The Summer of No One Gets What They Want

By Nicol Hay

Europe is enjoying a heat wave, the Confederations Cup was the greatest summer tournament since records began, and every club is spending money like Kanye in Mothercare. So why is the major theme of this transfer window one of crushing disappointment? 

All winter long, football fans yearn for the irritating formality of men kicking balls around pitches to get itself over with so the real business of paper talk, In The Know intrigue and opinion pieces on the inevitable economic collapse of football if something isn’t done about these bloated transfer fees can begin. All those boring Saturday afternoons spent wistfully staring past your inept right back’s attempts to play a pass and remember which colour his teammates are wearing at the same time are just counting down to the moment when the June-August bonanza drops a steaming dose of moneyed potential into your life.

And this summer, it’s been all for naught. Every major club made their careful plans, only to see them dashed.

Sure, some business has been done – Spurs for example picked up the Confederations Cup poster-boy Paulinho for a comparatively bargain price – but it’s all been second choice, minor targets, reinforcement for the wrong part of the squad. At White Hart Lane, they’ve been banging their heads against the triple-glazed transfer window for five years now, trying to get a striker to replace Dimitar Berbatov. This year, they pinned so many of their hopes on getting some twilight-years savvy out of David Villa, only for El Guaje to reach the very perceptive conclusion that if he wants to hang out with Gareth Bale next season, he’ll be better off moving to Madrid.

A different Villa stamped further on Tottenham hearts when Christian Benteke signed an extended deal to stay in the Madrid of the Midlands instead of heading south. With their final target Leandro Damião seeming more like a hallucination caused by eating out-of-date lasagne every day, Spurs will have to hope their experimental surgery to transplant Jermain Defoe’s brain into Emmanuel Adebayor’s feckless body pays off. 

It’s a familiar pattern across all the top clubs. Arsenal put all their eggs in Gonzalo Higuain’s goal-filled basket, and were 99.9% complete on the deal before the universe collapsed in logic-vortex on the zany notion of the Gunners actually spending world-class money on a world-class player, sending Arsène Wenger scurrying back to the comfort of his well-thumbed Ligue 2 scouting reports.

No one is immune. Liverpool are crying in a dry bath, cradling a portrait of Henrikh Mkhitaryan. Barcelona shirts with Neymar written on the back may flooding the streets of Malaysia, but Camp Nou still pines for Thiago Silva. Both Milan clubs sob heavily on each other’s shoulders, desperate for someone, anyone to make them relevant again. 

The biggest single source of transfer despair was the multilateral pursuit of Uruguay and Rugged Handsomeness striker Edinson Cavani. Real Madrid, Manchester City and Chelsea all dreamed of the massive improvement Cavani’s hair and smile would make to their 2013-14 calendars, but were left distraught as PSG won the race. The losing clubs reacted by, respectively: spending big on youth players that will make them stable and competitive for a decade at least (which sounds sensible, but is a transfer strategy that goes against every instinct they possess); spending big on the Spanish Grant Holt; and convincing themselves they really want to spend big on shambling end-of-the-pier tribute act to 2005’s Wayne Rooney, 2013’s Wayne Rooney.

But what of the club that did snare Cavani, as well as yet another impressive Brazilian centre-half? Surely PSG have got everything they desired this summer? Well, no. They wanted a platinum-wrapped José and Cristiano package to lead their charge towards global domination and to put those upstarts/re-throned aristocrats from Monaco firmly in their ermine-lined place. Then they wanted Arsène Wenger, or at least Arsène Wenger’s Bizarro twin who sees every problem as a target for money-throwing practice. Instead PSG have to console themselves with a marriage of convenience with Laurent Blanc, and the burning conviction that one day, Arsène will be theirs. Ah oui, he will be theirs.

If there is one small corner of Europe sitting calmly under a cloying cloud of smug this summer though, surely it must be Bayern Munich? They got the coach they wanted in Pep Guardiola, then they pulled off the annual Bayern party trick of buying the best non-Bayern player in Germany by luring Mario Götze. Finally, Pep decides on a whim that he wants Thiago Alcântara and they jolly well grab him too – partly because he’s a lovely player that adds frightening depth to the Munich midfield, but also to continue Pep’s master-plan of directly and indirectly thwarting every one of David Moyes’ dreams.

(And yes, Manchester United deserve special mention on this parade of dashed hopes, so here it is: Manchester United are now so desperate to make any sort of move to keep pace in the transfer arms-race that they’re in real risk of spending £35m on Leighton Baines and carrying him to Old Trafford in a sedan chair)

But even though Bayern are feeling pretty chipper about their summer business, they can’t help but sigh at the 6’-Polish-striker-shaped gap in their line-up where they believe Robert Lewandowski should be. Sure, they’ll get him eventually, but they’ve had Mario Mandžukić for a whole year now and they’re bored of him and it’s not fair.

So no, it’s not Bayern who are happy with their lot, but rather Borussia Dortmund who stand alone in Europe with a squad full of players they actually want. Moreover, by grabbing Mkhitaryan, Aubameyang and Papastathopoulos they’ve completed football hipster bingo at a canter, ensuring they remain the must-fawn-over option for Champions League Dark Horse articles for years to come. All Dortmund have to contend with now is the fact that Lewandowski-envy is unlikely to hold Bayern back enough to reduce the gap between first and second in the Bundesliga to much more than 20 or 30 points.

What happens then, to a sport where no one’s happy? How will the fans soldier on, knowing their favourites are stranded in rival dressing rooms? There’s an argument to be made that dealing with the knowledge that not all of your desires will be satisfied is a vital part of growing up, and that European football may be on the brink of an era of new maturity. Perhaps the leading clubs will realise that you can’t live when you’re constantly coveting your neighbour’s ass, so maybe you should come up with a way to make best use of those pretty decent goats and bison you’ve already got in the stable.

Or they’ll throw a tantrum and hold their breath until they get the toys they want. Could go either way really.

This piece was written by Nicol Hay, who you can follow on Twitter at @NicolHay. Comments below please.

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