01 September 2006

Deadline Day. Whew.

The transfer deadline has passed. And what a day!

I don't know why this year seems worse than previous years. Perhaps it's just because Arsenal had such a difficult transfer season. Or maybe everything was delayed because of the World Cup. In any event, it was a chaotic last day.

Arsenal of course had a very trying day. The team lost three players and gained two. It's rare to see trades in world soccer, but Arsenal had two. Jose Antonio Reyes went to Real Madrid in exchange for Julio Baptista, and Ashley Cole went to Chelsea in return for William Gallas and about £5m. Additionally we lost Pascal Cygan, to the secondhand Arsenal home of Villareal.

If you look at it in absolute terms, I think the Gunners didn't do terribly well in the deals. Cole is probably better than Gallas at left back, and Reyes is at the least a better fit than Baptista. But both players were severely damaged goods, and it's difficult to imagine that either one would play for Arsenal again. And frankly, they'd worn out their welcome. Gallas will prove to be very useful and flexible in defense, while Baptista has a lot of talent and may be a better player for Arsenal than he was for Real Madrid.

I'm actually more disappointed to lose Cygan. It's not that he was a great player -- far from it. But he was much better than fans gave him credit for. All he ever did was perform when he was called on, give his best, keep quiet, and do his job. Battleship Cygan: We will miss you.

Perhaps the biggest transfer news was with West Ham. They made the stunning -- dare I say unbelievable -- twin signings of Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano from Argentine club Corinthians. Both players were big stars in the World Cup and it's no surprise that they would move to Europe. But it is a very huge surprise that they would end up at a relatively small club like West Ham, when multiple other clubs were interested in the duo. The players are both 'owned' by Media Sports Investments (MSI)... who had a failed bid to buy West Ham last year. MSI is owned by Kia Joorabchian, who also has a substantial ownership stake in Corinthians. And now there is a new takeover bid on the table. West Ham deny that the transfer deals are contractually tied to the takeover bid, but there's certainly a lot of reason to be suspicious. I don't know much about the business rules in the FA or the Premiership, but I suspect this might cause some problems for West Ham.

As much as I'd like to see Arsenal get Mascherano in particular, I'm not that disappointed that West Ham were the winners here. Certainly it's better that West Ham make a signing like this rather than Chelsea or Man United or Real Madrid or Inter Milan. The Premiership only gets better if more teams are competitive; frankly, it's boring when only three or four teams have a legitimate shot at winning the league.So I guess I hope that this is all kosher. But it's just very unusual, and I wouldn't be surprised if a controversy brews up over this.

So what about everybody else? Let's see:So what's odd about this list? The big clubs are mostly missing. Chelsea grabbed Ashley Cole but lost Gallas and Huth. Arsenal had movement but stayed pretty much even. Liverpool moved out Jan Kromkamp and Florent Sinama Pongolle (though they did make some decent moves earlier). And Manchester United didn't make any moves.

So things could get very interesting. Several mid-tier teams have done a lot to improve, while the top teams are more or less static. It's not trivial to integrate a lot of new players into a team, and there's nothing guaranteed for these teams. But all of a sudden, West Ham, Pompey, Middlesboro, and Wigan join Tottenham and Newcastle as teams that can really hope to compete with the big boys. And even if they can't stay good consistently, they'll have the capability to win on any given Saturday. There are a lot fewer sure-thing wins than there were a few days ago. And that can only be a good thing.

This could be a very, very interesting season in the Prem. Stay tuned.

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