Wednesday, 25 February 2009

The different worlds of Fergie and The Special One

Internazionale and Manchester United's Champions League first-leg tie may not have been high on excitement - but no one can deny the quality on display.
One things for sure: the second leg in Manchester will be a more dramatic affair with the clock-ticking down and United's attacking urges to satisfy at Old Trafford. Inter will have to come out and play to quell the onslaught.
It's as much a clash on the field between these two clubs as it is in the manager's offices.
Mourinho: the suave Portuguese itinerant: Fergie: the grizzly Scottish empire builder.
And it made me think: bearing in mind the mentalities of the two, if you were a fan of a big club, would you rather have a Mourinho or a Fergie in charge?
There's no doubt that Mourinho's management style would offer few chances for United regulars such as John O'Shea and Darren Fletcher, but they are essential components of the Red Devil's incessant charge through trophy bid after trophy bid.
Even flair players like Wayne Rooney and Ryan Giggs take on a workmanlike demeanour under Fergie.
Of course, there's a work ethic and commitment to gameplan in every Mourinho side; sometimes at the expense of entertainment - but the players that arrive at the Giuseppe Meazza are usually players who've made their names elsewhere.
There'll always be clubs like Inter and for that matter, Real Madrid and Chelsea who are showbiz entities - ready to unveil the multi-million pound signing and replace the manager just for coming second, sometimes twice a season.
But on the other hand, there's United, AC Milan and Arsenal, who have a five-year plan and remain unwavering in the darkest periods of the barren trophy cabinet.
And I prefer these clubs: I think it's those who'll prosper in the unsure economic times ahead, starting with Fergie to advance at the expense of The Special One in this season's Champions League.
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Monday, 23 February 2009

Why aren't these players considered for England?

Fabio Capello has a meritocratic, almost linear approach to selecting his England squads.

Our national coach comes from a football culture where the player with the most caps is made captain.

And so it follows that if you're in form, the Italian boss will call you up. Players who've benefited from this recently have included ex-Fulham midfielder Jimmy Bullard and Carlton Cole of West Ham.

But somehow, there's still that nagging feeling there's a glass ceiling when it comes to selecting players from less fashionable clubs or of a certain age or pedigree.

I see some Premier League players perform week-in and week-out, even season-in and season-out, and they never getting a look in. Bolton Wanderers would be struggling without the evergreen commitment and goals of Kevin Davies and the wand like, left-foot of Matt Taylor, purveyor of the spectacular strike both at Bolton and at Portsmouth for several seasons before.

Even the Championship has a growing cluster of quality players who deserve closer attention at international level. Just because they're not in the top-flight doesn't mean they wouldn't be equipped to make the step up.

Mansfield-born Kris Commons has elected to play for Scotland because he never believed he'd get that chance with the country of his birth. Why he's never played above the Championship is beyond me. Strong, skilled, attack-minded and who weighs in with a good few goals from his position. He's more prominent following his winner against Manchester United in the Carling Cup semi-final first-leg, but he performs at that level all the time.

I was surprised that Chris Eagles left Manchester United, but moreso that Burnley was his best option. With all due respect to the Clarets, Eagles was beginning to make an impression in the United first-team, so if his decision to leave Old Trafford was about playing more often than surely a Premier League side would've wanted him? Eagles for England!

Some players, particularly younger ones respond to the challenge of playing at a higher level without succumbing to nerves or being found out.

So Fabio, give good professionals an unexpected platform at international level that their quality and commitment deserve.

Cast your net wider to find form players from a dozen clubs.

More often than not, they will respond to the call!

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Monday, 16 February 2009

Liverpool to Chelsea, Manchester United to Spurs, West Brom to Stoke - who'd be a manager?

