spending to £131m, still £19m shy of last January, and a quarter of the summer's outlay.
That may change over the weekend as both Hughes and Redknapp seek to spend big on a striker. Much of that cash will be re-invested in the market. Everywhere there are managers and agents poised to act. As Sunderland's Ricky Sbragia, who has sold Pascal Chimbonda and Diouf in his first window but held on to Kenwyne Jones, said, "We've earmarked two players and perhaps another if a possible move for [another] of our players comes off, but it's all up in the air at the moment."
However, one leading agent was sceptical. "I don't think a lot will happen," he said. "Spurs will do something stupid, probably buying back someone else at twice the price they sold them for, [Shay] Given will go through but Newcastle have already given [Steve] Harper a new contract so they won't be in the market for a goalkeeper; Arshavin will also be done but Arsenal are only buying him now because they couldn't tie a deal up in the summer. That's when most clubs do their work."
True enough, but history suggests a busy day for the registration offices. Last January there were 42 permanent deals registered on the final day and a further 45 loans including, in order to rush through the paper work, those of Defoe and Benjani Mwaruwari which were finally registered in February. The biggest deal was Middlesbrough's £12m purchase of Afonso Alves while the danger of panic-buying was highlighted by Tottenham's £2m capture of the hapless left-back, Gilberto. Everton's acquisition of loanee Anthony Gardner was not exactly a master-stroke either: he did not play a minute in five months at Goodison.
The most successful deadline-day move last year? Chose between Glenn Whelan (Sheff Wed-Stoke), Ismael Miller (Man City-West Brom) and Simeon Jackson (Rushden-Gillingham). The higher-profile moves were less fruitful. As many a manager has discovered to his cost, last-minute shopping is an imprecise science. Not that that will stop them this weekend.
Done deals: Top January moves
*TOP PREMIER LEAGUE MOVES
Nigel De Jong: £17m
Hamburg to Manchester City
Toran Tosic & Adam Ljacic: £17m
Partizan Belgrade to Manchester U
Jermain Defoe: £15m
Portsmouth to Tottenham Hotspur
Craig Bellamy: £14m
West Ham United to Manchester City
Wilson Palacios: £12m
Wigan Athletic to Tottenham Hotspur
Wayne Bridge: £11m
Chelsea to Manchester City
Savio Nsereko: £9m
Brescia to West Ham United
Jimmy Bullard: £5m
Fulham to Hull City
Hugo Rodallega: £4.5m
Necaxa to Wigan Athletic
Kevin Nolan: £4m
Bolton Wanderers to Newcastle U
The Domino Transfer
One big transfer usually prompts a string of smaller ones as the cash is dispersed through the game. This is how one weekend deal could result in a domino effect with five further clubs bringing in new players.
Manchester City finally stump up £20m to prise Roque Santa Cruz from blackburn rovers. Their manager, Sam Allardyce, immediately raids former club Bolton for Kevin Davies (£6m) to reunite him with El Hadji Diouf (signed yesterday from Sunderland, £3m). Another £3m goes overseas for a passing midfielder whose best days were thought to be behind him – Ivan de la Pena, the former Barcelona midfielder currently with Espanyol, perhaps.
Bolton Wanderers re-invest some of the Davies cash on the Continent but hand Portsmouth £2m to take David Nugent back to Lancashire. portsmouth take the opportunity to effect Gary O'Neil's return from Middlesbrough, enabling Gareth Southgate, middlesbrough manager, to fund the loan signings of Arsenal youngster Henri Lansbury and Wigan veteran Michael Brown. sunderland use their windfall to make Djibril Cissé's loan permanent.
The names are unlikely to be exactly as suggested, but expect the domino effect to be seen this weekend.
Bargain buy or bad business?
(Wigan-Aston Villa, £3.5m)
When Heskey is banging in 20-yard goals you know he is happy. Could take Villa to the Champions League.
(C Palace-Wigan, £2m)
Seven years younger than Jimmy Bullard, more mobile, and 40 per cent of the price.
(Chelsea-Man City, £11m)
Only Manchester City could spend £11m on a reserve left-back. Bridge is decent, but he is not Roberto Carlos, or even Ashley Cole.
(Brescia-West Ham, £9m)
Ugandan-born, 19-year-old German with 23 Serie B appearances. He may prove a star, but it is a gamble.
Booed by Spurs fans after his slow walk out of the Carling Cup final last year; cashed in with a move north. Now he's back...Reuse content