As we find ourselves at this half-way stage through the English domestic football season, amidst the decimation of the sporting calendar by the weather there has still been significant movement in the player market during the first fifteen days of January.
So far, most of the headlines have gone to Patrick Vieira and his return to the Premier League from Serie A champions Internazionale, joining Manchester City on a six-month deal. The former Arsenal captain will bring vast experience and a winning mentality to the dressing room at Eastlands and doubtlessly hopes to play as much as possible with the World Cup around the corner.
His move has received a mixed reaction. Those of you expecting the 33-year old to put in the box-to-box midfield performances that helped bring three Premiership titles and four FA Cups to the Gunners during his nine seasons at Highbury are in my view being a little naive. Having plied his trade in a league where pace is an optional extra for the last four-and-a-half years, during which time Vieira has also suffered with injuries, his game will have changed to suit this.
Only time will tell but from watching European games it appears he is now more of a defensive midfielder than a central one, though he can still pick out a pass. The France international will not be afforded anything like the same time on the ball back in the Premier League and needs to adjust his style accordingly. For free, though there is the question of his wages, City can consider themselves lucky to have attracted his services and I feel that Vieira has a real chance of getting the regular football he desires due to Nigel de Jong’s mixed displays.
Having offloaded Andriy Voronin to Dynamo Moscow and Andrea Dossena to Napoli, Liverpool have brought in Argentine right-winger Maxi Rodríguez for around £1.5 million from Atlético Madrid. Best known for his stunning goal against Mexico in the 2006 World Cup, he follows in the footsteps of Fernando Torres, having moved from the Spanish capital to Merseyside. Reds fans out there are probably saying their priority is finding a back-up to their number 9, something which has become even more urgent with Torres undergoing knee surgery, but like with Vieira, Maxi being a cheap transfer is something of a coup.
I really rate him. Were it not for world player of the year Lionel Messi he should be in Diego Maradona’s starting XI come South Africa. Injury permitting, he should definitely make the squad. His quality is no better highlighted than by his clinical display in the Copa del Rey in November, putting four goals past admittedly lesser opposition in UD Marbella, but Liverpool could use some of that, having crashed out of the FA Cup to Championship strugglers Reading in midweek. If Rodríguez does not immediately adjust to the Premier League, I would ask fans to be patient.
Free agent Sol Campbell has returned to Arsenal. The centre-back made headlines when he signed for League Two side Notts County in the summer after leaving Portsmouth and walked away from the club after a single appearance. Since then he has trained with the Gunners and Arsene Wenger decided to offer him a short-term deal to the end of the season. At 35 the former England international is the oldest member of the squad at the Emirates. It is difficult to see Campbell playing much of a role in first-team action, unless there are injuries, but he brings experience with him.
Again, as is the case with former team mate Vieira, he is one of a few players on Arsenal’s books who has won trophies in English football and this makes him a figure for the younger players to revere. If he does feature as anything more than just a bit-part player it will be interesting to see the fans’ reaction. His poor first-half display in the 3-2 home defeat to West Ham at Highbury in the 2005-06 season that resulted in Campbell being substituted and leaving the stadium sticks in many minds.
Everton have secured the services of United States international and record goalscorer Landon Donovan on loan from LA Galaxy until the MLS season starts in March. Whilst bringing this versatile player to Goodison Park boosts their injury-hit squad, Donovan, who can play in the hole or on either wing, had a similar spell at Bayern Munich this time last year, but because of the short length of the loan he could do very little to make a telling contribution. Playing for this short space of time for the Toffees is not much of a gesture and I fear fans’ expectations will be too high after seeing him net goals against Brazil and Italy on the international stage at the Confederations Cup in the summer, though both were in losing efforts.
If Donovan is serious about playing in Europe or really testing his fitness, what is to stop him signing a deal similar to the one David Beckham has both last and this winter with AC Milan? We have an established tradition of players from the States joining Premier League outfits, with the likes of Brian McBride, Carlos Bocanegra and the keepers, including Everton stopper Tim Howard, have on the whole been excellent. For me the jury is out on Donovan, but judgment shall be reserved until his spell has been completed.
Birmingham City have acquired long-term target Michel from Sporting Gijón. Comparisons have been made to Argentina and Liverpool player Javier Mascherano, but with better passing ability, these are big shoes to fill. He has joined the in-form side of the Premier League and at this moment in time and it is difficult to see him, let alone anyone else in the Blues squad, forcing their way into the starting XI with the team putting together an unbeaten run of thirteen matches and counting.
Wigan Athletic have also made a couple of signings. Sporting Lisbon and Serbian international goalkeeper Vladimir Stojković has joined the Lancashire club on loan until the end of the season. Although he is cover in case Chris Kirkland’s bad injury record continues, the stopper is the first choice for his country and played his part in seeing Serbia qualify for the World Cup, including a famous draw against France in Belgrade.
Celtic defender Gary Caldwell has also come to the DW Stadium. Choosing at the last minute not to follow now former Bhoys team-mates Barry Robson, Willo Flood and Chris Killen to Middlesbrough, Caldwell and the hoops defence have been inconsistent in the Scottish Premier League, reflected by Tony Mowbray’s side being seven points behind Rangers in the title race. Premier League football is very much a step up for him. Turning to Teesside, Robson will certainly add something to Gordon Strachan’s men, but Flood has yet to show the promise of his academy days at Man. City and Killen has been poor both on and off the pitch since leaving Hibernian in 2007.
Elsewhere, Championship promotion hopefuls West Bromwich Albion have signed Romanian centre-back Gabriel Tamaş, who was part of the side that held both France and Italy to draws in the Group Stages of Euro 2008, on loan. With pedigree like this, Baggies fans have right to be optimistic that he can bring some improvement to their side’s defensive displays as they look to bounce back into the Premier League.
Sticking with the Championship, some fringe players at top flight sides have dropped down a level either in loan deals or transfers in search of first-team football. Stoke City’s Richard Creswell is now a Sheffield United player, having previously been on loan with the Blades and Andy Griffin has joined Reading till the end of the season. Welsh winger David Cotterill has swapped Bramall Lane for Swansea City. Cash-strapped Crystal Palace have let popular Portuguese defender José Fonte leave Selhurst Park for League One Southampton, but for good money. His comments that he is more likely to reach the Premier League with the lower league Saints are hurtful to Eagles fans.
Liverpool youth product and Millwall defender Zak Whitbread has joined Norwich City to bolster their defence as they continue the push for automatic promotion back to the Championship from League One. Charlton Athletic striker Izale McLeod has taken on the challenge of trying to keep Peterborough United up in the league above, where he is joined by West Brom’s Reuben Reid who has found first-team opportunities limited since moving from Rotherham United. Beleaguered Stockport County have let the only bright spark of their campaign, Carl Baker, leave to make the step up to Coventry City and Oli Johnson follows him through the exit door at Edgeley Park having signed for Paul Lambert at Carrow Road. Finally, Bradford City have signed former Huddersfield Town and Carlisle United keeper Matt Glennon who brings a wealth of experience in lower league football to Valley Parade.
I shall be writing a second blog on the transfers to come in the window at the start of February. Please share your views and comments.