Football is full of half-finished sentences and unanswered questions. There are times when the Premier League would just love a full stop - even a punctuation mark. When a referee allows a dodgy goal or a player loses his rag, it is best to leave things hanging in the air.
Take for instance the FA Cup fourth-round replay between Liverpool and Everton. With minutes to go in the match and the game finely balanced, Everton launched one final attack. ITV viewers were then treated to the bizarre spectacle of an advert break at the wrong time. Now we all know about the importance of timing in sport but this was rather like interrupting Gilbert and Sullivan with the Coldstream Guards. Totally inappropriate, you might say.
At the top of the Premier League, managers are frequently questioned for both their timing and behaviour. Only a couple of weeks ago Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez put his ugliest foot in it with an inflammatory remark about Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson and vice versa. Apparently Fergie thought the time was ripe for a spot of verbal jousting.
Now the story so far is that Liverpool have made their Premier League title bid emphatically clear and Fergie, of course, is quite clearly on the warpath. Sir Alex, as many of us know, is renowned for his cunning mind games but for Benitez this had gone far enough. Ferguson apparently made a childishly spiteful remark about the wisdom of signing Robbie Keane and Benitez took immediate offence.
It was at this point that the gloves went on, Fergie spat out his chewing gum and the air became blue with good old-fashioned Anglo Saxon fury. When Sir Alex Ferguson buttons up his black coat and gums up for the afternoon, it is safe to assume that all animals are safely protected. He shoves his hands in his pockets, gazes threateningly at the referee and then considers legal action.
Both Ferguson and Benitez are classic examples of men with a proverbial chip on the shoulder. It would be unfair to say that both men suffer from a persecution complex. But when the tension reaches boiling point and the stakes are at their highest, both seem to revert to a frustrated childhood. The accusations fly, and both end up in tears.
To all outward apperances, Benitez has been the calm and rational one who would rather keep out of the limelight. He stands on the touchline in the warmest of tracksuits, pointing and gesturing at his players and then shuffling his shoes. Benitez may look as if he's waiting for a bus but then Liverpool have been waiting 19 years for a League title so impatience is perfectly understandable.
Behind the pacesetters are Aston Villa and Martin O'Neill. For Villa a place in the top four is new territory this decade so O'Neill does seem to be gate-crashing the party. At no point during any Premier League match does the Villa manager seem to stand still or sit down.
He nervously twitches on the balls of his feet, a picture of anxiety and curiosity. When Villa score and the crowd explode, O'Neill jumps 4 feet into the air in celebration, punches his fists with delight and then just congratulates himself.
For Luiz Felipe Scolari, the world according to Chelsea proved a deeply unpleasant one. He was never the tormented and anguished Jose Mourinho where every match was a horrible ordeal. Whereas Mourinho seemed to hate everybody and everything, Senor Scolari was a smouldering Brazilian volcano ready to blow. In the heat of action he became cold and emotionless, only letting himself go when Frank Lampard crossed the half-way line.

At the other end of the Premier League, life for new Spurs boss Harry Redknapp is all worry and restless animation. From the moment happy Harry, formerly of Portsmouth and West Ham, walked into White Hart Lane, every day has come with a government health warning. In his thickly padded top, Redknapp often looks as though he's being tortured with red-hot pokers. He throws his head to one side when things go wrong, flings his hands in front of his face in utter exasperation and then asks his wife to play up front.
Last but not least, there are the men who just fold their arms, hoping and waiting for something to turn up. Tony Pulis is the helpless manager of Stoke City, baseball cap on his head, smart and upright and yet resigned to his fate. Perhaps Stoke will be relegated or maybe they won't.
There is the immaculately shirt-and-tied Tony Mowbray, who probably wishes he hadn't been offered the West Brom job. Mowbray looks like a grim trade unionist who only smiles on a Tuesday afternoon.
There you have it, then. Premier League bosses really do have to suffer for their art. When the whistle goes and players kick off, theirs is the kind of job only the foolish and deluded would take.
It is undoubtedly one of the most thankless and unenviable jobs of all. It is 90 minutes of joy, heartbreak, endless toil and drudgery. When the pressure reaches its most intense and the wealthy chairmen demand their ounce of flesh and blood, it is quite simply no place for the faint hearted.
Anyone for tennis?
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Friday, 13 February 2009

It's Chelsea's Financial Statement (EBIT-DOH!!)

Fresh from Chelsea's Media Department, here's a very professionally delivered statement of the financial state of play at Stamford Bridge.

Proof indeed that whichever way you look at it, you can't polish a turd! They paid out £23million in compensation to Jose Mourinho, Avram Grant and a few staff. Chelsea's future is ONLY about the commitment of Roman Abramovich. Good luck Blues!

Chelsea reduce losses again as shareholder ‘debt’ is halved:

Chelsea FC plc today (Friday, February 13 2009) announced record group turnover and reduced losses for a third successive season.

