Anyone For A Game of 52 Card Pickup? That Transfer Window In Full

Chaos, Chaos, Chaos

Darren Bent reveals his true worth to 'Appy 'Arry Redknapp - or possibly his cut from his recent deal

Like throwing sticks up in the air just to make pretty new patterns. This was a window just to shake things up a bit just for the sake of it. One thing is clear, this is a season of unprecedented, catastrophic change – if it was a weather system everyone would be going global warming on our arse. However, the seedy reality of the window is that it’s been musical chairs for a bunch of existing Prem strikers with talent generally flowing up the table, a bunch of middleweights doing the out on loan thing to get experience generally flowing down the table and a trickle of genuinely new talent coming in – Top Cheat Dirty Suarez (for it is he) to Loserpool, Dzeko to Middle Eastlands and Luiz to Chelski, along with some unheard-ofs to the likes of Real Blackburn. So really not much in the way of infusing new life into the Prem. More moving the deck chairs on the Titanic.

Table toppers Man U and Arsenal must feel they have the squads to compete for the whole season (or in Arsenal’s case until the middle of March, by which time they will have won the Useless Cup, been stuffed in the Big Cup, lost further ground in the Prem and possibly still be in with a shout of the FA Cup so won’t really need that great a strength in depth). The Mini-Mancs must feel the Dzeko is their missing piece of their Big Four puzzle, while Chelski are betting that Torres and Luiz can turn their season around, hopefully win them the Big Cup and certainly ensure a Big Four place. And if Torres can score on his debut against Loserpool that will be a Super Schadenfreude bonus.

Loserpool have come out alright, if not better, which is the golden rule for transfer dealing. While £50 million for Torres is great business, and getting rid of Konchesky is like buying a new player, £6 million for Babel is simply sensational – most teams would have had to pay to have garbage like that taken away. In their place they get Top Cheat Dirty Suarez from the World Cup Home of Cheating, and Ponytailed Criminal Andy Carroll from the North East House of Toon (or in his case the house of club captain Kevin Nolan where he is imprisoned). They could be fantastic or terrifyingly awful together, but they will ensure Loserpool are a damn sight more entertaining to watch than they have been for ages. Or they could simply ensure that Loserpool become the single most detested team in the league. Still it’s not enough to get them Big Cup action next season, but might just be enough to win the Little Cup this year, which would be a great result in a rebuilding season. Have to laugh that they’ve also taken a loaner from Coventry. Are they only paying half his wages too? Surely they could have afforded to buy him, he must feel like the class weed now. Let’s hope nice headmaster Mr Dalglish ensures he’s not bullied by the very much bigger kids.

Who’s A Loser Then?

Big losers? Newcastle can’t be too big losers, they got an insane return on a striker who’s only played half a Prem season. Pride aside, they couldn’t turn down a British Record £35 million for a striker who’s currently injured, has a career total of 32 goals (that’s a career total mind from 91 career games) and has potentially ruinous off-field problems (like the occasional 10 pint plus drinking habit). Carroll couldn’t turn down a massive money multiplier move where he’ll be undisputed top dog and where he gets to move out of Kevin Nolan’s kennel. And Newcastle have enough points to be safe this season and enough money to add to their squad during the summer (although I’d be very wary of letting Pardew make any transfer decisions). Admittedly taking on basket case Stephen Ireland is either a big gamble or a misguided attempt to collect all the Prem’s most mentally challenged and issue-ridden midfielders into a single team (in which case where’s the space for a returning Lee Bowyer?). In fact, what with their owner and management, why restrict it to midfielders?

Sunderland aren’t really big losers either. They’ve got Asamoah Gyan to replace Bent, a reliable loaner no2 in Muntari and a handy wedge to offer Man U for Welbeck in the summer, although if Carroll is worth £35 million, it seems that letting the Prem’s top goalscorer (24 goals in 38 Prem matches last season) go for £24 million now looks like carelessness. Where’s that extra ten big ones eh?

Villa themselves seem to have done well. Last year’s top Prem goalscorer for £24 million, which looked risky only a week ago, now looks an absolute steal, while managing to get rid of Crappy Carew, useless defender Curtis Davies (to Boremingham no less), going nowhere former talent Sidwell and moody baldhead Ireland looks like genius business – especially given they’ve offloaded most of them to direct competitors and one of them to hated local rivals, theoretically making them all worse off. And there are still some people who eulogise over Martin O’Neill and his squad-building acumen. Houllier’s recruitment of Michael Bradley and Makoun looks to be a classic case of trading up, although not quite to first class.

In the vaguely successful class you might as well put Real Blackburn. Admittedly they’ve bought a dog in resigning Rocquette Santa Crud, who is not only shite, but has managed to injure himself too. Still their new foreign boy could be good, while offloading personality shit bag El Hadji Diouff to equally obnoxious bigot club Rangers is possibly the most kharmically perfect transfer of the whole window. Shit really does roll uphill. All the way to Ibrox.

