Retrospect and hindsight are two important elements for growth and advancement, and there is no better time than the conclusion of the 2013/14 Premier League season to cast our gaze back over the wheeling and dealing that took place in August ’13 and January ’14.
We saw, of course, spectacular transfer fees being dished out for players both mediocre and talented, as well as investments in those perceived to be the next global superstar of the Premier League, with the intention of unlocking untapped potential. As always, in the theatrical drama of the footballing world, some players rose to make the stage their own, entrancing and captivating their audience, and others failed to live up to their top-drawer billing, because of a lack of chemistry, over-estimation of talent or reasons hitherto unknown. Here, we aim to look at the investments in which the new signing would prove fruitful for his new team.
(All stats from whoscored.com unless stated otherwise)
– Simon Mignolet (Sunderland to Liverpool – €10.5m).
– Gareth Barry (Manchester City to Everton – Loan).
– Shane Long (West Bromwich Albion to Hull City – €5m).
– Mathieu Flamini (AC Milan to Arsenal – Free Transfer).
– Nemanja Matic (Benfica to Chelsea – €25m).
#5 Tony Pulis (Unemployed – Crystal Palace)
A bit of a loophole, this one, but the wording of the title is deliberate and there is no denying the impact that Tony Pulis had on a Crystal Palace team that, when he joined on 23rd November, were tied bottom of the table with after twelve games, two wins, a -14 goal difference, seven points and conceding three goals for every one they scored.
Fast forward to the end of the season, and the relegation escapist had led his team to eleven wins and five points. Leading by example, he instilled his team with a drive and confidence, showcased in their three-goal comeback that effectively neutered Liverpool’s title dreams. Arsene Wenger emphasised and advocated Pulis’ abilities when he essentially nominated Pulis for the Manager of the Season award, claiming.
“I believe the real job of a manager is to take the best out of the potential of the team. The easiest way is always to choose the guy who wins the league, but it’s not always him who has done the best job.”
#4 Dejan Lovren (Lyon to Southampton – €10m)
Southampton enjoyed a promising first season back in the top flight, after recovering from a disastrous descent beginning in 2006 that saw them plummet into League 1 in 2009. They achieved a respectable 14th place, bypassing the ‘yo-yo’ syndrome that befalls so many promoted sides. However, with the help of three signings, all commanding not-inconsiderable fees, it is Dejan Lovren who stands out as a pivotal piece of the Saints’ puzzle.
A defensive ball-player and great reader of the game, averaging 2.7 interceptions p/g, placing him in the top ten interceptors this season, he finished the season with an average rating of 7.32. Southampton conceded 60 goals last season, and Lovren’s arrival coincided with a reduction this season, conceding only 46, the 6th best record in the league.
The boy’s got skills too:
#3 Romelu Lukaku (Chelsea to Everton – Loan)
Roberto Martinez’s new active, fluid and positive Everton side will miss Romelu Lukaku next season, as the 20-year-old phenomenon spearheaded Everton’s improved attack with the aplomb that we’ve come to expect from the highly-rated Belgian.
Everton’s assault on the top five was inspired by Lukaku’s fifteen goals, but just as importantly, he contributed to the rest of the team by providing six assists, proving that he can do more than just score, he is also an unselfish team player. With an average rating of 7.29, he led Everton to 61 goals in a season, the 6th highest in the league. Your move, Mourinho.
#2 Willian (Anzhi to Chelsea – €35m)
Even in the financially ridiculous parallel universe football resides in, €35m is a significant transfer fee. Combine this with the sentiment that Willian appeared to be a reaction signing to keep him from falling into Tottenham’s grasp, as well as the fact that he generally inhabits positions occupied by Juan Mata, Eden Hazard, Oscar and Andre Schurrle, a veritable who’s-who of world class attackers, and Willian’s signing was shrouded in mystery and questionable motivations.
Fast forward to the end of the season and Willian appears to be one of the first names on Mourinho’s team sheet. An industrial, fiery and competitive player, he may have surprised many a pundit with his propensity for defence and willingness to protect his full-back. His adaption to the Mourinho system was hand-in-glove, and while his average rating was 7.26 for the season, lower than the above two, it was his ability to quietly and assuredly turn in consistent performances built on work ethic that made him such a beneficial signing for Chelsea.
#1 Fernandinho (Shakhtar Donetsk to Manchester City – €40m)
Believe it or not, €40m is almost a bargain for Fernandinho, considering that his role in the team is arguably the reason that we can call Manchester City champions. A quick glance through the Brazilian midfielder’s stats don’t offer much penetration into his importance. With the exception of an 88.4% passing stat, his five goals and three assists enunciate his statistical anonymity.
However, this season Manchester City scored 102 goals, in comparison to last year’s paltry 66. The defensive end hasn’t suffered as a result, given that they only conceded 37, to last season’s 34. The reason we’ve seen such an astronomical offensive boost with almost no defensive repercussions? Fernandinho.
His presence in the team frees the talismanic Yaya Toure from the anchor role he was forced to occupy last season. This in turn allows David Silva more freedom to roam the pitch, with the aforementioned juggernauts controlling the offensive and defensive aspects of central midfield. Consequently, in something of a ripple effect, this facilitates more opportunities for the striker, be it Aguero, Negredo or Dzeko. This season, Toure provided 21 goals and 9 assists to last year’s 8 and 6, and Silva contributed 8 goals and 10 assists to last season’s 4 and 8 respectively. The crux of this system is Fernandinho, without whom Toure would be restricted by defensive duties, and Silva would have to take on a larger offensive burden. Fernandinho might not be the best player on the Manchester City team, but he is one of the most paramount. As such, he is the most important signing of the 2013/14 season.
Ryan Collins, Pundit Arena.
You can follow Ryan via @RyanTiCollins.