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The shift in power of the summer transfer saga's

The window may be shut, but there are still questions to be asked around many Premier League stars.

As the transfer window ‘slams’ shut on August 31st, it has ended speculation over a number of prolonged summer sagas – for a few months at least. However, although the window removes the players’ restriction to move to a new club, it does not remove the issues which hang over the head of a number of English Premier League stars.

For the likes of Phillipe Coutinho, Alexis Sanchez, Diego Costa, Virgil Van Dijk and Riyad Mahrez, they remain at their current clubs for the time being, despite each of them openly underlining their desires to play elsewhere. All of these players are in what some may call ‘limbo’ and although they have all ended up in a similar situation, the circumstances differ in each of their cases. What their disappointment does highlight however, is the shift away from player power - which has troubled many PL clubs over course of the last decade, at least. No longer does the player hold all the cards in a transfer saga, due to the unprecedented rise of cash plummeted in to PL clubs, thanks to a handsome broadcasting deal. So, with that, clubs are now in a stronger position to keep all their prize assets, with no obligation or temptation to sell to a rival. A perfect example of that came not this summer but last, when then title holders Leicester tried to test Watford’s resolve with a combined bid of almost £70m for their forward pair of Troy Deeney and Odion Ighalo. No player in the Hornets history has come close to even half that transfer value, however the club seen no sense in selling, when the club was aiming to steer clear of any relegation worries. We do not need told the money within the bubble of the Premier League is completely obscene, that is a notion accepted universally in 2017.

Moving back to the wet and windy summer of ’17 and the clubs have strengthened that grip on their star players even further. Liverpool mastered the weird and wonderful advances of Barcelona for Phillipe Coutinho, rejecting a number of bids which could have pushed £130m. The clubs owners, Fenway Sports Group, publicly emphasised that they had no desire to sell their Brazilian playmaker, this dialogue appeasing Reds fans who have grown frustrated with losing key men to rivals with larger pockets. Suarez, Sterling and Torres have all moved for fees larger than Liverpool have put out on their own, yet they would not be bullied in to selling Coutinho, even if the player wanted the move himself. Despite a shambolic summer in Catalonia, the midfielder grew fond of the thought of moving to the Camp Nou and reports have emerged that he is ‘monumentally angry’ with the Liverpool board. In usual cases, this would spell trouble for the board, with one of their top performers finding his head elsewhere, yet in this particular case, Coutinho is the one with the ground to make up.

Coutinho, alongside his group of wantaways in Sanchez, Costa, Van Dijk and Mahrez, all have a common goal, which is to be part of their country’s world cup starting XI’s in Russia. It will be very difficult for these players to work their ways in to a World Cup squad if they refuse to act professionally at their current employers, which most have them have reportedly indicated in doing. Reports of Coutinho and Sanchez refusing to play have emerged since the window shut- a clear reaction to their clubs inability to agree their exit. Their tantrums are similar, however Coutinho has arguably more to reflect on. His Liverpool team – and in particular the forward line – have been flying so far this season, dismantling Sanchez’s Arsenal with ease. Sanchez, who is no stranger to a tantrum, is part of a struggling Arsenal squad, in which his manager may not be able to afford the exclusion of their best player. The contrast between Liverpool and Arsenal does not just end on the park however, with Liverpool showing Arsenal exactly how do remain firm in the market. Arsenal have nothing short of embarrassed themselves in the outcome of the window, despite the fact they managed to get what they wanted: keeping Sanchez.

Arsenal’s PR has taken a dent in the process, by chopping and changing their mind on the transfer throughout the summer. The deal looked to be close in the dying embers of the window, despite the fact Arsenal had stated all summer that Sanchez was going nowhere. However, the deal broke down after Sanchez’s replacement Thomas Lemar turned down the chance to play for Arsenal, in a deal which would have seen the clubs transfer record doubled. Sanchez was left distraught, fans were left speechless, and the board were left embarrassed on a day where Lemar’s refusal added to Alex Oxlade-Chaimberlains exit in raising questions over the board - and their managers - ambitions going forward. With Sanchez, as well as Ozil and other key Arsenal players, having only one year left on their current deals, the club have important decisions to make for the future, yet their continues to be a lack of trust in every department. Wenger was described in the media as “an old teacher you like, because he lets you away with murder, but you realise how troubling that is around exam time.” It seems many of his class have grown tired of his old tricks.

