Before the season started Jose Mourinho suggested that things had changed in the Premier League. The new television deal, gifting as it does the team that finishes bottom of the table more money than Bayern Munich pocketed for winning the Bundesliga last season, has allowed every club in the top twenty the opportunity to buy in a more elevated level of talent.
Yohan Cabaye going to Palace, Xherdan Shaqiri being signed by Stoke: this was going to disturb the balance of power, the Chelsea manager reckoned. With such star signings increasingly filling their ranks, middle ranking teams in the league would steal many more victories from those chasing the title than in the past. As a result it will mean the champion club will require fewer points than ever to head away with the prize.
As the season gets underway, the accuracy of Mourinho’s prediction is being given weekly demonstration. Last weekend, Manchester United, Liverpool and his own team Chelsea lost to middle ranking sides. And didn’t lose by a fluky goal, either. Liverpool were hammered by West Ham, Chelsea and United easily turned over by robust, purposeful opposition in Palace and Swansea. Only Manchester City, with a squad filled not with one or two stars but a whole roster of them, seem unperturbed by the new order, their depth of resources looking already unbreachable.
And there was further evidence of the shift in power set in train by the new payments as the transfer window closed. Everton and West Bromwich were able to rebuff attempts to prise away their principal assets by more traditionally loaded rivals. In the recent past their financial position would have made it unlikely they would have turned down the sums being offered. Without that £100million coming from the box, Chelsea would surely have been able to steal away John Stones for a lot less than £30million. Likewise Tottenham would have been able to persuade West Brom to part with Saido Berahino. Or Manchester United prise Sadio Mane from Southampton. But the new money allowed Bill Kenwright, Jeremy Peace and the likes to dig in their heels. They didn’t need to sell, so why should they? Their ambition was not best served by allowing good players to head elsewhere.
Equally, when the middle-ranking Premier League operations sought to recruit from less well-endowed leagues, they succeeded. However much Celtic made noises about keeping Virgil Van Dijk, ultimately they didn’t have the depth of bank account to resist Southampton and their money.
The question that now faces those clubs after the window has slammed shut (although yesterday’s conclusion was so tepid it meant the window was shut more with a gentle tug than a slam) is what now. How do they now accommodate players whose personal ambition may well have been thwarted by the new display of financially strengthened muscle?
At Everton, Roberto Martinez has the easier task in enthusing John Stones. The player may well have been anxious to move to the champions and to work with Mourinho, but Martinez has already sensed that he is the type of person unlikely to allow disappointment to cloud his work ethic. While others – David De Gea, for instance – were sidelined during the conclusion of transfer business because their manager believed that speculation had adversely undermined their frame of mind, Stones played on. And played well.
Martinez, moreover, has been shrewd in his public efforts to defuse the potential fallout. He insisted that Stones had not meant to put in a transfer request, that it was somehow an accident. It was an interesting gloss, but one which seems to have been bought by the fans, who regarded the rebuff of Chelsea as a point of pride. “Money can’t buy you Stones” was the chant at Goodison, the player embraced in the fold as if entirely unconnected with the commerce swirling around him. He remains cherished at the club.
Which is not quite what could be said about Berahino. This window’s Peter Odemwingie, his frustration at not being able to leave West Brom bubbled to the surface with a hugely inappropriate tweet. He is clearly rather better at burning bridges than knuckling down. His dispute with the chairman is now public and festering.
Worse for his immediate future, however, is his relationship with his manager.Tony Pulis long ago tired of the player’s attitude, of the assumptions of his own worth that were not backed up by his application and effort on the pitch. Sensing that he was bound to lose the player before the end of the summer, Pulis took action to bring in replacements, refashioning his forward line around Salomon Rondon and Rickie Lambert. He has no need for a sulky, whiney, shirker of a player. And, unlike Martinez with Stones, will not rush to rehabilitate him. Interesting times lie ahead at the Hawthorns.
And if you were to back a winner in a power struggle between Saido Berahino and Tony Pulis, the wise money would go on the man in the hat.