UK & Ireland Football

January Transfer Window: Young, hungry players bring you success, not millionaire mercenaries

Football Food For Thought RSS / / 05 January 2009 / Leave a Comment

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As the list of players being linked with moves to Manchester City grows by the day, Ralph Ellis looks at the sort of players that actually boost your chances of success and those that just increase your wage bill for little return.

Oh it's that day. Black Monday. January the fifth. Back to work, back to reality. Back to working out how to get through the month until payday after spending too much at Christmas. Stay in, watch the telly, try to eat everything that's already in the freezer rather than spend money shopping. Avoid spending money at all, in fact.

That is, of course, unless you are Mark Hughes and have just blitzed £12million on Chelsea's reserve left back and are getting ready to splash another £50million or more on other players. There's almost certainly £18million going on Roque Santa Cruz, quite probably £11million set aside for Shay Given, and another £16million or so earmarked for Jermain Defoe if he can be persuaded to move to Manchester rather than Tottenham. Then there's Scott Parker from West Ham being linked this morning while the Hammers insist desperately that they won't sell.

For Hughes it's the last throw of a very loaded dice after the first half of the season has brought him anything other than what was expected. Robinho, hi-jacked from Chelsea on the last day of the last window, has been a success. Shaun Wright-Phillips, another Stamford Bridge refugee, has not done so badly. But Saturday's 3-0 exit at home to Nottingham Forest underlined that money has certainly not brought the success it was meant to. Hughes' new Arab owners might have taken charge late but the club still got through a net spend of more than SEVENTY million pounds in the summer. All they have to show for it so far is a relegation fight and a humiliating FA Cup exit.

And therein lies part of the problem. The players you get when you set off on that sort of a spending spree are attracted by the money. They are the ones the established Champions League clubs don't want. And whatever speeches they give you about "buying into the project", they sign because that's where the cash is biggest. It's why even though City are only ten points away from the top six you shouldn't be tempted by the [7.0] for them to finish there.

Don't rush to back joint [5.5] favourites Chelsea to win the Cup, either. Their 1-1 draw with Southend suggests that Luiz Felipe Scolari is making the same sort of mistakes that Rafa Benitez did when he first encountered the competition, not realizing that lower clubs can raise their game so far. They should get through a replay at Southend, of course, but the big stars won't fancy it too much.

Everton and Aston Villa make up the half dozen top Premier League clubs at the moment together with the traditional big four, and their FA Cup progress showed why. On a frozen pitch they matched Gillingham for work and deserved to win what could have been a tricky tie. Villa have spent money and need to spend some more, but they've been buying younger players with hunger and ambition and Martin O'Neill has built a strong collective spirit.

Given a kind draw in the fourth round at Cheltenham or Doncaster they look value to win the old trophy at [12.0]. Meanwhile Everton did the same sort of job at Macclesfield, and won't be easy opponents for Liverpool in the tie of the fourth round. David Moyes has also built a strong work ethic where there aren't too many egos involved.

The Cup tells you much about attitude of players, and managers too. Stoke's Tony Pulis fielded the reserves at Hartlepool and became only the second top flight side ever beaten by the North East minnows. Defoe went down with a heavy cold, bless him, and couldn't turn out for Portsmouth who only drew at home to Bristol City.

The opposite extreme of professionalism was provided by Steven Gerrard. If anybody could have been forgiven for looking to take a weekend off it was Liverpool's captain after his brush with the law. But he was not only there and wanting to play at Preston, he ran the game and set the standards for a solid 3-1 win. He's now [3.15] favourite to be the PFA's player of the year.

On the subject of setting standards, Wayne Rooney's impact as a late substitute for Manchester United at Southampton was highly significant. The rest of the side had started cruising with a two-goal lead against ten men. Rooney went on and demanded the standards of work rate and commitment stayed high before setting up the third goal.

Those are the sort of values you need to be a Champions League club. If Hughes was watching it was a reminder of what's missing from his dressing room if he wants to create a genuine rivalry with his neighbours. Can money buy that sort of quality? We shall see.

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