FOX Soccer Exclusive
Odemwingie saga eclipses new money
Shenanigans, tomfoolery and plot twists are common fare on Deadline Day, the annual ritual that accompanies the close of the European transfer window. Basically, it’s a free for all as clubs scramble to make last-minute purchases like a father who’d forgotten that tomorrow is Christmas.
As the European transfer market closed across the continent Thursday – eleven PM being the witching hour across Britain – some of the goings-on turned downright strange.
The best tale involved Peter Odemwingie, a Nigerian striker who has tallied 30 league goals for West Bromwich Albion over the last two and a half seasons, who turned up at the Queens Park Rangers’ training ground. Odemwingie proceeded to give what has become a ritual car-window interview and claimed that his transfer was just about done, that he was excited to have joined QPR, and that he was headed in for his physical.
An hour or so later, however, it dawned on reporters that Odemwingie had never gone inside and had left shortly after the interview. West Brom sent out a ferociously worded statement that said Odemwingie hadn’t received permission to speak to QPR, to which QPR added that it hadn’t even let Odemwingie into its grounds. As best as anybody could make out, Odemwingie had his mind set on a move to QPR, which could offer him a great deal more money in spite of being in last place to ninth position. And, rather audaciously, he’d seemingly decided to force his current employer’s hand by showing up in London and telling the press the deal was done. A deal never got done and Odemwingie was left to hang around the QPR parking lot.
Equally unlikely was Arsenal’s role as not just a player of any sort but a major protagonist. Its curmudgeonly manager Arsene Wenger is less Santa than Grinch and is widely blamed for the club’s parsimonious ways, in spite of charging more for entry into its stadium than any other club in the Premier League. In fact, Wenger had recently declared his dismay with Newcastle purchasing five new players from France – defenders Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, Massadio Haidara and Anthony Reveillere; midfielder Moussa Sissoko; and forward Yoan Gouffran – and argued that transfers should be capped to two during the winter window. Yet early in the day, word got out that Arsenal would be plugging its enormous hole at left back with the purchase of Spain left back Nacho Monreal from Malaga for some $15 million. Later on, rumors swirled about more splashy moves – with Germany’s Mats Hummels being mooted discreetly to the press – although none materialized.
More predictable was the role of the world’s emerging markets in European transfers, underscoring that they’ve supplanted the sport’s traditional movers and shakers as the driving forces behind soccer’s cash flow. To wit, the biggest move on the final day of trading happened in Russia, where Anzhi Makhachkala, budding giants of Dagestan on the strength of oligarch Suleyman Kerimov, snagged mesmerizing Brazilian attacking midfielder Willian for an astonishing $54 million from Shakthar Donetsk. Shakthar had earlier signed Willian’s countryman, the winger Taison, for $21 million from Metalist Kharkiv.
Willian’s move nearly eclipsed the highest transfer fee paid this January when Paris Saint-Germain signed Brazilian attacking midfielder in Lucas Moura from Sao Paulo for $55 million, a move financed by billionaire backing from a new economic player, the Qatar Investment Authority. The Qataris have sunk so much money into the Parisians that it convinced English midfielder David Beckham to sign on a free transfer. Less conventionally, Beckham will forego a salary in favor of a donation to a local children’s charity.
In another surging economy, Turkey, Istanbul powerhouse Galatasaray had already landed playmaker Wesley Sneijder from Inter Milan for $10.5 million and signed iconic striker Didier Drogba, who claimed he was free to leave Shanghai Shenhua on account of unpaid wages. (That case currently sits with FIFA as the Chinese side is challenging the move.)
Corinthians, powered by the boom in Brazil, brought striker Pato home for $20.5 million in the latest sign that the once-mighty Brazilian league is slowly reclaiming the much-coveted talent it has long produced. That move gave AC Milan the funds to bring controversial and eccentric forward Mario Balotelli back to Italy from Manchester City for $27.5 million, perhaps the most intriguing transfer of this window.
QPR’s Malaysian chairman Tony Fernandes’s wealth, meanwhile, made his club the most active and closely-watched of the Premier League on deadline day. Scurrying to sign some much-needed reinforcements for his manager Harry Redknapp – who described the transfer landscape as “gang warfare” – Rangers snapped up defender Christopher Samba from Anzhi for $20 million, a new club record after the last one was set just two weeks prior when striker Loic Remy was bought off Marseille for $15.5 million. By also signing South Korean defender Yun Suk-Young from Chunnam Dragons and snapping up midfielder Jermaine Jenas on a free transfer from Tottenham Hotspur, which also lent them forward Andros Townsend, QPR made the most noise on deadline day.
Still, the final hours were a bit of a letdown in terms of the volume of major moves, but then that should probably be ascribed to the number of big transfers already consummated in the weeks before. Liverpool had picked up midfielder Philippe Coutinho ($14m) from Inter Milan and striker Daniel Sturridge ($20.5m) from Chelsea, which in turn had bought striker Demba Ba ($11m) from Newcastle. Fiorentina had long since wrapped up its deal for Italian-American striker Giuseppe Rossi ($14m). And Manchester United had diligently acquired Wilfried Zaha ($16.5m) from Crystal Palace.
So what? What this deadline day lacked in spectacular business, it made up for in Odemwingie weirdness.
Leander Schaerlaeckens has written about soccer for the New York Times, the Guardian, ESPN The Magazine and World Soccer. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderOnFOX.
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