Most winter transfers normally take place in the first or the last week of January, with the middle two weeks reserved for haggling prices. Although none of the really big names linked with moves—the likes of Wesley Sneijder, David Villa, Fernando Llorente and Didier Drogba—have completed deals away from their clubs yet, there have been some notable switches in the Premier League. Here are my thoughts on some of them:
Demba Ba (Newcastle to Chelsea): It took Ba just over half an hour to show why Chelsea met his £7.5m release clause to sign the Senegalese forward from Newcastle, and the English press 90 minutes to start the Fernando Torres obituary pieces. Ba scored twice on debut in Chelsea’s 5-1 win over Southampton, while Torres needed over 12 hours, stretching over 14 games, for his first Chelsea goal.
In Wednesday night’s Capital One Cup semi-final defeat to Swansea the difference between the two was clearer: for 80 minutes, Torres was little more than a bystander (his eleven touches of the ball were the fewest of anyone on the pitch) and when Ba came on, he threatened with two headed efforts and had a goal wrongly disallowed for offside.
And yet it’s hard to escape the feeling that Ba is an interim signing made by an interim coach. Yes, he will certainly help Chelsea score more goals this season, he will take some pressure off Torres’s shoulders, and as a replacement for Daniel Sturridge, he costs less, and will play, and score, more. But these are all short-term solutions: what happens in the summer when, as expected, Chelsea bid for Radamel Falcao? Specifically, what happens to Torres?
If Chelsea get ‘El Tigre’, they will have four centre-forwards on their books: Torres, Ba, Falcao and Romelu Lukaku, back from his (so far) successful loan spell at West Brom, who, don’t forget, cost Chelsea £18m 18 months ago. If that smacks of bizarre squad management, consider where Torres fits in that pecking-order, especially with the knowledge that Ba is one year younger and both players have contracts until 2016.
Torres has struggled when faced with competition from Didier Drogba; and he has struggled in the last six months, without any competition. The next struggle might be for Chelsea if they look to find a buyer for the Spaniard in the summer.
One additional note on Ba: it was interesting that while the media (experts in body language) noted that Torres looked unhappy sitting on the bench when Ba scored against Southampton, no-one suggested that Frank Lampard let Ba take the late penalty which would have given him a hat-trick on debut. The goal drew Lampard level with Kerry Dixon in second on Chelsea’s all-time scoring list, but drew criticism from Lampard’s former West Ham team-mate Edouard Cisse, commentating on BeInSport in France. “He has a reputation for looking out for himself and I heard some players calling him Frank ‘Selfish’ Lampard,” Cisse said on air. “He has that great scoring record because of situations like this: he’s on a mission to beat the record and always wants to prove himself even though he’s done everything and has nothing to prove.”
Marouane Chamakh (Arsenal to West Ham): When your new boss’s son goes on to Twitter to criticise your arrival at the club, you know that your stock is not high. That’s what happened to Chamakh when Jack Sullivan, son of West Ham owner David, tweeted: “I am very sorry about this news… not my pick.” But there is more to the Chamakh story in England than meets the eye: remember that in his first four months at Arsenal, he was an able replacement for the injured Robin van Persie. He scored ten goals before the end of November, and was seen as another successful Arsene Wenger signing from Ligue 1.
Except two things happened the following month which changed things for Chamakh: first, Van Persie regained fitness, starting the last 17 games of the season. It was also alleged that Chamakh took a trip abroad without Wenger’s permission and in a single stroke lost the faith of his coach. For sure, it’s harder to make an impact when you only have 15 minutes as opposed to 90 to prove yourself (he only started one match in the second half of the season, and that was the final game), but the dip in Chamakh’s game was stark, and swift.
Last season, he seemed like a totally different player. When former Arsenal midfielder Stewart Robson, an outspoken critic of Wenger’s, told The Times podcast last week that Wenger is actually making some players worse than they previously were, it could have been with Chamakh in mind. In 19 appearances last season, 12 as a sub, he only scored one goal. When he appeared in Arsenal’s Champions League Matchday Six game against Olympiakos last month, one fan tweeted that he looked “Like a startled seabird washed up on the beach in the wake of the Exxon Valdez disaster”.
If Chamakh’s off-pitch behaviour has contributed to his fall from grace, it seems strange management by Wenger. This is the coach, after all, who is famous for treating Arsenal’s wage-kitty as though it were his own money. But in the last 18 months, Chamakh has depreciated in value so much that even those connected to his new club are not convinced. This is Chamakh’s chance to prove them all wrong.
Daniel Sturridge (Chelsea to Liverpool): One thing Liverpool coach Brendan Rodgers now has in attack is options, which was not the case earlier in the season: once Fabio Borini was injured, Rodgers picked two teenage wingers, Suso (18) and Raheem Sterling (17) on either side of Luis Suarez. He even experimented with Jose Enrique as a winger (and Stewart Downing). The problem for Rodgers now is he has two centre-forwards who want to play in that position: new signing Daniel Sturridge has made all the right noises since joining from Chelsea – including the bizarre statement that Liverpool is “the biggest club in the Premier League” despite having not won the top-flight for 23 years, while Suarez has scored 15 goals, and has enjoyed his most successful spell since joining Liverpool.
Against Mansfield last Sunday, Rodgers started with Sturridge up front, and he scored. Suarez then replaced him at centre-forward, so avoiding that uncomfortable moment when one of them is pushed out wide. That is likely to happen on Sunday against Manchester United. From Rodgers’s comments, it would seem that Suarez will be making way for Sturridge to play through the middle, but is that the right thing to do? Surely if you have a star player, you play to his strengths?
“The idea was bringing in players that were multi-functional, who can play in a couple of positions,” Rodgers said last week. “I’ll consider each game, depending on the opponent, when we see the areas we can exploit.”
Suarez is probably better out wide than Sturridge would be—he’s a better footballer, after all, and was prolific when playing wide-right of a three at Ajax—but moving the Uruguayan risks disrupting his form. And Rodgers won’t want that to happen when Suarez faces Manchester United, whose Patrice Evra was the player Suarez was found guilty of racially abusing in October 2011. Can anyone even remember how Suarez was viewed before that United game? He had played 20 Premier League games before then, scored eight league goals and made few headlines. Oh, life must have been boring in those days.
One final point on the Sturridge/Suarez dilemma: perhaps Rodgers is actually being super-clever and continuing Liverpool’s clever Moneyball/Soccernomics approach to recruitment. Rule 10 of Soccernomics Guide to Transfers is: “Replace your best players even before you sell them.” Maybe that is what Liverpool are doing by bringing in Sturridge.
Suarez turns 26 in a fortnight, and another season without Champions League football beckons. Will Liverpool be able to resist a huge bid from Paris Saint-Germain or Manchester City if it comes in the summer? Soccernomics Guide to Transfers Rule 9 is: “Sell any player when another club offers more than he is worth.”