Sanchez and Coutinho remain so close, yet so far in their similarities surrounding their sagas. Whether that be in their attitudes, miraculous injuries and subsequent recoveries, as well their own personal ambitions, all of the mentioned go to show that players are no longer able to manipulate their clubs as well as they used to, as much as their agents may try. Another two players could be coupled in their similar circumstances: Diego Costa and Virgil Van Dijk – well, almost.

The erratic striker has long spoke of his desires to return to Madrid, and despite his, and Chelsea’s, best season to date, he was deemed surplus to requirements by manager Antonio Conte. The estranged relationship between the two has been public in its outcome but what contributed to it remains undisclosed. What is for certain is that Costa is unlikely to feature for Chelsea again, regardless of the fact he will be hoping to be in Spain’s squad travelling to Russia. His relationship with Chelsea is beyond repair, with the club already bedding in his replacement in Alvaro Morata, as well as the critical fact the striker hasn’t bothered to show up at all for the new season, which is indeed a breach of contract. Costa remains a Chelsea player, for the time being at least. What has complicated his exit is his continued public affair with ex-club Atletico Madrid, and the fact they are banned from registering players until January. It will be in the 2018 where Costa will resolve his future, however at 28 years of age, his lack of playing time between now and January may see his dreams of a potential final World cup campaign in tatters.

Virgil Van Dijk is likely to have more opportunities at his club than Costa will; however he has burnt many bridges throughout the south coast this summer. When Van Dijk publicly released his transfer request, it was both eloquent yet damning. The towering Dutchman has lofty ambitions, and will no doubt fulfil them at some point in the future; however his public appeal to the board is unlikely to have sat well with Saints fans, or more importantly his team mates. The player logistically highlighted that he should be playing at a higher level, yet for one reason or another that won’t be the case for the rest of 2017. The Saints stood firm in rebuffing any advances on Van Dijk, with long-time admirers Liverpool warned off specifically. The complications surrounding their suitors, puts Van Dijk next to Costa in finding disappointment on September 1st. For one, the consistent rhetoric between Liverpool and Southampton players has frustrated both the Saints board and their support. To sell another star player to Liverpool, regardless of the price, would make a laughing stock of the Saints support, so the board have stood firm in order to keep the player. Likewise to Costa/Atletico, the transfer would offer huge risk for Liverpool, having already been reported to the Premier League by Southampton for tapping up their star man. Any other advancements, without indication of willingness from Southampton, would see the Merseyside club in serious bother. Sanctions are already hang over the head of the club, surrounding their transfer activity with youth players, subsequently meaning the risk was of bringing in Van Dijk was too high. Both Costa and Van Dijk have trained alone for the majority of the summer, with Van Dijk only allowed back in to the fold now his future is certain for 4 months at least.

The only player who has provided a sense of positivity throughout uncertain times is Leicester winger Riyad Mahrez. Mahrez’s exit has seemed inevitable since he picked up PFA Player of the Year in 2016, yet despite his desire to move on, he has delivered a handful of star performances to start the Foxes season. There was a mix up surrounding his whereabouts on August 31st, where a move away seemed more likely than not, but he will remain in Leicester for the the time being. Unlike the others, if Mahrez continues to perform at a high level, he may leave the club on good terms in January, wherever that may be.

A monumental summer of spending has concluded in the Premier League, with total expenditure well over £1bn, however for once, five of the longest transfer sagas have ended in the current clubs favour. This is truly an indicator of not only the power of Premier League clubs, but also the power of the broadcasters and their sponsorship. Without the backing of the Sky and BT TV deals, there is no way the likes of Liverpool or Southampton would be in a position to refuse deals either side of £100m for their players. It would be exaggerated to say that clubs are any closer to listening to the fans, but they have certainly took notice of the continued frustrations in large parts of the support, fearing inevitable backlash if the norm where to continue. The fans of these clubs will quickly make their minds up on their star players, with questions asked of their commitment. What is certain is that the politics of the transfer window rolls on well past the summer, with no signs of slowing down. Agents will remain key cogs in the future of said players moving in to January, but it’s now the clubs who hold the ace of spades.

Published by Lewis McKenzie

06/09/2017