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Magnus Grades The Premiership Summer Signings

Magnus does something few people recommend – grade everyone else’s summer signings. With a lot of detail. Be gentle with him.

With a quarter of the Premiership season gone, and only two months until the transfer window opens in January, perhaps it is time that we evaluate the purchases made by some of the Premiership clubs over the summer. Who has performed, and who hasn’t? Which clubs have been given a boost by their new arrivals, and which clubs rue the day they ever heard the name Kia Joorabchian?

Remember, a “C” is average. Not good, but not bad, and I’ve only tried to grade the clubs that I have been able to watch numerous times.

On to the grades…

We’ll start with Chelsea, who once again outspent all of their Premiership rivals in the transfer market. In seasons past, Mourinho admirably withstood the urge to sign the so-called big-name players, and instead opted to sign lesser-known, quality players who would suit his formation. This year, Chelsea have spent big on a few superstars, in what has eerie resemblances to Real Madrid’s failed Galacticos policy. Instead of buying the players he needs, Jose has now bought the players he wants, and must shape his team to suit their needs. So how has it worked out for them?

Andriy Shevchenko has by all accounts been a failure. From being touted by Mourinho as the best player ever to play in the Premiership before the start of the season, Sheva has scored for Chelsea only twice. Now, I have no doubt he’ll get quite a few more, but he simply doesn’t seem to be the player he was at AC Milan. Until he proves me wrong, Sheva has been a failure. The £30m Chelsea paid for him could have been spent more wisely elsewhere.

Furthermore, Michael Ballack has not yet reached the heights he regularly attained whilst at Bayern Munich. By all means, he’s playing well, but I’ve still got the sense that having Ballack and Frank Lampard in the same line-up has hampered Chelsea’s attacking play to some degree, in that their wing-play has suffered. Given that Mouinho have promised a starting berth to both of these two players, the one remaining spot in Chelsea’s 4-3-3 midfield is usually taken up by either Mickael Essien or Claude Makelele. Given that Didier Drogba and Shevchenko both play upfront, only one of Joe Cole, Arjen Robben or Shaun Wright-Phillips can play at any given time. As a result, Chelsea lack the speed on the break that they used to possess.

As for Chelsea’s other summer signings, Salomon Kalou and Jon Obi Mikel, the jury’s still out. They’ve simply not played enough to be able to settle in the team, and probably never will given the competition for places at Chelsea.

Overall Chelsea’s summer signings get a C+. Not because they’re bad players, but because they weren’t needed.

Next is Arsenal. A deadline-day deal saw Arsenal sign Chelsea’s William Gallas in return for Ashley Cole. By most accounts, a good deal by Arsenal. Sulky, overrated Cole has been replaced by a centerback of undisputed pedigree. He’s started the season well, and I expect that his high standards are not likely to drop.

As for Arsenal’s other major signings, I’m not as sure of their … Julio Baptista, signed on a year-long loan from real Madrid with Jose Antonio reyes going the opposite direction has undoubtedly added some extra power and speed to Arsenal’s attack. One fears, however, that this is all he is, half the finished product. It must worry the Arsenal faithful that he still hasn’t definitely broken into Arsenal’s starting eleven. He’ll have plenty of chances to prove his worth this season, but I suspect he’s not the real deal.

Tomas Rosicky, furthermore, is hardly a like-for like replacement for Robert Pires in terms of quality. Sure, he’s a good player who’s shown glimpses of what he can do this season, but he curiously disappeared when Arsenal played badly at the beginning of the season. Anyone can play well when the team plays well, but only a special player can lift the team when the going gets tough.

At the moment, Arsenal are enjoying a good run in both the Champions League and in the Premiership, but … Overall, I’d give their summer signings a B, if only for the potential that Rosicky and Baptista undoubtedly possess.

As for Liverpool, one must wonder what the h**l has happened up there. Going from second-favourites for the title in pre-season to mid-table also-rans in less than three months is quite the feat, even for the has-beens at Liverpool FC.

Dirk Kuyt, touted by Liverpool fans as the greatest thing since sliced cheese, is hardly a superstar-in-waiting. He’s more of a poor man’s Ruud van Nistelrooy. Sure, he’ll score his fair share of goals, and is full of heart, but is definitely not the man to fire Liverpool to all-conquering glory. I predict he’ll be sold within two years.

