When the transfer period closes, as it did
a few weeks ago, the Premier League pauses for a moment, just to close its eyes
and take in the shimmering silence. The parping and pounding of the devilish horns,
the infernal bells and hellish drums stops finally, and there, gleaming in the
sudden tranquillity, stand the new players, freshly kitted out with bootlaces

Naturally, it takes a few weeks to see from
whom the gleam fades, and to whom it sticks. As Gutman shows when he takes a pen
knife to the titular bird in The Maltese
, it doesn’t take long to reveal the underlying patina, merely a
handful of scratchy matches in Premier League, to be precise. Some newcomers have
already shown flashes of their golden undercoats. Others, after inspection,
appear to be leaden beneath. The busiest clubs have the most leisure, West Ham
can already attest to that. Manchester United however, just as busy as the East
Londoners, might stand as a compelling argument to the contrary. And then
Chelsea, wallowing in their acute decline, and looking at their own meagre
off-season reinforcements, well, they are in a hopeless place very much of
their own making.


Firstly, to West Ham:


decision not to renew Sam Allardyce’s contract at the end of last season can’t
have been one made lightly. West Ham has a new stadium to occupy next season,
and must, above all, not get relegated this season. Allardyce, if nothing else
– and he does, in fact, offer precious little else – offers near-certain
protection from the drop. To allow this security blanket to waddle off, no
matter how unpopular he was with the fans was a risk. When the club, after
making some flirtatious eyes at Rafa Benitez, eventually hired Slaven Bilic to
replace him, owners David Gold and David Sullivan made clear their willingness
to provide for him the money to reshape the team. 

Out went last season’s most
creative player, Stewart Downing, and in came Ligue 1’s most creative player,
Dimitri Payet. Out has gone club captain Kevin Nolan, a completely ineffective
and burdensome force, and in has come a bevy of highly potent attackers. The
memories of Allardyce’s excellent start to last season have already been
eclipsed by the resplendent start that Bilic has made. A half-century old
record has fallen, an accomplished local rival has been bettered on their own
patch, and now the Hammers sit, beaming, in fifth place with the equal-most
goals scored.


Of all the signings, Payet is the most
impressive. Bilic said after West Ham’s first home win that he had wanted to
sign the Frenchman and Besiktas, revealing that he’s had his eye on Payet for
some time. It is surprising that the French league’s most productive attacker
wasn’t also the target of others. “Payet was a player I wanted from
the start here but it happened so quickly, I couldn’t believe. He came in five
said Bilic.
Already his £10.7 million fee looks incredible value, and along with Victor
Moses, Manuel Lanzini and Michail Antonio, West Ham have a quickly built a
formidable attacking arsenal.  Bilic’s
side look set not only to avoid relegation, but to challenge for a top 10
league finish.


So, huge strides can be made in double-quick time, though, as
Manchester United’s strange stuttering stasis shows, not always. We all thought
that their excellent second half against Liverpool – a welcome and necessary
tonic to the mind-murdering tedium of the first – was a sign of the team finally
clicking into the gear. But then the poor defeat to PSV followed, and Louis van
Gaal’s team were returned to their sweaty state-of-things, where the progress
that their investment should bring continues to evade them. £88 million spent
this season, many, many millions more since Louis van Gaal arrived, and the
Dutchman’s record doesn’t differ that much from David Moyes’. It is odd; high-pedigree
acquisitions like Schneiderlin and Schweinsteiger, mixed in with the young guns
Darmian and Martial, make for an impressive off-season report card. But the
team still looks disjointed, unsure of exactly how to get the best out of their
assets. Angel di Maria sniping at van Gaal’s man-management style from across
the channel hardly helps things. United’s issues all sit beneath a canopy of
short-termism, a situation that the club are very unused to being in. When van
Gaal signed Martial, at huge expense, he said this:

“Yes, I spend a lot of money on
Martial, but I bought him for my successor …. Ryan Giggs.”

Keeping in mind the way the club has huffed
and puffed under van Gaal, have found it hard playing under the style he has
instated, it all makes their travails seem a little pointless. If players
bought this season for £36 million are, in fact, for the next manager (who, it
must be remembered has no experience in management, save for a few interim
matches after Moyes was sacked), then why endure the sight of Marouane Fellaini
playing as a de facto striker any longer? So far the van Gaal era has been an
expensive one, seemingly racing toward its inevitable end, money streaming from
pockets as it goes.


Finally, to the beleaguered champions:


As far as senior additions go, only Pedro
has arrived. The injury to Thibaut Courtois, while impossible to predict, has
made the sale of Petr Cech look even more costly. Chelsea could hardly have
been expected to foresee the rapid decline of Branislav Ivanovic, or the more
general softening of the rest of this once-ruthless team, but a failure to
refresh the squad is fully the fault of Mourinho and the rest of the clubs
hierarchy. Compounding their sluggishness, the deadline day purchase of Papy Djilobodji, which was
mystifying at first glance, was made even odder when Mourinho said that signing
the centre back “was not my
choice. It was the choice of someone I trust completely, which is the same. I
don’t know every player. My job doesn’t allow me to travel and spend hours
watching players.” It’s all very curious, indeed.

signing players can give a team a vital mental boost, as much as an injection
of personnel. There needn’t be a West Ham-sized raft of players coming in to
soothe the never-ending cash-lust; Liverpool’s haphazard dealings since Luis
Suarez left proves that quantity isn’t everything. But to stand still in this
league is to go backwards, and Chelsea look unlike themselves. The recent
hot-tempered Hadean win over Arsenal may have restocked some essential fire in
them. But Ivanovic still looked ponderous in that match, and the points were
largely secured thanks to Diego Costa’s supreme ability to provoke others into
mad moments. The form of Cesc Fabregas is of particular concern, a player who,
in truth, hasn’t had a great game since last Christmas. Chelsea has
near-limitless funds, but they can’t buy their way out of their current
tribulations, at least not until January. Perhaps, had they convinced Everton
to part with that classy, silken centre back of theirs, John Stones, the thread
of reality would have diverged, taking us to a universe where Chelsea are equal
on points with Manchester City. Somehow, though, it seems unlikely.

players isn’t the be-all and end-all when it comes to success, but it is an
important part of it, and these three differing stories show just how difficult
it is to pick the right recruits. The seasonal narratives of these three clubs
will eventually be shaved down, rounded off by the end of 15/16, into more
palatable, tactile accounts, easier to understand, and to grip. Now though,
they seem ephemeral orbs, ghostly and mysterious, but still somehow undeniably
there, causing havoc.  This can be the
nature of the game sometimes; you don’t quite know what will happen, in fact,
you can never hope to know. Every signing could make all the difference, or
none of it. This is, of course, what keeps us coming back to football, year
after year.


Written by:

Evan Morgan Grahame