Believe it: the 2010-2011 European season is right around the corner with the Premiership set to kick off on August 14, while domestic competitions have already begun in a number of countries. With the World Cup taking up half of the summer break and many players and officials still on vacation, the focal point of the conversation has turned to transfer rumors, though little actual movement has in fact transpired. Nonetheless, some early winners and losers are beginning to emerge. Here is a look at some of the most notable moves so far.
Liverpool is having an excellent off-season. First, Liverpool correctly let Rafa Benitez go and paved the way for a much needed fresh start. Rafa’s replacement, Roy Hodgson, an ideal candidate to take over had just completed a magnificent season with Fulham, the best in the West London club’s history, is well experienced having managed Finland, Inter Milan and Blackburn in the past, among others. His appointment is wise. Hodgson is not only a good manager but a also a very good evaluator of talent – just look how many good players he amassed at Fulham under the radar and with a limited budget. He commends instant respect from the players and has already changed the clubhouse atmosphere. Liverpool’s roster is on the up. After pulling off the big coup of signing Joe Cole without a transfer fee, Hodgson indicated that he is prepared to let Fernando Torres and Mascherano go at the right price. He is correct on both counts. At his best, Fernando Torres is a stupendous force, a debilitating attacker. But his awful World Cup form raised many questions about his fitness – will he ever fully recover, or will he follow the path of Ronaldinho, irrepressible from 2004 – 2006, but never the same after the first major injury?
As for Mascherano, a warrior and an intelligent player, Liverpool will do well to cash out on a player who clearly likes the club but wants away from England. He tried to flee to Barcelona last year and is using the Benitez connection as the ticket out this time around, but Liverpool is in a good negotiating position. With Gerrard, Carragher, Glenn Johnson, Pepe Reina, Ryan Babel and Joe Cole, the nucleus is there for a new era. Insua’s departure to Fiorentina made sense, but Yossi Benayoun’s to Chelsea did not. Yossi was very good contributor, particularly in European competition. If and after Mascherano and Torres are sold, look for Liverpool to bring in a powerful center-forward and an Essien-type of midfielder.
Real Madrid is on the verge of getting Mourinho’s number one target, Brazilian full-back Maicon, from Inter for around 30 million euros, not a bad number considering how much Madrid over-payed for Di Maria. While the Argentine is a quality player that brings spped on the flanks, he did absolutely nothing at the World Cup and his arrival clashes directly with Rafael van der Vaart’s time, probably Marcelo’s too. But the greater mystery is what is Mourinho going to do with Sergio Ramos if Maicon arrives? Surely the question has been asked and answered amidst the Madrid officials, but it has not been announced publicly. Sergio Ramos is a monumental figure in Madrid and throughout Spain. He is still young, in the prime of his career, the symbol of the club – he is not transferable for any amount of money right now. The best guess is that Mourinho plans to move Ramos inside to play along side Garay in the middle.
Inter is cashing out on a player that has been sensational for the past two years, estimating that his value cannot climb any higher. It is hard to imagine Maicon having another season as last year’s, but then again, at the World Cup Maicon was excellent. Inter sold Roberto Carlos to Real Madrid once upon a time, a move that worked out great for the Spaniards as Roberto Carlos went on to have his best seasons along side Figo, Zidane and Ronaldo. With the money from Maicon’s sale to Madrid and with the increasing possibility of Balotelli being sold off to Manchester City, like Liverpool, Inter will be in a great position for two or three quality acquisitions, Mascherano at the top of the list.
Manchester City is the club that has made the weakest moves this summer, mindlessly spending money on good but not great players. For the amount of money spent on Jerome Boateng, Ya Ya Toure from Barca, David Silva from Lazio and Kolarov from Lazio, a combined 90 million pounds or so, you would think they bought Xavi and Iniesta. Now it appears that either Fernando Torres or Balotelli will be brought in with a gargantuan bid, but neither may work out. Despite spending all of this money, Manchester City has not improved. Only David Silva’s arrival adds a new dimension. Mancini’s tenure will be short, he may be gone by the end of 2010, but in his short time he will have managed to distribute boatloads of Abu Dhabi money to his friends – players (Vieira), coaches (Lombardo), clubs (Inter, Lazio). City fans must be uncomfortable about all this, as the roster is truly beginning to look like a big mess before the season even starts.
Great move by the New York Red Bulls in capturing Thierry Henry and, apparently, Rafa Marquez from Barcelona. Henry instantly makes the team better and adds so much needed flavor to a club short of creativity. Marquez is a demi-god among the Mexican contingent, so his arrival will bring lots of them to the stadium. It is still not clear where Marquez will play in New York, but with Juan Pablo Angel, Henry and Marquez in the mix, the Red Bulls have reached another dimension. Arsenal would be silly not to cash out on Fabregas. He is gone in a year anyway and they will get nothing for him then. In fact, from Barca’s point of view, it might be better to let the year pass. Fabregas will go home regardless, so Arsene Wenger will probably try to get a deal by the end of August, well aware of the implications. The transfer market will pick up steam in August, as clubs intensify preparations for the long season ahead. To be continued.