The group results for the financial year end June 30, 2008 also revealed that half of the interest free loans from Chelsea Ltd, whose ultimate controlling party is Roman Abramovich, have been converted into equity demonstrating a continued and strengthened commitment from the shareholder to the football club.

The results followed another year of relative success on the field with football and media revenues all showing large rises on the previous financial year.

The main figures were:

- group turnover up 11.9% to £213.1m from £190.5m (2006/7)
- football activities up 14.8% to £189.8m from £165.3m
- of this media revenues are up 30.4% to £77.6m from £59.6m
- Shareholder loans have been reduced to £339.8m while shareholder capital/equity has increased to £369.9m
- losses reduced by 43% before exceptional items to £42.6m from £74.8m
- losses reduced by 12.2% after exceptional items to £65.7m
- wages and salaries as percentage of turnover before exceptional items 70.6%
- gross turnover of £248m (includes adidas and other merchandise and Chelsea Digital Media not consolidated in group results)

Chelsea Chairman Bruce Buck said: “Following the conversion of half of the interest free loans into equity there should now be no doubt as to the owner’s commitment to the club and the stability of the company’s funding structure.

“We have always believed that this ‘debt’, now reduced by 50%, has been misrepresented. Chelsea has no external debt and makes no punitive interest payments to external funders.”

The results include exceptional items of £23.1m related to compensation payments to two first team managers and five coaching staff.

These are treated under wages and salaries for accounting purposes only. Wages before exceptionals were £148.5m (£132.8m 2006/7) and after exceptionals £171.6m

Chelsea has also conducted independent research by TNS (October 2008) that indicates the club has 110 million “core” fans globally an increase of 20 million on the previous research.

Chelsea Chief Executive Peter Kenyon said: “There is no doubt that the positive upward trends of turnover and the continued reduction in losses shows that Chelsea is building a strong business base to build on in what will be challenging times. This is even more evident given that the results were adversely affected by the exceptional items.

“We have set ourselves ambitious targets to be EBITDA neutral on June 30 2010 and to require zero cash funding from the owner at the beginning of the financial year 2009/2010.

“We have consistently advocated the aim of self-sufficiency which has always been supported by the owner. We are hopeful of being close to these targets in the timeframes we have set given the underlying strengths of the business.

“Success on the field is a key part of this. But in line with our long stated business aims any squad restructuring in the summer will be funded predominantly by sales as we have consistently reduced our net transfer spend over the last five years and will attempt to continue this trend.

“This is the fifth set of financial accounts since the takeover and Chelsea has made huge progress during that period as a football club and a business.

“In that time we have had significant on field success, our turnover has increased by 96% which ranks us 5th in the world and our fan base has increased hugely. That gives us great confidence for the next 5 years.”

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Also on Soccermongery: Heat on Scolari sees him leave the Chelsea kitchen

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Thursday, 12 February 2009

England: that wasn't very good, was it?

Fabio Capello's England were well beaten in Seville and the game's status as a friendly rather disguised the thoroughness of the defeat. It's a reality check.
Spain, crowned European Champions in the summer and number one in FIFA's World Rankings, carved holes at will in England's defence - and our midfield and attack had no answer against the lethal combination of form and class the Spanish oozed.
Perhaps the biggest lesson Capello can learn was in the widest gulf between the teams - commitment. I don't think England were as up for the game as Spain and once the home side had quelled the visitors opening brightness, England had no response to the emerging pattern of play - Spanish dominance.
If we're to win major tournaments, we have to beat teams like Spain on their own patch. It was one of the most competitive of friendlies, but when you're Spanish, at home and won all seven internationals since winning Euro 2008, the idea of changing gear to a mere friendly would be an unlikely reaction.
England's players be warned: under Fabio Capello, friendlies are wrongly billed - every game is important, particularly for a coach who picks players based on current form.
Expect quite a few changes for the next international.
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Monday, 9 February 2009

Scolari made Grant's time at Chelsea look good

There's no patience at Stamford Bridge even for a World Cup winning boss. Luiz Felipe Scolari is gone and Chelsea will have their third manager inside a year-and-a-half. But Big Phil was always a riskier appointment than his CV suggested.

Chelsea were intoxicated by Scolari's status. Roman Abramovich was bedazzled by the man who said no to the FA, who put England to the sword in three consecutive tournaments and who won the World Cup.

