Flush with excitement from an entertaining World Cup in Brazil, Neil Humphreys returns to cast an eye on the Premier League transfer window and finds it a bit of a downer...
The World Cup was one of those glorious nights that started with a couple of quiet beers and ended at 4am with a pole dancer called Elektra, standing naked on a bar top and singing I’ve Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts. It was the night of nights; the Mount Everest of hedonistic highs; the Muhammad Ali of memorable milestones; an occasion to be discussed wistfully for years to come. We will never forget it.
And then we woke up the following morning to learn that Joe Cole had signed for Aston Villa.
That’s the trouble with the post-World Cup transfer window. It’s waking up on Christmas morning after the greatest party only to find that you’ve got nothing to open except a new pair of socks. Joe Cole is that new pair of socks.
We feign interest of course. We don’t want to insult anyone so early in proceedings. But it’s Joe Cole and Aston Villa. Five minutes ago, we were dancing the night away with Lionel Messi and Toni Kroos and now we’re holding up a pair of Joe Cole-embroidered socks and saying: “No, no, it’s great, really, just what I was always wanted. I’m sure I’ll find a use for it, down the centre perhaps, or out wide if I get desperate. No, really, it’s perfect. Of course I didn’t want Neymar for Christmas.”
Even worse, that giddy drunken euphoria of the night before always clouds the judgment on the morning after. The post-World Cup transfer window can be like waking up with a thumping hangover beside a rusty bumper for a Ford Focus and telling the wife, “well, it seemed like a good idea after 15 pints.” Giddy coaches do the same after 64 intoxicating games. Caught up in the moment, they sign veritable World Cup winners such as Kleberson, Bernard Diomede and Roque Junior. They are utterly convinced they have signed artistic silversmiths; craftsman committed to making silver pots for the trophy cabinet. Then they swiftly discover that they have been lumbered with Kleberson, Diomede and Roque Junior.
Player Fact File
Name: Joseph John "Joe" Cole
Club: Aston Villa
Former Clubs: West Ham, Chelsea, Liverpool, Lille
England Caps/Goals: 56/10
Arsene Wenger, last seen falling over on Copacabana Beach playing beach football in the most alarming budgie smugglers since Borat, is rumoured to be debating between Guillermo Ochoa, who singlehandedly kept the Brazilians out for Mexico and Iker Casillas, who singlehandedly dropped everything for Spain against Holland. The World Cup has long been notorious for producing one-hit winners and exposing over-the-hill superstars; the trouble is it’s difficult to reveal either until the following season. So Wenger could potentially end up with either Gangnum Style’s PSY or Cliff Richard.
Pairs of socks
Recent criticism of the Arsenal manager only underlines the underwhelming theme of an anti-climatic pair of socks. Everybody gets what nobody wants. The Gunners relied heavily on the inconsistent Olivier Giroud, who weighed in with 16 Premier League goals last season but failed to shake off the suspicion that he was more dependable in a hotel bedroom. But Alexis Sanchez is not a conventional finisher. He’s certainly not a pair of socks either. He’s the latest, top-of-the line PlayStation game, but the Gunners needed an X-Box. Defensive midfield and the back four generally are Wenger’s primary concerns and yet he appears willing to part with Thomas Vermaelen. Of all the likely destinations, Manchester United remain the leading contender, suggesting Louis van Gaal is more an Atari man.
Van Gaal has been promised a near bottomless pit of desperate dollars from United chief executive Ed Woodward, whose whiny insistence that he needs more time to prove himself a ruthless businessman in the cutthroat cesspool that passes for the Premier League boardroom makes him sound like a delusional, off-key vocalist pleading with Simon Cowell to give him another chance to sing Josh Groban’s You Raise Me Up again.
Aston Villa’s Paul Lambert and Queens Park Rangers’ Harry Redknapp are also allowing post-World Cup elation to influence their decision-making, plumping for players who had a decent tournament – back in 2006. Redknapp has always loyally followed the mantra, “if it ain’t broke, I don’t need to fix it as long as it can do a job for me.” He doesn’t so much pluck a ripe apple from the tree as he scrounges around the orchard for any bruised fruit looking to supplement a pension.
Player Fact File
Name: Rio Gavin Ferdinand
Club: Queens Park Rangers
Former Clubs: West Ham, Bournemouth, Leeds, Manchester United
England Caps/Goals: 81/3
Rather than avoid the mistakes of history, Redknapp has opted for an upgrade. Those who cannot remember the past with Jose Bosingwa are condemned to repeat it with Rio Ferdinand. Of course, the former Manchester United man is a superior professional than the nauseating Bosingwa. In truth, Ferdinand couldn’t be any less professional if he mugged his teammates at his first training session, took a stick to Redknapp’s wedding tackle and bought a season ticket at Fulham.
But Redknapp has signed a respected 36-year-old declining superstar on huge wages after vowing a year ago to rid the club of the overpaid superstars who had devastated the club’s finances. He believes he’s got the makings of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid at the back, bringing in the 22-year-old Steven Caulker to learn the ways of the world from Gandalf Ferdinand.
Haven't we heard that all before?
His intentions are honourable, but his analogy was unfortunate. He compared Caulker to Gary Cahill, a younger, impressionable defender learning his trade beside a wizened old pro. That cast Ferdinand in the John Terry role; the man found guilty of racially abusing Rio’s younger brother Anton. That was the moment when Harry “David Brent” Redknapp presumably turned and nodded towards the camera with a nervous smile, unsure why his complimentary comparison had been met with uncomfortable silence. Subtlety has never been his strong suit. But if a club of fragile finances needs to break the bank to keep its wheezing team of retirees-to-be in the Premier League, Redknapp’s ready and waiting with an arm around the shoulder and a quip you haven’t heard since his last press conference.
But he wasn’t shopping alone in the World Cup 2006 bargain basement. Lambert pulled up his squeaky trolley at the counter to proudly show off Joe Cole, last seen scoring a wonder volley against Sweden in that 2006 tournament but not really seen since.
There is that vague sense that Cole is still around, a bit like Bill Murray. He makes movies from time to time, usually bit parts and cameos, reminding audiences that the light stubbornly refuses to go out on such a prodigious creative talent, but no one really remembers anything since Groundhog Day and Lost in Translation. Cole relived Lost in Translation when he spent a season on loan at Lille. While every transfer since Chelsea has been a remake of Groundhog Day, with Cole promising to recapture his initial promise at West Ham over and over again.
Now he’s saying the same at Villa. He can finally play in the hole, his favoured position. The other positions at Liverpool and West Ham were not the positions he was looking for. He can go about his business of playing No.10 for Lambert and Villa can move along. It’s the same Jedi mind trick repeated on every manager since Liverpool’s Roy Hodgson and now Lambert appears to have been duped.
After the World Cup party, Villa supporters certainly didn’t expect a Midlands Mardi Gras next season. But they probably didn’t expect three pairs of socks either.
Neil Humphreys is the best-selling author of football novels Match Fixer and Premier Leech, which was the FourFourTwo Football Novel of the Year. You can find his website right here.