Just when we thought that this transfer window would pass without any significant signings, as the likes of Arsenal and Manchester United tip-toe around their targets like batsmen tentatively finding their feet at the crease, Southampton and Swansea have splashed out, quicker than you could say “Thiago’s off to Bayern”.
Saints and Swans might not be Premier League heavyweights and although their signings are unlikely to dramatically alter their fortunes, Wilfried Bony and Victor Wanyama are players who shouldn’t be underestimated.
The Premier League has often been dismissed as a league where the top four clubs are allowed to cherry-pick their targets, flexing their financial muscles to immediately discourage any sort of challenge from other English clubs.
The likes of Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United and, to a lesser extent Arsenal, Spurs and Liverpool, obviously have bigger resources at their disposal than the rest of the league, but the Premier League isn’t the only competition to be crippled by an uneven playing field.
In Spain, Barcelona and Real Madrid are head, shoulders and waist above everybody else while, for all its sustainability, the Bundesliga’s market is dominated by Bayern Munich, with Juventus emerging as Serie A’s front-runner in the transfer window, with both Milan clubs struggling to come to terms with austerity.
Clubs sitting outside the first five-six places on the table are often accused – at times not without reason, it must be said – of spending irrationally on average foreign players, an exercise which only limits the opportunities for local youngsters to emerge.
Bony and Wanyama, however, could be very different stories. Swansea are very much a club on the move and Bony’s arrival from Vitesse, however risky it might look on the basis of its £12m fee, speaks volume for Michael Laudrup’s desire to improve his squad and ambition.
The Ivorian, Eredivisie’s top scorer last season with 31 goals in 30 league games, brings a menacing left foot and excellent aerial play to the Liberty Stadium and while the comparison with Middlesbrough’s flop Afonso Alves – whose free-scoring exploits in the Dutch league were only matched by his systematic failure to reproduce such form on British shores – will be almost inevitable, to borrow from Spurs’ motto, to dare is to do.
Swansea demonstrated last season that, despite a transfer campaign based on loans and very limited expenditures, playing good football – and, more importantly, winning – wasn’t beyond their reach and if Laudrup can get the best out of the Ivorian, who was linked with bigger European clubs, there could be plenty of smiles in South Wales throughout next season.
Smiles were aplenty in Southampton, were the Saints secured Celtic midfielder Victor Wanyama a Scottish record fee of £12.5m, three millions more than what the Glasgow club received for Aiden McGeady three years ago.
The Kenyan, who on a couple of other Premier League clubs’ radar, including Arsenal, Everton and Manchester United, could prove to be an excellent addition to Mauricio Pochettino’s side.
The former Celtic man will add some much needed muscle and physicality to an engine room that, for all their crisp passing they showed last season, was too often overrun by physically stronger sides.
Having avoid relegation after returning to the Premier League, despite the rather inexplicable sacking of Nigel Adkins midway through the season, Southampton’s plan is very clear as they look to distance themselves even further from the bottom three.
The “second season syndrome” is a danger Mauricio Pochettino will be well aware of and Wanyama’s arrival has the look of a pondered, meticulous signing, rather than a panic buy.
The Kenyan excelled against Barcelona in the Champions League last season but, like the overwhelming majority of players plying their trade north of the border, was often condescendingly dismissed as overestimated, for “any player could do it in Scotland”.
Southampton will hope he can prove his critics wrong.