But for years, he was accustomed only to the comparatively part-time tasks of international management with Brazil and Portugal. Suddenly at a senior age, thrust into the day-to-day stresses of a domestic club in the toughest league in the world, Scolari couldn't handle it.

You can see the toll Chelsea took on Big Phil. On the left, a picture of him with Portugal - and on the right, in the Chelsea cauldron.

He suffered with kidney stones, speaking English like a Mind Your Language student, he got Ray Wilkins to face the media spotlight when it intensified and Chelsea slithered from odds-on title favourites to the ignominy of battling for the final Champions League place.

So who next at the Bridge? And how short-sighted does Jose Mourinho's dismissal as manager look now?

The fact is that only someone like Mourinho will do for Chelsea. Young, thrusting, dynamic, energetic and with medals in his pocket at another top European side.

Perhaps not this time, but Gianfranco Zola of West Ham is a man who must manage Chelsea one day. Already establishing his credentials in double quick time at Upton Park, his master stroke was appointing Steve Clarke as Hammers coach; the only man who has a bigger reputation at Chelsea than the wee Sardinian does.

Clarke is widely acknowledged as the mastermind behind organising Chelsea from back-to-front and many will point to the Blues demise and Hammers ascendancy being exactly measured by his move across town.

As they say in politics, Zola and Clarke are the dream ticket, but perhaps the timing isn't right for either Chelsea or the Hammers duo.

Perhaps Guus Hiddink is the man with the all-round experience to steer the Blue ship, although like Scolari, is he ready for the gear change from international to club football?

It's ironic that Avram Grant could well be on his way back to the Premier League with Portsmouth on the day the Chelsea job became available again.

Also on Soccermongery: Cock-up Charlton had Hodgson in their sights.

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Beckham and Giggs become Greats on the same day

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It's time to acknowledge David Beckham and Ryan Giggs as Greats of the game. Just like the word Genius, which is bandied around with gay abandon, "he's a great player" is an oft used phrase uttered in moments of passionate exchange with your mates.

But I don't think too many people will argue with me about the status of Great being uttered around Becks or Giggs - particularly after Sunday.

Giggs netted the Manchester United winner at West Ham, dribbling his way through challenges before a sweet low, hard strike with his weaker right foot past a helpless Robert Green. Sheer quality and elegance belying his age. He's scored in every Premier League season. Now that's a Great!
Beckham's been included Fabio Capello's England squad for the friendly in Spain. He's set to win his 108th cap so equalling Bobby Moore's record for international appearances for an outfield player. Becks has played himself into contention yet again with a series of excellent displays for AC Milan. More comebacks than Frank Sinatra, Beckham is also a Great!

I've no doubt that both of these Greats have a chapter or two left in the annals of their careers. Beckham has joined the club which specialises in the thirtysomething superstar. The backbone of Milan's European success this decade has been built on such players, and the former England captain is well-known to be a physically fit individual. A big, big heart and a seemingly unquenchable desire to prove people wrong.

Impossible Is Nothing for Beckham, who could yet land another Champions League gong and even star in another World Cup campaign.

Giggs is also matchfit and able to run midfield contests with a combination of experience and sheer ability. He mightn't be the first name on the teamsheet, but unless Fergie quits at the end of the season, I can't imagine his services being dispensed with just yet - and even if they were, you can imagine a stampede for him. He's just too good to retire for now.

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Friday, 6 February 2009

It's Time To Say, "Arise, Sir Jimmy Hill"

By MARCUS STEAD: Soccermongery is often the platform for the outrageous statement. What about this one!

The summer of 2000 was one of the most important periods of my life. This was the time when I was sitting my GCSE exams, an experience I’m glad to say I’ll never have to go through again.

I can remember the day of my first exam very well. Nearly 200 of us entered the school hall, and had been allocated a very old, wobbly wooden desk each, that had surely out-lived our sixteen years. I went to take my place, which would be my second home in the gruelling few weeks that lay ahead.

No sooner had I sat down than I noticed a piece of graffiti on the top of the desk that read in huge capital letters, “JIMMY HILL IS MY HERO”. I tried very hard not to laugh out loud - this wasn’t the time or the place, but it’s fair to say I came pretty close to being disqualified from my exams before they had even started. Just think, my life could’ve taken a completely different course if one of the invigilators had looked at me during that moment.
Yet it occurred to me that those words could have been inscribed several decades earlier. Certainly, the desk dated back to the 1960s (it had an inkwell), but it was a testimony to just how long the great man had been involved with the game.

