Friday, 10 July 2009

Transfer watch

Ronaldo to Real, eh? And Kaka too. Not to mention Manchester City signing Gareth Barry. But did you hear about Burnley snapping up Tyrone Mears from Derby?

Watching the big-money buying antics of Real Madrid certainly provides some entertainment for the long summer football-less months, but the fun is short-lived. The real fascination comes in watching the teams without silly money scrape together their back-of-the-sofa coppers to buy Aberdeen's reserve left-back. Why? Because these teams need value for money, and there's a great game to be had, both for the clubs and for those of us watching, in predicting who can provide it; the player who not only helps the club to win matches, but at a cut-price rate.

Which is why it's most interesting at the moment to watch Burnley, Birmingham and Wolves – those teams newly promoted to the Premier League. Even though we're some 37 days (and impatiently counting) from the opening weekend, you can tell a lot from the way a club will go about its top-flight adventure by its close-season purchases.

Look at Derby two years ago, for example. With a notably weak squad, they hardly ventured beyond the High Street, with perpetual Welsh disappointment Robbie Earnshaw the only major signing. There was never any ambition. Famously, the Rams were relegated as early as March, and finished the season with a League record low of 11 points.

At the same time, Sunderland sought to reaffirm their place in the top flight with a spending spree, including Craig Gordon (£9 million), Michael Chopra (£5m) and Kenwyne Jones (£6m plus Stern John on an exchange deal). The Black Cats survived the drop.

But despite Sunderland's successful dealings that year, it's not all about spending a lot of money; it's about spending wisely. Hull went bargain basement this time last year, getting players on loan and free transfers, and enjoyed an incredible start to the season – and even if it did go a bit pear-shaped after that, they still stayed up.

So which of our new teams this year are shaping up well in the transfer market? Let's take a look at their chequebook stubs.

BURNLEY

Preparing for their first outing in the Premier League, the Clarets have been relatively quiet in the market to date. Only three players have made their way to Turf Moor so far this summer, as manager Owen Coyle chooses to keep faith with the team that won the Championship play-offs.

Burnley have, however, paid a club record transfer fee to bring Scottish striker Steven Fletcher from Hibernian for £3m.

Potential bargain: David Edgar. The 22-year-old Canadian defender was sent off on the last day of the season as Newcastle succumbed to relegation, but he received praise from Kevin Keegan and Glenn Roeder and was named man of the match in a 2-2 draw against Manchester United.

Potential turkey: Steven Fletcher. Can Fletcher live up to the pressure of being Burnley's most expensive ever signing? Hibs legend Keith Wright openly questioning whether he is ready for the best league in the world won't help his confidence.

WOLVES

Last year's second-flight champions have been very busy, signing six players. Most promisingly, they've broken the bank on Kevin Doyle, paying Reading, who bought him for just £78,000 four years ago, a reported £6m for his services – a Wolves club record. Reading team mate Marcus Hahnemann has also arrived on a free.

Potential bargain: Nenad Milijaš. Voted Most Valuable Player in the Serbian Superliga last year after 37 goals in 97 appearances for Red Star Belgrade, Milijaš has also scored twice in ten matches for Serbia. And he's a midfielder.

Potential turkey: Ronald Zubar. The former France Under-21 and Guadeloupe international incurred the wrath of Marseille fans after some costly defensive errors. Three million Euros may be too big a fee.

BIRMINGHAM

With more money to spend than their promotion buddies, Birmingham have sought to shore up their defence with some big-name Championship purchases. Roger Johnson, Cardiff player of the year for two years running, has arrived at St Andrews for £5m, joined by 22-year-old Coventry captain Scott Dann for a reported £3.5m, rising to £4m.

Potential bargain: Joe Hart. One of England's best 'keepers on a season-long loan? Yes please.

Potential turkey: Lee Bowyer. Bowyer came on a free transfer, so at least he won't be an expensive letdown, but is he still good enough to play at this level? The jury's out on that one.