So this week the Premiership went bonkers, with Kevin Keegan (frequently known as the Geordie messiah) possibly leaving Newcastle having only been there months, Berbatov finaly getting his move to Man United, and Man City suddenly becoming super-rich and poaching Chelsea’s targets.
Manchester City’s new wealth is the wildest of cards in all this madness, because they’ve been the city’s poor relations for so long that Uwe Rosler counted as a folk hero there. But having been briefly the property of a former Thai Prime Minister (whose record on human rights has been much criticised) they’re now owned by Abu Dhabi United Group, who have Abramovich-sized pockets and who seem keen to prove it (having signed Brazil international Robinho on transfer deadline day). It’ll be very interesting to see the effect of City’s new spending power, because Chelsea had a more settled and stable base when they started spending big and the very top of the league is astonishingly competitive and excellent at the moment. A team like Manchester United is the result of superb work in a variety of areas - scouting, management, training regimes, the medical staff, youth development – and suddenly having a lot of money doesn’t mean that all that infrastructure springs up overnight. Just buying a lot of expensive players won’t mean that City leap to the top of the league. But it will give Mark Hughes a real chance of building a side to contend. Explosive attacking talents like Robinho (albeit I think he looks a bit lightweight) are the most difficult players to find, and he’s already shown at Blackburn that he can build a team that’s solid and disciplined and that can handle the physical stuff. Besides which, he already has the world’s best young defender, Micah Richards, at the club.
Keegan and Newcastle is a weird tale, because now they're saying he hasn't left, but either way the club continues to be a shambles, continually making bad appointments (Souness) getting rid of managers before they’ve had a chance to do anything (Allardyce), making weird personnel decisions (not buying centre-midfielders this summer but instead adding another winger when none was needed) and seemingly never giving the manager the money they need. So I have no idea where they go from here, and neither, it seems, do they, because what do you do after you’ve brought back the club’s most successful and beloved manager and then fallen out with him? Part of the tension seems to derive from the continental heirarchy they've adopted, with a Director of Football-style character handling transfers while the manager just looks after the team. Few English managers like that M.O., and I can understand them feeling that way, because if they're good enough to run the team (and responsible for results), why should someone else choose who they sign? I feel sorry for Shay Given in all this, because he is one of the best keepers in the league, and a fine professional, and plenty of other people in his position would have asked for a transfer long ago.
Berbatov to United is a significant deal, because they’ve lacked aerial power up front for a while (though it's hardly been a crisis, what with the European Cup and Premiership double they snaffled last season). Heading isn’t Berbatov’s main strength, but he’s a big height upgrade over Tevez, Rooney and (the now departed) Saha. His main strengths are extraordinary, graceful-looking skill, fine touch and balance, the ability to beat a player, good continuity play and excellent awareness of players around him. He will fit in straight away, and the combination with Tevez, Rooney and Ronaldo will be fearsome. The only real criticism you can level against him is that he could be more physical, given his size – I sometimes think that if he used his arms more he’d almost be Zidane, because his control and balance are in that sort of rarefied class.
Spurs signed Pavlyuchenko, who in the Euros was a good big, mobile, left-footed striker, but his finishing is very erratic, so they've definitely downgraded themselves by selling Berbatov, Keane and Defoe.
EDIT - And now Alan Curbishley has left West Ham. I'm no fan of his, because his teams often go down by three or four to good sides, because his cockney shtick is tiresome, and because he signed a lot of players with bad injury records and then complained about injuries (Kieron Dyer, Craig Bellamy). But if he's having players sold from under him (Anton Ferdinand) then I can understand his frutstration. If Slaven Bilic (currently Croatia manager but formerly a West Ham player) gets the job then it'll be worth watching, because his record as an international manager is impressive.
Lastly, I have no idea why Liverpool bought Albert Riera, because watching him on loan to Man City a while back he was one-footed, predictable and didn’t have a trick.