Top of the loser pile is, surprisingly, Tottingham. Normally ‘Arry and Levy can be relied upon to pull a fast one out of the fire every transfer window, witness the purchase of Van Der Vaart for £8 million in August. This time, however, they’ve been up to their usual tricks of ‘pressing up’ every name they can get in the papers with next to no chance of actually ever getting anyone. They are the ultimate teasers, spreading their names about like phone box fancies while never having to actually follow through on their deals. They can talk all they like about making unrealistic ‘£30 million’  offers for various Spanish strikers, but none of them were ever remotely likely to leave the tax friendly reserve of La Liga, so it’s all supporter placating bullshit (besides which many have already arranged their Summer 2011 moves – as they say, “all the fish are already sold”). But they’ve been out-foxed this time as both Man City and Chelski have emerged far stronger in February than they were at the turn of the year. Tottingham’s sole buys have been long punts on Kuhlumo and Pienaar, who in addition to not being very good is yet another midfielder who will mess up their formation without adding anything that the likes of second stringers like Jenus and Hoddlestone couldn’t have contributed. You suspect that Pienaar, who said he signed for Spurs rather than Chelski because of their ‘ambition’, should have actually spoken to someone serious at Chelski before making his mind up. With Tottingham’s squad, especially their defence, looking increasingly anaemic, they are in for a hard fight to secure a Big Cup, Big Four position, which would be something of a disaster for them. What’s a Big Cup position worth? How about keeping hold of Bale, Modric et al, financing that new stadium and keeping you in with the big boys. Fifth this season would be a catastrophe.

In fact the loser pile is exclusively made up of clubs that didn’t make moves, whether that’s Tottingham who Pienaar aside somehow couldn’t get it together, or Everton, who simply have no money.

Stoke are also there with the losers, although they are simply reverting to type, getting rid of vaguely skillful players like Tuncay and bringing in dross like Carew and Pennant.

In the battle of the Ws, who all are playing like they think the Prem table should naturally be arranged in alphabetical order, competition has been fierce. West Ham have used a patented scattergun effect, recruiting widely but badly from a list of other club’s Prem cast-offs – Bridge, Keane etc, overpaid and underplayed journeymen who don’t seem to fit into any coherent plan. Unusually, Wolves seem to have recruited exclusively from the lower divisions, which simply means any new faces will feel immediately at home once the Wolves have been relegated. Wigan seem to be trying to go one better and have recruited exclusively from Scotland. While West Brom (who would be safe in 17th if only the table were organised alphabetically), have gone for class in getting Arsenal’s Carlos Vela on loan. Only one of these seems like an intelligent policy.

Finally, possibly the single biggest individual loser is, strangely enough, one Darren Bent. In some ways it’s typical for Bent. Not only has last year’s top Prem goalscorer had his thunder well and truly stolen by the Torres/Carroll juggernaut, but he’s clearly nowhere near the most expensive British player. Sure he had all the publicity for approximately a week, but he wasn’t even the biggest story of the Transfer Window.

So, the Prem’s been all shook up, now we get to see all the pretty patterns. Game on!

Will The Best 4th Striker Please Stand Up

You Want How Much?

Darren Bent reveals his true worth to 'Appy 'Arry Redknapp - or possibly his cut from his recent deal

I don’t get Darren Bent. Not least because I don’t support Villa and I don’t have a spare £24 million lying around in my back pocket. I simply just don’t get him. Sure we’re all in the market for a proven Prem goalscorer, not just one of those Johnny Come Lately foreigners who’ve done the business in one of those big abroad leagues but is utterly untested in the rough and tumble of the Prem penalty area, but Bent? Spindly, lacklustre in front of goal Bent? Who saw that one coming?

Certainly not me. Because, you know what, I still don’t get Darren Bent. I don’t see him as a dangerously prolific, gamechanging striker like Drogba, Chav Wanker or Torpid Torres, despite having scored just one less Prem goal than the former two and way more than the latter. My impression of him has always been that he’s a relatively ineffectual lightweight striker, not unlike his erstwhile, if even less effective, strikepartner Offside Trap Defoe. Always the bridesmaid, never the bride, Bento has missed out on not just big team action, but two World Cups as his international career has been mysteriously scuppered by the rise of even less effective striker Peter Crouch. But despite knowing all this, despite checking his stats and being amazed, I still don’t see Bent physically holding off a defender before slamming the ball past a top four keeper in a key match, or doing his defender for pace before casually slotting the ball home. Rather to me he has always seemed a bit of a soft lightweight, someone who needs to be handled with kid gloves and wants/needs to be the big fish.

