Mad money is being offered by Man City for Kaka as I write this and yet another transfer season has brought the same old set of gazillion rumors with occasional true activity. Since I am desperate to add my two bits to the transfer season I think I will try and see the players I would have bought in and/or shipped out if I were the manager (of Director Football…as and where applicable) at these clubs. Will restrict myself to clubs I have seen a bit.
The Gunners’ injury list and lack of depth have become repeated stories these past few years and it feels like déjà vu this January. And then there is the whole philosophy of getting them young, keeping them versatile and making them play fluid etc. which often means that a number of players sought after by other clubs do not fit the Arsenal profile.
Arsenal’s search is for some players who are required to beef up the first team and then a few to provide cover (and very decent cover) to some of the other positions where the regular getting crocked leaves a gaping hole.
For the first team, the first player I would look for is a strong holding player who can not only mould to the passing game but provide the perfect foil for Fabregas and a lot of steel. Now you can look for a very good young midfielder to do it or look for someone with a lot of experience while one of the current crop (Diaby/Denilson) gets more time to grow into the role. My pick – Go with a veteran and a man of unquestionable experience. Without a scouting network (and this is a problem I will have throughout the post and hence the last time I am mentioning it), my pick is one of Sergei Semak (captain of Russia, currently with Rubin Kazan) or Marcos Senna (Spain international, captain of Villareal).
There are no other obvious first team spots available, though many may talk of a right sided midfielder and a creative midfielder and a centre back. But if and when Walcott, Fabregas and Gallas+Toure are available, they are strong contenders for the first team. The question is about shipping Gallas out and getting a replacement. I think there are enough other holes to fill and it would be better to see if Gallas wishes to continue after the end of the season rather than now. The Fabregas hole can be filled (though not adequately of course) by Denilson, though after his cameo in the last game against Bolton, I would think Nasri would probably be the best choice to replace Fab, which in turn would leave a gap on the left.
Arshavin, being pursued so actively, does present a versatile option but that could been displacing one of the current squad. I think he could do really well in the Fabregas (centre-creative), Nasri (left-attacking) or Van Persie (behind the striker) role, but it is to be seen if he can adapt well enough in England to be able to displace any of these players when they are fit and available. If Arshavin can also play right midfield then I think, he may pip Walcott to the position, because good though Walcott is, I think he is still at least one season (if not two) away from being a really class player.
The full back positions need cover (and better cover than the Hoytes and others around). For the right, I would suggest letting Eboue develop and evolve. He is not such a bad player but he has not had any position for himself these last two seasons and while he may not be an immediate threat to Sagna, I think a stable position will make him a more consistent performer when he gets the chances. For the left, again I would look at a senior citizen who wouldn’t mind being on the bench for periods but who could be relied upon when called on an emergency. Silvestre does meet the requirements but since he is also a cover for the central positions, I would be looking out for players like John Arne Riise.
That leaves the Arsenal attack and with Eduardo coming back, it is one of the areas of least concerns for Arsenal. However, an injury to Adebayor or Van Persie could be critical. However, the Arshavin signing will provide a new dimension here as well and Vela and Bendtner are evolving back-ups and with so many other priorities, there is not much need to tinker around here.
Very very difficult to improve this team. Maybe, you could think of getting in a cover for Evra, a youngster, though John O Shea is not too bad a cover. And maybe you could think of a better central defensive cover than Johnny Evans (very good for someone with his experience though a little inconsistent). In terms of a squad, even Barcelona are nowhere as good.
The one position where they probably do not have a current best-of-line is in the goal. Van der Saar is probably still amongst the best in the game, but since we are speaking about Manchester United and ‘probably still among the best’ is sometimes not good enough for them, step forward the goalkeeper number two of last year (Casillas obviously number one) – Igor Akinfeev (Russia and CSKA Moskva).
Clearly Frank Arnesen who was supposed to bring in players to the youth team who should have been breaking into the first team by now, has not done a great job. Of course there’s the young defender who was out on loan to a championship team and who made it to Capello’s England squad, but there’s some saying about exceptions telling you what the rule is and that applies in this case.
Of course Chelsea’s problems of the moment are not down to the players they have but more to what these players are doing. Yet, it cannot be denied that the balance is quite lacking in the squad and with Wayne Bridge’s departure, the fullback positions look not so well covered if Ashley Cole breaks a leg or so. Balletti as cover to Bosingwa may not be the greatest, but right back is still not such a problem.
The most glaring weakness is out wide and though Joe Cole is a more than decent pick for the left, he is not the player who provides true width. Then there is the right flank, where Kalou is really the only real option at the moment and the best thing you can say about him is that he can be dangerous on his day.
So here’s my Chelsea prescription: One of Schweinsteiger (German International, Bayern Munich), Kazim Richards (Turkey, Fenerbahce) or Antonio Valencia (Ecuador, Wigan) for the right flank. Kazim Richards is a little iffy but he has premier league experience and if you can get the performance out of him which we saw at the last Euros, he will be a much celebrated player in a line-up like Chelsea.
Then of course is the cover at left back and if no youngster is in sight, how about Fabio Grosso (Italy, Lyon)? Only problem with Grosso maybe that he’s 31 and Italian defenders want to be in the first team till they are 92, so he may not like being second choice, but if the money can be shown, then Chelsea could end up with a kick-ass defender who could match any of their other stars move for move.
