Jim White

Blame Torres for quiet January

Jim White

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Fernando Torres rues another missed chance

The bloke who chained himself to the goalposts at Everton is something of a serial protester.

On Tuesday at Goodison, he unleashed his latest protest about Ryanair's employment policy. Seemingly they charge you extra just to work there.

Maybe next time he decides to handcuff himself on a football pitch he might do so on behalf of a really important cause: those of us who tuned in to Sky Sports News yesterday hoping for some, well, news. As damp squibs go, the final day of the January transfer window was completely water-logged. We, the viewers, demand something a little bit more dramatic in our final day shenanigans than Steven Pienaar going out on loan to Everton.

Where were the last minute airport runs? Where was Harry Redknapp winding down the window of his car to tell us that we would be the first to know if there was anything happening, even as something happened without our knowledge? Where was the Sky reporter struggling to make himself heard above the excited babble of a crowd gathering to welcome a new hero to their training ground?

Instead the fax machines (and surely transfer deadline day is the only institution to employ such archaic technology?) remained ominously quiet. The Premier League clubs spent in total in January £60 million on new recruits, which is less than was invested on just two players - Fernando Torres and Andy Carroll - this time last year. What is going on? Is this evidence that financial reality has finally caught up even with the most ludicrous business in Britain?

That is certainly the view of Arsene Wenger. The economic graduate has long been predicting the imminence of financial meltdown in football. Perhaps in order to promote his own club's restraint, he has been suggesting for ages that those who do not follow such prudence will get their comeuppance. Whatever he said, however, the big spenders did not appear remotely discomfited by wider financial pressures.

Until now. Manchester City spent nothing, Manchester United kept the Glazer chequebook in the safe and Tottenham barely troubled their overdraft. Sure, Chelsea were the biggest spenders in the window with something approaching £20m. But compared to what they shelled out last January, this was austerity writ large. When the largest single deal of deadline day involved Everton, you know you are not in an era in which the spendthrift reigns supreme.

Yet it may be a little premature to diagnose a major change in approach. Yes, the requirements of Financial Fair Play might be concentrating some minds. Yes, clubs like Aston Villa may well be more inclined to cut their coat according to their cloth. More pertinent, however, is the memory of what happened last January.

In economic circumstances that were hardly more propitious, this time last year clubs behaved like deranged shoppers at the Harrods sale. Money was splashed like it was going out of fashion. And look what it bought those who spent. Chelsea's Carlo Ancelotti thought that he was buying the title (not to mention the Champions League) by securing the services of Fernando Torres and David Luiz. Liverpool thought they had plugged a Torres-sized hole by blitzing a British record on Andy Carroll. But what happened?

Chelsea won neither and the manager lost his job, while Liverpool found no solution in the lumbering Geordie. And ever since, Torres, Luiz and Carroll have found themselves under the kind of critical scrutiny from which they have been unable to escape. Far from buying success, what Chelsea and Liverpool were buying was an albatross to hang round their necks, a never-ending focus for dissent and disillusion.

And this is what the January window brings. In a way the pre-season summer opening does not, it places a burden of instant expectation on the incoming player's shoulders. Come in the summer, there is time to bed in. Come in January and you need immediately to affect results. The failure of Torres and Carroll has provided stark evidence of January's potentially debilitating effect on a player.

Sure, Liverpool also picked up Luis Suarez this time last year, a player who, had he been able to keep his mouth shut, could be said to have proven an unequivocal success. But Torres and Carroll's continuing travails over-shadow his contribution. Clubs looking at what happened last year will hardly be encouraged to repeat the exercise.

Of course, the possibility of ejection from the Premier League focuses attention in a different way. QPR have brought in Bobby Zamora and Djbril Cisse in the hope that they will deliver the goals that keep them in the money. Which might in itself be the very definition of the triumph of hope over reality.

But at the top, the big-spending clubs with ambitions to win things have spurned this window, united in the belief that, whatever it is that is required to propel them to trophy-winning success, it will not be found in January.

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