News & Current Affairs

August 5, 2008

The best transfer of the summer

The best transfer of the summer

Courtesy BBC SPORTS

Nothing excites a football fan over the summer months quite as much as a few new faces.

I have always enjoyed turning up for a pre-season fixture to take a look at the summer signings. The fact that you can never really conclude anything about a player in a pedestrian and more or less completely meaningless game against some local amateur outfit takes a back seat while you try to wrestle with the big questions.

Are they any good? Has the gaffer finally found the missing piece of the jigsaw? Does this guy ever kick the ball with his left foot? How on earth did the manager find someone from the second tier of the Belgian league?

Come to think of it, summer signings probably don’t do any harm to season ticket sales and a constant flow of transfer speculation keeps the local paper ticking over during the fallow summer weeks.

But with the Football League starting on Saturday, just what has been the best bit of business during the summer?
I’m not talking necessarily about the most expensive or high-profile – it could be a wise old head on a free transfer or a real gem unearthed from non-league. What I’m looking for is the most inspired signing of the summer, the player who could make the difference between success and failure.

I’m not going to pretend for a moment that I’m familiar with every decent transfer – that is where you lot come in – but here are a few contenders for your consideration.

Derby County, not surprisingly, have been very busy and I think the striking partnership of Rob Hulse (£1.75m from Sheffield United) and Nathan Ellington (season-long loan from Watford) could be the best in the Championship.

Ellington was terrible last season but the word is that he is desperate to prove his knockers wrong while Rams boss Paul Jewell certainly knows how to get the best out of him. Hulse is a talented footballer but has different attributes to the pacy and athletic Ellington and they should complement each other. Defender Alan Stubbs also looks a good acquisition.

Freddy Eastwood’s move from Southend to Wolves really didn’t work out but he should be a decent acquisition for Coventry, while Arturo Lupoli, once of Arsenal, is an intriguing loan signing for Norwich from Italian side Fiorentina.

Nicky Maynard is an intelligent footballer, with good awareness in and around the box. If Bristol City were a touch predictable towards the end of last season then he should add a new dimension to their game, though at £2.25m from Crewe he did not come cheap.

A couple of veterans worth keeping an eye on are striker Andy Cole and midfielder Lee Carsley. Cole has moved to his home-town club of Nottingham Forest and the 36-year-old wants his final season as a player to end in promotion. A big ask. Carsley has joined Birmingham on a free transfer from Everton. He was a regular last season and I think he could prove to be a brilliant signing. The fact he has been made captain in the absence of Damien Johnson hints at the impact he has already had.

Several teams have looked to shore up their defences. They might not grab headlines but Mark Hudson (Palace to Charlton) and Kaspars Gorkss (Blackpool to QPR) could prove to be important and much-needed captures.

Leeds are desperate to win promotion to the Championship and reports suggest that midfielder Andy Robinson is set to play an important role. Argentine Luciano Becchio remains an unknown quantity but the striker has spent time with Boca Juniors, Barcelona and Mallorca (though last season he played in Spain’s third tier with Merida).

Derby County and Crystal Palace fans no doubt remember Marco Reich, the German forward who is back in English football with Walsall having joined from Kickers Offenbach. He was quality last time he was here and in League One he should have plenty to offer.

David Livermore was very consistent at Millwall but after joining Leeds in July 2006 the midfielder was sold by the Yorkshire club to Hull less than two weeks later. The Tigers loaned him to Oldham last season but after signing for Brighton permanently in July, I expect him to have real presence for the Seagulls.

A colleague of mine is adamant that the signing of the summer in League One is Kieran Lee, who has joined Oldham from Man Utd. I’ve never seen him play – have you? As a full-back/midfielder he certainly provides options for Latics boss John Sheridan.

Liverpool central defender Jack Hobbs is hoping to gain valuable first-team experience on a season-long loan at Leicester from Liverpool. The Foxes have also brought in defender Michael Morrison from Cambridge United. Manager Nigel Pearson is a former centre-half and both could blossom under his tutelage.

Huddersfield boss Stan Ternent, a wily old operator, has gone for experience with the likes of Chris Lucketti (Sheffield United) and Keigan Parker (Blackpool). Watch out for an improved showing from the Terriers.

In League Two, Lincoln boss Peter Jackson has also gone for experience, bringing in the likes of Frank Sinclair and Stefan Oakes.

Most deals at this level have been either free transfers or season-long loans but one move that caught the eye was Shrewsbury shelling out a club record £170,000 for Forest striker Grant Holt. He didn’t really deliver at Forest but has been prolific through pre-season and will be determined to deliver at his new club.

New boys Exeter have plumped for experience in striker Marcus Stewart. The 35-year-old has made more than 500 league appearances and should bring plenty of knowledge, though his scoring record at previous club Yeovil was far from spectacular.

But one of the best deals in League Two has surely got to be Notts County signing defender Michael Johnson on a permanent contract. He made a huge difference after arriving at Meadow Lane on loan last season and remains an impressive and consistent performer.

But how many potentially sensational signings have I missed and how many of the ones listed above do you think will make a big impression over the coming months?

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July 28, 2008

Liverpool close in on Keane deal

Liverpool close in on Keane deal

Courtesy BBC

Liverpool are expected to complete the £18m signing of striker Robbie Keane from Tottenham within 24 hours.

He underwent a medical on Monday and may be able to fly to Spain with the Liverpool squad ahead of Wednesday’s friendly against Villarreal.

Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez completed the final stages of his negotiations with the 28-year-old over the weekend.

The Republic of Ireland star is expected to sign a five-year deal worth about £80,000 per week.

As a child growing up in Dublin, Keane was an avid supporter of the men from Anfield – and Liverpool will now become his sixth club after spells at Wolves, Coventry, Inter Milan and Leeds, before his switch to Tottenham in 2002 for £7m.

Keane had become Benitez’s number one summer target over recent weeks, with the need to replace Peter Crouch, who joined Portsmouth earlier this month, seemingly more important than pursuing the complicated and protracted move for Aston Villa’s 27-year-old midfielder Gareth Barry.

With the prospect of Xabi Alonso now remaining at Anfield, Liverpool may now decline to respond to Villa manager Martin O’Neill’s demand that they make their intentions regarding Barry clear.

Liverpool’s response is that Villa have turned down four bids for Barry and the Merseysiders are not prepared to pay £18m for the England international.

Benitez will now be unwilling to allow full-back Steve Finnan, a possible makeweight in a deal for Barry, to leave the club.

That is because new signing Philipp Degen is expected to need surgery on a groin injury that will rule him out of the start of the season.

There is also the likelihood that Spain international Alvaro Arbeloa could return to his home country for £6m in the coming weeks, having expressed such a desire for personal reasons.

All such problems will be put aside by Benitez when he is able to unveil Keane – who married Irish model Claudine Palmer in June – as the new strike partner for Fernando Torres.

Torres cost Liverpool £20.2m when they bought him 12 months ago, and their current second biggest signing is Javier Mascherano, who cost £17m when the deal finally went through in February this year.

The arrival of Keane will take Liverpool’s spending to about £32m since the end of last season. They have already drafted in Degen, fellow full-back Andrea Dossena, goalkeeper Diego Cavalieri and teenagers David Ngog and Emmanuel Mendy.

About £20m has been raised by selling Crouch, John Arne Riise, Scott Carson and Danny Guthrie.

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