That leaves one more player to get and that for me would be Lucas Podolski (Germany, Bayern Munich). It’s true that he seems set to go to his childhood club Koln, but I think he is just the player Chelsea need. A striker who can also play on the left. That means you have intense competition with Joe Cole for that left midfield position and someone who can easily step into the shoes if Drogba and/or Anelka is not available.
Unlike Arsenal, Chelsea are in a position to offload some players and Paulo Fereirra and Florent Malouda have to be top of that list (especially if someone like Podolski comes in). There are talks about letting Drogba go, but I think that would be stupid as when he is the mood, he is easily one of the best in the world. Keeping him in the mood is a managerial challenge and what’s a manager who doesn’t like some challenge!
Another very settled team with few glaring weaknesses when their first eleven is fit. Yet, it would be farfetched to compare them to Manchester United who I feel are clearly superior.
The most invisible players in the Liverpool team are the fullbacks and while I wouldn’t rate Arbeloa and Aurelio as amongst the best in the world, I think it’s unfair to say that they are not good. Benitez uses his fullbacks quite like Mourinho did in England, and if you tell your fullbacks to be very restrained all the time, they can look very average. E.g. Ashley Cole who seemed half the player he was at Arsenal until Scolari came in at Chelsea. So I wouldn’t hurry to get new fullbacks for Liverpool (though second choice left back Dossena seems not so up to it on first evidence).
The position I would be looking to ring in a change is the wide right player. Yes, Kuyt is a work horse and he does chip in with the occasional useful goal, but seriously, if you want to win the title, you need a player with a better touch than a ping-pong table and more creativity than an excel sheet. Of course, the set of options present for Chelsea are also available for Pool (Valencia/Shweinsteiger/Kazim Richards) but given the Spanish factor, I think David Silva could be someone who could fit right in.
The other hole in the shape of a misfiring Robbie Keane and a virginal Bruno Ngog is the replacement striker. I would think that in Ryan Babel, there is someone who can be called as backup for both Riera on the left and Torres up front (if all trust has been lost in Keane).
But in case you want to be more covered, how about one of two options? One – sell Keane for what you can get and get an A-plus in his prime striker like Vucinic (Montenegro, Roma) or Guiza (Spain, Fenerbahce) or Tuncay (Turkey, Middlesborough) or Nihat (Turkey, Villareal) or indeed Michael Owen (England, Newcastle). Two – keep Keane but also get a supporting veteran like Christiano Lucarelli (Italy, Parma) now 33. Parma is currently in the second div in Italy and Lucarelli is still as prolific as ever and should not come for too much money.
Who not to get? Emil Heskey. Not another strong hard working player who can’t score goals.
If they get any better, it will be unfair on everyone else. Yes, they may have some chinks in defense and al that, but hey let the playing field be level. Also, for the players they have, there is no cover. Who can be a replacement for Messi? Thing is their backups might not be as good but even then are some of the best in the world. Henry backing up Eto is any manager’s dream. And if your bench can be Iniesta, Bojan, Gudjhonsen, Busquet, Marquez, Keita etc., you really need to save on agents' commission for the year.
I thought Madrid sucked as the Schuster era ended and Juando Ramos, the Tottenham failure has come in and started well enough to make observers believe that the squad itself is not inadequate. The Hunter and Diarra have come in for valuable roles and the only positions you could really think of improving personnel wise are left back and the wide left player in the 4-2-3-1. Heinze (not bad but not Real Madrid standard anymore) and Drenthe are good but lacking and a player in the name of Yuri Zhirkov (Russia, CSKA Moskva) could easily improve either of those positions. And that’s where I think Madrid’s January exercise should end.
They may spend a 100 million on Kaka now, but that won’t help them too much this season. Man City are many players short of being title contenders which is undoubtedly what the objective is. Bringing on 7 players in the winter might not be a great idea because if they fail to bed in quickly enough, given their current position, a relegation struggle might be a distinct possibility.
So my objective for this season would be to remove glaring weaknesses for the remaining half of the season and try and climb up the table before going in for complete overhaul and celebrity shopping in the summer.
Clearly the central defenders are a problem and clearly Man United won’t sell Ferdinand or Evra. My pick would be Daniel Agger (Denmark, Liverpool), especially as he is looking unsettled and has proven English experience and quality. Denis Kolodin (Russia, Dynamo Moscow) may be a good option who could chip in with frequent goals as well.
The other priority positions are a good midfield partner for Stephen Ireland and a striker who is an improvement over the likes of Darius Vassell and Jo. Orlando Engelaar (Holland, Schalke) could be a great option as well as someone like Altintop (Turkey, Bayern Munich). If they want to spend really big, they should go for Diego (Brazil, Werder Bremen).
Of course Kaka is an option which they are pursuing and is preferable over the others, but without the defenders and other players around him, don’t expect him to change Man City into a consistent winning unit just yet. Which would mean that by summer the media could well be on Kaka’s throat and prompt a panic sell-off in these days of opinion-forming in ninety minutes. And what an unfortunate dent on Kaka’s reputation that would be!
As for a striker, well they have the money to of course try and get anyone from Torres to Drogba to Eto himself, but it is highly unlikely that a Champion League playing striker would want to come here mid-season. My choice be Michael Owen (England, Newcastle) who is itching for yet another big money deal at a high profile club.
And then leave it at that till the summer, when they can build the latest Galactico collection on the planet and go after the likes of Ribery, Kaka and others from that planet.