West Midland clubs were left pretty well satisfied by the deals that were completed – and the ones that weren’t, writes Martin Swain
It was the most entertaining and compelling day of the season so far. And nobody even kicked a ball.
It was also as much about the deals that were not done as those that were. But at the end of a football transfer deadline day that no-one around here saw coming, everybody had something to smile about.
Undoubtedly, the main focus will fall on The Hawthorns where, in an unforeseen departure from the club’s iron-willed business practice, Albion went hammer and tongs at an extraordinary array of dealings.
Quite where they stand today is difficult to gauge – but on the basis that something drastic needed to be done, Albion duly delivered.
Their excitement at the transfers that were completed will be matched by Wolves fans hailing the sales that were not. Incredibly, today dawned with both Kevin Doyle and Bakary Sako still at Molineux giving head coach Kenny Jackett an unbelievably strong hand with which to conduct a League One promotion challenge.
It is Aston Villa who perhaps played out a day which fitted most snugly into the shape of their current management regime.
Paul Lambert’s under-the-radar swoop for a 24-year-old fledgling Czech international striker, Libor Kozak, carried his trademark stamp just as certainly as the dispatch of ‘wasters’ Stephen Ireland and Barry Bannan.
It was Albion’s activity, however, which left the region’s football circuit breathless and unsure whether to salute or condemn them – a day of spectacular technicolour to follow a long summer of grey and miserly tones.
All through the close season, the Baggies attempted to re-model their numbers without resorting to transfer fees – or, as chairman Jeremy Peace calls it, burning money.
That they smashed their transfer record certainly once and possibly twice in the final hours of permitted business passes comment on the poverty of the under-strength team’s start as well as the hazards of that strategy.
Certainly Albion were pushed into the corner of signing cheques for Stephane Sessegnon and Victor Anichebe by the more expansive activities of their Premier League rivals. Some 104 days had elapsed since the 5-5 draw against Manchester United that closed last season and the Baggies chose to abandon their principles on the last of them.
There may be a tinge of regret that they were not able to hijack the loan deal that now sees Romelu Lukaku an Everton player; there will be a furrowed brow that the popular if out-of-form Shane Long was nearly cashed in to balance the expenditure.
But whether by luck, design or most likely a rush of events the club could not control, the Baggies have been left with a transformed squad – we must also factor in Marseilles midfielder Morgan Amalfitano who arrived on a more typical season-long loan – which decorates their outlook with fresh possibilities.
For Wolves, the new possibilities are the same as the old possibilities – promotion, surely, from the third tier.
Nottingham Forest’s efforts to unsettle goal-scoring wideman Sako into agitating for a move failed to land them the 25-year-old French forward. Happily for the Molineux supporters, Leicester City’s late efforts to acquire Doyle went the same way.
When the dust settles on these decisions, they may be viewed as just as surprising as the transfers that were completed at The Hawthorns. In keeping Doyle and Sako, and refusing to negotiate contract settlements on Roger Johnson and Jamie O’Hara, owner Steve Morgan has signed off plans that placed principle before established business practice.
Wolves refused to budge on their valuations of Doyle and Sako and stuck by their private pledge not to offer Johnson and O’Hara an easy and lucrative way out from their Molineux discomfort.
It means the club is carrying probably the biggest wage burden ever seen in the third tier and will add to the losses that Wolves are sure to incur for this campaign. But if they are celebrating promotion at the end of it, while announcing so clearly that they “won’t get fooled again” by under-achieving high-earners, Morgan will view it as worth the price.
Villa’s business perhaps carries even more certainly the sense of a club pursuing a through-line.
Yet again, Lambert’s spies have recruited a player who has deposited just enough promise for Villa fans to get intrigued if not yet excited but who also fits the club’s newly-constructed image.
Kozak was something of a paradox at Lazio last season – he was disregarded in Serie A but an absolute smash in the Rome club’s Europa League campaign with 10 goals.
It added about £7m to the £10m bill for this summer’s six previous additions while Lambert continued what has been at times a brutal cleansing of players on whom he had long given up.
Undoubtedly, Ireland must consider himself one of the most fortunate in the day’s dealings after snaffling a Premier League chance with Mark Hughes at Stoke City.
A lucky boy indeed. He should treat his good fortune more carefully than he ever did at Villa Park.