Sport Writer Dan Hunt assesses the deals done in the West Midlands following the closure of the European transfer window last Monday
It has been a funny few months in football, but that has not stopped clubs splashing the cash on new players. The summer business of Aston Villa, Wolves, Birmingham City and West Bromwich Albion has varied massively, as clubs adapt to new divisions, Premier League TV payments, and financial insecurity from empty stadiums.
Perhaps the contrast between the clubs’ transfer activity is demonstrative of the vast difference in the economies of the Premier League and the Championship. All clubs have made signings, and will be hoping desperately that their investments pay off.
The big news at Birmingham City was the departure of Jude Bellingham to Borussia Dortmund for £20 million. The teenage prodigy, who won the EFL Young Player of the Season for 2019/20, follows Jadon Sancho to the Signal Iduna Park, which has become a breeding ground in recent years for Europe’s top young stars. In response to the midfielder’s departure, the Blues retired Bellingham’s shirt number (22) to pay tribute to him – a move that was met with perplexity by some rival fans.
Birmingham also sold striker Alvaro Giménez to Spanish side Cadiz for £2.4m. Reinvesting the money from these departures, the club welcomed Jonathan Leko for £900k from West Brom, goalkeeper Neil Etheridge from Cardiff and Scott Hogan from rivals Villa, both for undisclosed fees.
A busy offseason has seen a total of 10 players join the squad, with 6 of them being free agents. Left-back George Friend and midfielder Adam Clayton both signed from Middlesbrough, reuniting with manager Aitor Karanka, while Jon Toral has signed from Hull. The remaining three out-of-contract players snapped up were Spanish trio Mikel San José (from Athletic Bilbao), winger Ivan Sanchez (Elche), and keeper Andres Prieto (Espanyol).
Their final piece of business was a loan move for Australian midfielder Riley McCree on deadline day. He has signed for the remainder of the season from new MLS franchise FC Charlotte, who are due to have their first season in the US top tier in 2022.
Overall Birmingham’s transfer dealings have been frugal but measured. They have invested in players with Championship experience, but it will be interesting to see how they kick on from the loss of Bellingham.
Crossing the city to fierce rivals Aston Villa, a remarkable pre-season of transformation has taken place. Villa, who narrowly avoided relegation on the final day of last season, have invested heavily in their squad. Perhaps the biggest signal of intent was club captain Jack Grealish signing a new five-year contract in September, putting to bed rumours linking him with Manchester United and Arsenal.
With no key players leaving the club, Villa have spent £74m to bolster their squad. Former Brentford striker Ollie Watkins is the pick of the bunch. The £27m man scored a hat-trick in Aston Villa’s 7-2 demolition of Liverpool at the weekend. Other key signings include highly rated winger Bertrand Traore from Lyon, Arsenal goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez, and right-back Matty Cash from Nottingham Forest. The cherry on the cake for Villa fans was the arrival of Ross Barkley on loan from Chelsea, who also impressed on his debut against Liverpool.
Pundits nationwide are praising Villa for their transfer dealings, and early results suggest a change of fortunes this year. Whilst it is too early in the season to say for sure, this new look Villa side could be a force to be reckoned with.
Premier League newcomers West Brom have also had a busy transfer window, with eight new arrivals. Loan stars from last season Matheus Pereira and Grady Diangana made their moves to the Hawthorns from Sporting Lisbon and West Ham permanent. The transfer of Diangana was much to the disgust of Hammers captain, Mark Noble. Noble said on twitter he was ‘angry’ at the club for sanctioning the move, calling the winger a ‘great kid with a great future.’
Other permanent signings include Matheus Pereira from Sporting Lisbon, Callum Robinson from Sheffield United, and former Chelsea defender, Branislav Ivanovic joining on a one year deal. At less than £1m, the Baggies grabbed a bargain with the signing of centre-back Cédric Kipré from Wigan, while back-up goalkeeper David Button signed from Brighton.
Attacking midfielder Filip Krovinovic has re-joined following a successful first loan spell. 20-year-old Chelsea loanee Conor Gallagher has also added some much-needed depth to the Albion squad.
West Brom, however, have been unable to avoid departures. One which was expected is former club captain Chris Brunt’s move on a free transfer to Bristol City. The 35-year-old joined the Baggies in 2007 and went on to make over 400 appearances for the club. On a more disappointing note, hot prospect Nathan Ferguson’s contract expired, and he has moved to Premier League rivals Crystal Palace on a three year-deal. Ferguson broke into the first team last season, making 21 appearances but rejected the club’s contract offer.
West Brom have not necessarily had a bad transfer window. Clubs have previously done well by not upsetting the apple cart and maintaining the same core squad when they get promoted. We have seen before clubs bringing in too many new players that fail to gel. Put simply, it is a precarious line between overspending and having a quality squad. West Brom’s cautious spending gives them every chance of staying in the Premier League, and they may still have cash to burn in January if things begin to go pear-shaped.
Wolves’ transfer window has been a mixed bag, with the headline signing being 18 year-old Fabio Silva’s £36m move from Porto. The striker is one of three Portuguese additions to the squad this Summer, with Vitinha joining on loan (also from Porto), and right back Nelson Semedo joining for £27m from Barcelona. Semedo was signed as a replacement for the outgoing Matt Doherty, who signed for Tottenham for £15m. Key player Diogo Jota also left Molineux for Liverpool in a £40m deal, as well as Hélder Costa to Leeds for £15.9m.
Young defender Ki-Jana Hoever arrived from Anfield for £8.8m as part of the Jota deal. Meanwhile, Marçal was signed for £1.8m, while fellow left-back Rayan Aït Nouri has come in on loan. Wolves were keen to add more depth in this position after Jonny suffered a long-term injury against Olympiacos in last season’s Europa League. These moves have also facilitated Ruben Vinagre’s loan transfer to the Greek champions.
Wolves have had a busy transfer window, but seemingly for the wrong reasons. Having three players move to league rivals is far from ideal for the Wolves hierarchy. That said, they have invested well and are evidently building for the future. Only time will tell if the signings can fill the void left by Jota, Costa and, Doherty.
The winners of this window are clear to see. Aston Villa have made superb signings without seeing key players leave, and have created a squad to get excited about. For all the clubs, however, it is time for a sigh of relief that the transfer window has now closed. Until January, that is.
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