As for Craig Bellamy, the word dissapointment springs to mind. He should have stayed at Blackburn, where he was a big fish in a small pond, because he seems desperately out of his depth at Liverpool. Think about it this way – Wayne Rooney of Manchester United has been heavily criticized for his form this season, but he’s already got five goals under his belt. Craig Bellamy’s got two(!), and Liverpool fans aren’t complaing all that much. Says something for their expectation level, doesn’t it? I’ll be surprised if he scores more than 15 goals in all competitions this year. Hardly a world-beater.

Jermaine Pennant’s been decent, and so has Mark Gonzales. The same goes for Fabio Aurelio. The problem with these players, however, as with most of Liverpool’s recent signings, is that they are just that – good, not great. Instead of spending £20m or £30m on one or two players, like Manchester United or Chelsea, Liverpool buy five or six players at £4m, £7m or £10m. That buys them a good squad, but not a championship-calibre team.

Thus, rating of C seems natural.

In relation to Manchester United’s summer signings, the old adage of “more is less” seems to be the most apt description. Their only major signing, Michael Carrick, having been heavily criticized during the season’s opening games, is starting to show his worth to the team. Against Bolton last week his passing was simply breathtaking, going some way to justifying his admittedly inflated price of £18m. In weeks to come, his influence is likely to continue to grow, and don’t be surprised if, come May, he’ll be heralded as the Premiership’s best signing of the season.

Tomasz Kuszczak, United’s other signing of the summer played well against Arsenal when he had to step in after Edwin van der Sar was ruled out of the game just before kick-off. He looks like the real deal, and will, along with Ben Foster, challenge for goalkeeping honours at United for years to come.

United have gone from strength to strength this season, and looks like the team most likely to challenge Chelsea for the Premiership title this season. United fans definitely expected more this summer – a new defensive midfielder and a new striker springs to mind, but the team has nonetheless gotten stronger. Should Owen Hargreaves or Fernando Torres arrive at Old Trafford in January, things will really get interesting. Overall, United get a B rating.

So that’s the Top Four, but what about the others?

Tottenham, for one, were widely tipped to challenge for a place in the Champions League this season, after having missed out on the fourth spot on the final day of last season to arch-rivals Arsenal. Assou-Ekotto and Didier Zokora look like Premiership quality players, and Dimitar Berbatov is sure to get quite a few goals in the Spurs attack. Furthermore, Pascal Chimbonda and Steed Malbranque have already showed their quality. As such, a good summer of signings, but they haven’t been able to fill the gap that Michael Carrick left when he joined Manchester United, and thus lie in mid-table obscurity. Consequently, a C+ rating seems appropriate.

Newcastle United, on their hand, have signed a host of high-quality players. Damien Duff has carried on where he left off when he left Blackburn for the greener pastures of Chelsea three years ago, and is, once again, one of the Premiership’s premier wingers. Obafemi Martins will prove his worth over the course of the season, and Antoine Sibierski is a decent player who’ll improve the squad. Furthermore, the signing of Giuseppi Rossi on loan from Manchester United could prove to be one of the deals of the year, if only Glenn Roeder would actually play the boy. He scored on his debut last week, and will be an impact player for them as soon as he’s convinced the manager of his merit. Newcastle’s defense is, however, still too threadbare to compete with the big boys. A B+ summer for the Tyneside giants.

And finally, everyone’s favourite laughing stock, West Ham United. After having pulled off a deadline-day “deal of the century” by signing Argentine pair Javier Mascherano and Carlos Tevez, most commentators believed West Ham would be challenging for a seat at the top table of the Premiership this year. It hasn’t turned out that way, however, and West Ham lie in 16th place, three points off the bottom.

These two signings have greatly upset the balance at West Ham United. What was once a renowned meritocracy, where young, untried and unfashionable players would get in the team if only their contribution was great enough, are incensed that the Argentine pair have seemingly walked into a starting position on the basis of their reputation only. Rumours are rife that promising midfielder Nigel Reo-Coker will leave for either Manchester United or Arsenal in January, and the same goes for many others in the squad.

Therefore, West Ham United get the worst rating of all, a D. There is one positive, however – things can only get better from here.


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