Of course, Mr Hill is a national figure of fun, and the graffiti was undoubtedly intended as sarcasm, but if you take the time to look beyond the huge chin and daft bow ties, you find a man who has made an extraordinary contribution to the game in so many different capacities.

His playing career saw him make more than 300 appearances for Fulham, the most memorable of which saw him score five goals against Doncaster Rovers, but his achievements as a player pale in comparison to everything he has accomplished off the field that helped change the game for the better in so many ways.

In 1957, he became the chairman of the Professional Footballers Association, and campaigned for the abolition of the £20-per-week maximum wage. He headed an excellent campaign that was ultimately successful. It’s easy to scoff at the excesses of the Premier League, but if this campaign had failed all those decades ago, there would surely have been an exodus of talent away from the English league to just about anywhere. The consequences for the national game would have been devastating.

Even if he had faded from the public eye at this stage, the modern game would still owe him a huge debt of gratitude, but this was to be only the beginning of his contribution to matters off-the-pitch.

His spell as manager of Coventry City between 1961 and 1967 saw the team promoted from the third tier to the top flight, but that only tells part of the story. Once again, he was way ahead of his time. With the support of the club chairman, Derrick Robbins, he insisted that two sides of the Highfield Road stadium were completely rebuilt. He was also responsible for the first proper match day programme, and arranged for pre-match entertainment.

These changes may sound small by the standards of today, but he understood that this was a period when cinema, theatre and other forms of entertainment were becoming increasingly affordable for ordinary people, and football had to work harder to maintain the fans’ loyalty.
When he left the club in 1967, he moved to a role that would see him make yet more revolutionary changes to the way we watch football.

He took a job as Head of Sport at London Weekend Television, where he helped develop the legendary World of Sport, and persuaded Brian Moore to make the switch to television for the launch of The Big Match. Until this point, football on TV had always been rather earnest, worthy and slightly po-faced. The double act of Jimmy and Brian Moore changed all that, adding a touch of razzmatazz and fun to proceedings.

The challenge ITV faces when covering major international tournaments is much the same now as it was at the 1970 World Cup. The main challenge was, and is, to give the viewer a reason to put up with the adverts and choose their coverage over that of the commercial-free BBC. On this front, Jimmy worked his magic once again, when he assembled the first panel of analysts, carefully chosen because of their willingness to speak their minds and not hold back.

For a month in the summer of 1970, ITV viewers were treated to late-night football highlights in the company of “The Midnight Cowboys” consisting of Malcolm Allison, Bob McNab, Pat Crerand, Derek Dougan and several others, who provided entertaining and forthright analysis of the day’s action. It’s hard to imagine a set-up like this existing now, in an era when broadcasters are keen to stay on the right side of the governing bodies, and the pundits themselves don’t want to upset their friends in the game. This remains the only time ITV have beaten the BBC in the ratings at a major summer tournament.

Jimmy jumped ship to the BBC a few years later, and became the face of Match of the Day. Those of us who weren’t around at the time have recently been given the chance to enjoy those programmes on ESPN Classic. I don’t normally appreciate being lectured at in a schoolmasterly fashion, but his precise, sharp and to-the-point analysis of the matches they covered was refreshingly blunt.

He combined his broadcasting commitments with several directorships, which started with his return to Coventry City in 1975. In the last game of the 1976/77 season, he is said to have made Coventry City vs Bristol City kick off ten minutes late, thereby allowing them to know how their relegation rivals Sunderland were doing at Everton. Sunderland eventually lost the game 2-0. Both teams knew all they had to do to stay up was pass the ball around, and the final ten minutes descended into farce, with nobody making any effort at all to try and score.

Many Sunderland fans still haven’t forgiven him for this, as was evident when he attended their match against Fulham at Craven Cottage just last year, and needed a police escort to ensure his safety.

But was this really such a crime? Maybe there really was serious crowd congestion outside Highfield Road. If we want to make the final day of the season truly fair, maybe all TV, radio and telecommunication signals inside every football ground should be blocked, to stop teams playing for draws if they know an important fixture at another ground is heading for an extremely one-sided result.

Of course, that could never happen, but you know what I’m getting at.