For Bent the move to Villa makes perfect sense. Villa are on a par with Sunderland as wannabe ‘Big’ teams go and having been threatened by the arrival of the effective Gyan (who also replaced him as Sunderland’s record signing), he becomes, once again, the undisputed no 1 at a club who will really value him and which has exactly the kind of striker support that will benefit him and give him goalscoring opportunities. And there’s no doubt that for the rest of the season (if not beyond) Villa will arrange the team around him and his goalscoring. For Villa it’s the nearest thing to buying an insurance policy against relegation and reaffirms their position as an ambitious, ‘buying’ club following the loss of both Barry and Milner to Middle Eastlands. As for Sunderland, maybe, just maybe, it removes the worry that faced Bruce when he bought Gyan, namely that you can’t realistically play Bent and Gyan in the same side all the time. And for my money Gyan is the better player.

Will The Best 4th Man Please Stand Up

Which brings us to the key question. If Darren Bent is actually not that bad, then who is the single worst squad striker in the Prem? Who least deserves that most reviled of positions, benchwarming supersub and rotation magnet? And immediately I’m faced with something of a list:

  • Kalou (Chelski)
  • Bendtner (Arsenal)
  • Jo (Man City)
  • Agbonlahor (Villa)
  • Offside (Tottingham)
  • Lil Mikey Owen (Man U)
  • Ngog (Loserpool Redsox)
  • Babel (Loserpool Redsox)
  • Ameobi (Newcastle)
  • Santa Cruz (Man City)
  • Carlton Cole (West Ham)
  • Carew (Villa)

And so on. The criteria here is simple. You have to not be the club’s no 1 striker (which kind of counts Bent out) and you have to be a proven failure in front of goal when given the opportunity.

And the Stats (for last season at least) speak for themselves:

Name Prem Games Played Prem Goals* Goals per Game %
Kalou 23 5 22%
Bendtner 23 6 26%
Jo 28 3 11%
Agbonlahor 36 13 36%
Offside Trap Defoe 34 18 53%
Lil Mikey 19 3 16%
Ngog 24 5 21%
Babel 25 4 16%
Ameobi 18* 10 55%
Santa Cruz 19 3 16%
Carlton Cole 30 10 33%
Carew 33 10 30%
Kuyt 37 9 24%
Bent 38 24 63%

*Ameobi’s last season was in the Championship, so maybe his goals are like Scottish goals and only worth 1/3 of a real Prem goal.

One thing is clear, most of these guys are nowhere near Bent, clearly reinforcing his position as a no 1 striker (and their’s as ‘not no 1’s). Only Offside Trap, who again has a legitimate claim to a no 1 spot (although Tottingham have a more revolvable formation than that), can really compare. The rest of them are, quite literally, playing for scraps.

I’ve put in Loserpool’s Dirk Kuyt for comparison. Kuyt is there because, for me, he represents probably the best perceived value for a 4th striker, someone who puts in the hard yards, doesn’t moan about it and delivers. Probably more about apparent effort than effectiveness, he doesn’t so much change games as give you a sense that at least he’s committed to giving the opposition a game and supporting the rest of the team. You get the feeling that he’s ‘busy’ on the pitch.

The first thing is that there is a clear dividing line between what you might call Second String strikers like Cole, Agbonlahor and, surprisingly, Carew and the rest of the Prem journeymen. The difference between 26 and 30+ percent might not seem that much but it represents a chilling gap in class between the second string and the journeymen. The former are expected to carry the burden of the midtable Prem teams, while the latter are really there to provide relief for their more prolific first team counterparts.

Aside from the lamentable showing of Lil Mikey, Babel and City duffers Jo and Santa Cruz, who really are bottom trawling fourth raters at this level, the most surprising thing for me was the relative ineffectiveness of Kuyt in comparison with Kalou, Ngog and, especially, Bendtner. My impression of Kuyt was that he was significantly more valuable than any of those three (although the value of his all round game may still be greater). And certainly I’d be happier to see him on the Loserpool teamsheet than Ngog and he appears to be more useful than either Kalou or Bendtner. Yet he’s less effective at scoring than Bendtner and only marginally more so than Ngog and Kalou.

And it’s exasperating because none of these three look remotely like being able to make the next step up and become genuinely dangerous, world class, 20+ goals a season strikers. Indeed with Kalou you almost sense he’s not even trying, what with his Ivorian compatriot The Drog still holding down the big boy’s position in pretty much every area of his life, a bit like that elder brother who’s not really your buddy and who consistently overshadows you. Possibly he’s decided to simply wait it out for the next couple of years as Drog begins to go downhill and make his move then. Bendtner seems to believe that he’s already made it despite all evidence to the contrary, while you just sense that Ngog will never make the grade even if he is only 21.

It’s also clear why the triumverate of Ngog, Kalou and Bendtner are so exasperating. Billed as goalscorers, their strike record of a goal every four or five games simply doesn’t justify their inclusion ahead of regular first teamers, especially when you consider that as fourth strikers they’re often used in rotation against lower grade opposition where they should be expected to score more freely. Yet their value as strikers diminishes the nearer you get to the cutting edge.

And suddenly you begin to appreciate the real value of Darren Bent.