Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Hail the traveller

With the latch about to be safely shut on the transfer window for another five months, an interesting number of players in what would be kindly referred to as their dotage are off to pastures new - rather than being put out pasture once and for all. Clearly the Eels song 'Last Stop This Town' is not a record Andy Cole cares for...

In an age of greater career mobility, it should perhaps not be so surprising that many of the game's old stagers continue to seek out the next gig on the horizon. Teddy Sheringham, currently the oldest player in league football, could have retired happy when he hung up his Spurs shirt for the second time in 2003; but five years on, Sheringham is with his third club (his seventh in total), still knocking in the odd penalty for Colchester United.

Some credit is due to Teddy, however, as for all his years (41 and counting) he is no senescent chancer. No, despite his off-pitch antics with various glamour models, there are far more promiscuous footballers preying on unsuspecting clubs out there.

Take Jon Macken, for example, who, despite being only 30, has been loitering around for yonks. Some would say he was lucky to score a £5m pound move to Manchester City in 2002. Kevin Keegan, the Geordie Messiah who shelled out for Macken, may view himself as somewhat less lucky. After scoring just seven league goals in over 50 appearances for the Sky Blues, Macken's box of four-leaf clovers finally ran dry and he was shipped off to Crystal Palace in 2005. Since then he's played for three more clubs (Ipswich on loan, Derby and Barnsley, whom he signed for permanently a few days ago); yet he still hasn't scored more than four goals in a season since 2001/02.

Then there's the aforementioned Andrew Cole, one half of United's famous treble-winning strike force. Since leaving the red bit of Manchester behind in 2001, and putting in a few years at Blackburn (2001-2004), he's begun to take the piss a bit. He's flirted with Fulham (where he did at least net 12 times), Man City, Portsmouth, Birmingham, Sunderland, and now Burnley. The 36-year-old has pulled on the colours of three clubs in the past 12 months alone. Talk about growing old disgracefully.

While there were great nomads during the Premiership's salad days, they seem to pale in comparison with today's dirty old footballers. Tony Cottee turned out for Everton, West Ham and Leicester in the top flight, and in 2000 achieved the dubious distinction of playing in all four professional divisions in the same season. It was enough to make him retire.

Jari Ltimanen, who played for Liverpool during the 2001/02 campaign, has no such dignity. After three clubs in twelve years (two spells at Ajax, one each at Barca and Liverpool), Litmanen has now whored himself out to four different clubs in the last four seasons. He turned up on trial at Fulham this month patently no longer fit to put out the cones, let alone attempt neat one-twos for 90 minutes. But, with itinerant rent-a-coach Roy Hodgson, Litmanen has seemingly scored - even if he's unlikely to in front of the Craven Cottage faithful.

Fulham, it seems, just can't get enough sloppy seconds at the moment, with Daniel Cousin's transfer still hanging round the darker parts of Knightsbridge like a particularly desperate punter. The problem for Cousin is that he has already played for two other clubs this season: Lens and Rangers. Cue, a Fifa investigation. Well, if you're going to get a reputation for being a serial offender, then I guess you'll have to put up with being pulled in for questioning from time to time...

At 31, Cousin could yet go on to rack up some kind of record, given his current transfer rate. Whether this will be a good thing for football is a moot point, as with so many ageing pros putting it about, the transfer merry-go-round only looks like getting more and more sordid.

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Sunday, January 20, 2008

The January trolley dash

In a bout of Supermarket Sweeping that would make even Dale Winton blush, British clubs have already broken the spending record for the January transfer window - and there's still almost two weeks left.

While the 'Hey big spender' badge is currently held by Chelsea, with around 25 big ones being lashed on Sulky Nic and Serbian international Branislav Ivanovic, it is the clubs in the bottom third who have been most frantic in their hunt for hastily-scribbled signatures.

Paul Jewell will attempt to plug the holes in his leaking Derby ship by using Robbie Savage's ridiculous barnet - swept off a Blackburn barber's floor for £1.5m - and unknown Argentinian, Emmanuel Villa. Fulham have payed around 5 mil for Brede Hangeland and Eddie Johnson, centre-back and centre-forward respectively; whilst they're also duking it out with Wigan for the privilege of lining Watford's pockets with crisp fifties (£5m worth, no less) in return for the services of Marlon King.

Knocking all the above into a cocked hat, however, is Alex McLeish, with the Birmingham manager laying out a princely £5.75m for fellow Scot, Everton's James McFadden, and another million and a half to take Hibs' David Murphy south of the border. Bolton too, have expended a hefty whack (another 5 oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh pounds) on taking Matty Taylor from Fratton Park, and it seems that of those teams desperately trying to put some distance between themselves and relegation town, only Sunderland, Reading and arguably Boro are yet to really throw the chequebook at someone.

Doubtless, some of this thinking comes from casting back to West Ham's eventual survival last season, after the Hammers began January in the bottom three. In bringing in the likes of Lucas Neill, Matthew Upson, Luis Boa-Morte and Nigel Quashie, Alan Curbishley paid out over £10m, while the teams eventually o'erleapt by the east Londoners, Charlton and Sheffield United, spent relatively little.

Similarly, Harry Redknapp resurrected Pompey by completely restructuring the ailing side that his predecessor Alain Perrin had assembled. The signing of players like Sean Davis, Pedro Mendes and Noe Pamarot from Spurs, as well as club record buy Benjani, Dean Kiely in goal, and Wayne Routledge and Andres D'Allesandro on loan, boosted the south coast club, lifting them away from a relegation spot before the final game of the season, and sealing 'Arry's reputation as a master wheeler-dealer.

However, while these two examples showcase the January transfer window as an opportunity for clubs in trouble to mount a bid for safety swaddled in the protective layers of a heavy bankroll, it hasn't always been thus. West Brom, the only club to climb from that gravest of positions, bottom at Christmas, did it with barely a note changing hands (£1.5m to Burnley for Richard Chaplow being their sole expenditure) - although the canny free signing of Premiership old-stager, Kevin Campbell, and then-bright-young-thing, Kieran Richardson, on loan, certainly strengthened Brian Robson's hand.

In fact, back in those days, the window was merely another aspect of the league beholden to the tyranny of the big clubs. In 2004, the three biggest deals involved Arsenal (£17.5m for Jose-Antonio Reyes), Man U (£12m on Louis Saha) and Chelsea (£10m for Scott Parker); while Newcastle (who in the minds of the Toon are the biggest club on the disc) blew £9m on Jonathan Woodgate during the 2003 window and £8m on Jean-Alain Boumsong in 2005, topping the spending charts both times.

Of course, leaving the dance floor while the relegation tango is in full swing has always relied on elbow grease and teamwork - not something you can pick up in the January sales. West Ham ultimately had Carlos Tevez to thank for coming good during the second half of last season, while Redknapp managed to get large parts of his old Pompey squad working again, sprinkling some much-needed quality on top courtesy of the new chairman's wallet.

The likes of McFadden, Taylor and Savage will doubtless be joined by others, as the cash swilling around even the lower reaches of the Premier League is put to use by desperate owners. Whether this abundance of bunce will do anything more than keep a few more agents in pinstripe suits, I don't know.

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