In 1981 came more proof that he was an innovator, a man well ahead of his time. He turned Highfield Road into an all-seater stadium, on the grounds of safety and fan comfort. However, there was a backlash from the supporters, and after Millwall fans ripped out much of the seating, he reluctantly backed down and re-introduced terracing. Hull City fans hoping for a repeat of that precedent shouldn’t hold their breath. Jimmy was once again way ahead of everybody else, and after a pretty miserable decade for football, all-seater stadia became the norm.

Later that decade, he saved his beloved Fulham from extinction, before having the wisdom to sell up when someone with serious financial clout could lead them back to the top flight for the first time in three decades.

By the late 1980s, the television viewer demanded a more slick presentation style, and Des Lynam was installed as presenter of Match of the Day. Jimmy was moved to the role of analyst, where he formed a highly entertaining and much under-rated double act with Terry Venables. It appeared as though they couldn’t stand each other, but away from the cameras, nothing could have been further from the truth. The viewers loved it.

In his most recent role as presenter of the Sunday Supplement on Sky Sports, he often talked about how it would be a good idea to get more former players to become referees. This argument holds a lot of merit, and is likely to gain huge amounts of support from players and managers in the years ahead.

Yes, some people think he preaches too much, and he’s always been prone to the odd daft comment. But the real Jimmy Hill is an innovator, a maverick, and a rebel who repeatedly stood up to the men in blazers. Everyone in football, whether a player, manager, media personality and even ordinary fans owe him a huge debt of gratitude.

Sir Alex Ferguson and Sir Bobby Robson are both worthy recipients of their knighthoods, and it’s now time to add Sir Jimmy to that list.
Let us show him our appreciation for everything he has done for the game while he is with us to enjoy it. Football, and even the nation as a whole, would be in a far better state if there were more people around like him.

Also on Soccermongery: Jonny's TV Guide to watching Football on TV... er... nil-nil, Jeff! and VIDEO: McClaren's mystery Dutch accent!
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Monday, 2 February 2009

Transfer Window Report: Spurs plunder steals City's thunder

It was billed as Manchester City's big financial splash - it ended with Tottenham Hotspur stealing the headlines.

And given Tottenham's predicament in the league, coupled with the wheeler-dealing histrionics that accompany Harry Redknapp everywhere he goes, that's hardly surprising.

As City bucked the financial trend by scattering monetary sardines to debt-ridden trawlermen, West Ham declared The Great Fire Sale of London. The Hammers conceded everyone of their squad had a price tag on their head.

The £14million transfer of Craig Bellamy from the Hammers to City embodied the extreme sellers trading with the extreme buyers. Too much money chased too few goods and West Ham could be quietly satisfied they got the better of the deal. Hamburg's Nigel de Jong and Newcastle 'keeper Shay Given also arrived at Eastlands for £17m and £8m respectively.

Even Portsmouth raided the West Ham cupboard, snapping up Hayden Mullins and Pele on the same day (Porto's Portugal international before you ask). Jermain Defoe already played his last game in Pompey blue before the window even opened; completing his £15m reunion with Harry and Spurs, but as one Jermain closed another Jermaine opened - on-loan Pennant came in from Anfield. Pompey also signed two Greeks. Let's hope they bear gifts for Tony Adams' strugglers.

Defoe was one of three Spurs signings to make unlikely (astonishing) returns to White Hart Lane. Pascal Chimbonda rejoined from Sunderland and on the final day of the window, Robbie Keane brought a premature end to his Anfield adventure with a return to his comfort zone. The Reds initially lost £8m on the £20.3m they paid Spurs at the start of the season.

Wigan's Wilson Palacios and Carlo Cudicini of Chelsea look canny Harry signings for next season.

Just as gripping as the deals that happened were a couple which never did.

Kaka' turned down an astonishing £90m bid from City, as Milan used their best endeavours to take candy off a kid. It was always going to be a delicate negotiation when Kaka' insisted He Belonged To Jesus. Silvio Berlusconi knew better.

Having also captured Wayne Bridge, City prepared a series of improved bids for Roque Santa Cruz which could've kept Blackburn in caviar for generations.

The protracted negotiations over Santa Cruz crystallised City's problem in this window. Clubs could smell them coming. Blackburn told the Paraguayan he could leave if they were offered £25m - City's opening bid was less than half that. Meanwhile, Rovers prepared for life after Santa Cruz, whenever that is, with the £2m signing of El Hadji Diouf from Sunderland.

As the best laid plans of mice and men go oft awry, clubs vied with each other to gain that competitive edge. But Liverpool must repel Manchester United's mounting challenge without a single new signing. The returns from injury of Torres and Skrtel rather saved the need to bring in new faces, but in selling Keane, Rafa Benitez is gambling on the fitness of Torres.

Arsenal's reward for persistence ended with the signing of Zenit St. Petersburg's Euro 2008 star, Andrei Arshavin. But in doing so, they caused controversy by completing the deal a full 24 hours after the Window had closed. The Premier League claimed the deal had been "substantively" completed by the 5pm lockdown a day earlier.

The joke doing the rounds is that the Emirates is cold - because someone left the Window open!

Chelsea made just one signing - Ricardo Quaresma, on loan from Internazionale.

Aston Villa were among the summer's big-spenders but Martin O'Neill judged another few quid might be needed to bag the Champions League dream. The £3.5m arrival of Emile Heskey from Wigan Athletic represents shrewd dealing.

But other selling clubs were determined to hold on to their best assets till at least the end of the season. Stuart Downing's rumoured switch from Middlesbrough to Spurs never happened. Gareth Southgate could never have offloaded his biggest asset to a relegation rival.
Mike Ashley's renewed vows to Newcastle United meant Michael Owen was unlikely to leave St. James' Park this month. Now he's injured again. But signs of growing stability were measured by the arrival of Bolton's Kevin Nolan for £4m and Ryan Taylor from Wigan - in a swap plus cash deal which took Charles N'Zogbia to the JJB as their record signing.

Everton's David Moyes was recently rated by Sir Alex Ferguson as doing the best job at his club measured against the resources available to him. Top-half of the table and without playing any recognised strikers recently, Moyes waited to the last day of the window to land Jo on-loan from Manchester City for the remainder of the season.

You've got to hand it to Stoke City. Tony Pulis has played a blinder, establishing the Britannia Stadium as a fortress and keeping the newly-promoted side out of the bottom three for much of the season.

The £3.5m capture of Sheffield United striker James Beattie gives a hungry player "another crack at the Premier League" and an extra half-dozen precious goals which may keep Stoke in the league next season. Having also signed Matthew Etherington from West Ham and Henri Camara on-loan from Wigan, they can mix up their attack with more than Rory Delap's long throws, and it makes up for Pulis' only glarer - £5.5m for striker Dave Kitson which hasn't worked at all.

Hull City made a lightning start to life in the Premier League, but the reality now is they're one of 14 clubs in the race to reach 40 points; the widely accepted threshold to avoid relegation. The £5m signing of Fulham midfielder Jimmy Bullard is insurance against that threat, just as his return from injury saved the Cottagers from the drop last season. Roy Hodgson replaced Bullard at Fulham with Julian Gray from Coventry City and the highly-experienced Olivier Dacourt. The former Everton and Leeds midfielder is a loan signing from Inter.

Sunderland boss Ricky Sbragia gave us insight into his defensive priorities. Arriving on-loan at the Stadium of Light were Calum Davenport of West Ham and Manchester City's Tal Ben Haim.

In future, English clubs may well rely far less on importing foreign talent because of the collapse of the £'s value against the Euro, meaning Robinho's recent £32.4m capture from Real Madrid, would now cost in the region of £40m. At the same time, English players become relatively better value to continental clubs.

Sadly, Soccermongery is not a Premier League club, it's a Premier League Blog. However, keen not to be left out, I'm delighted to unveil a household name's arrived as our first major signing!

From January 1st, Popeye falls into the public domain in Britain under EU law.

The copyright expiry means that anyone can print and sell Popeye posters, T-shirts and even create new comic strips, without the need for authorisation or to make royalty payments.

So here goes: "Hello, I'm Popeye and I guzzle both spinach and Jonny's Soccermongery. It really is the best soccer blog in the woild! They both give me strength. Ug-ug-ug-ug-ug-ug!"

Soccermongery's all about your feedback, so write away, right away!

Also on the Soccermongery: Video: McClaren's odd Dutch accent and Podcast Laugh: Jose Mourinho sings Lloyd-Webber and Home Page: find out what's bugging me today.