Friday, 10 May 2013

What Went Wrong At Wolves?


22 April 2012. Wolves 0 Man City 2.

4 May 2013. Brighton 2 Wolves 0. 

Same result, same implication. In just over a year Wolverhampton Wanderers have been relegated from the Premier League and now, amazingly, the Championship. How has it come to this? There has been no shortage of accusations thrown around in recent weeks, some of them more accurate than others. As a season ticket holder and lifelong supporter of the club, I've found myself unable to make sense of this unprecedented fall from grace. One thing I am keen to avoid here is to try and present a poster boy for the club's decline. It would be unfair to leave one person alone to foot the bill for this sorry mess.

The general consensus appears to be that our chairman Steve Morgan made an appalling and unpardonable error in getting shot of everybody's favourite Yorkshire Terrier, Mick McCarthy. I'm not quite sure I've ever subscribed to this point of view. Don't get me wrong, I like Mick. The majority of Wolves supporters will always feel indebted to him for revitalizing the club at a time when it was in desperate need of a shot in the arm and, of course, returning us to the Premier League after a five year absence. However, by the time of his dismissal his tenure had unquestionably grown stale. The team had won just one game in their last thirteen and were in the relegation zone after collecting 21 points from 25 games and, more significantly, had just been comprehensively beaten at home by West Bromwich Albion. If anything, McCarthy had done well to make it to February. 

The timing of the decision, however, is another matter entirely. With just thirteen games of the 2011/2012 season left, Morgan should have kept his trigger finger under control. If there had been a time to sack the manager during that particular season it was earlier in the campaign. I distinctly remember trudging back from Molineux after a 2-2 draw against newly promoted Swansea and feeling completely underwhelmed by the state of the team. True, the players had shown character to claw back a point against a half-decent side but that did little to cover up the reality that they had spent the best part of 90 minutes chasing shadows. It seemed to be the ideal time to move Mick on and give somebody else the opportunity to shake things up in the January transfer window. Alas, no such decision was made and eventually the relationship between manager and chairman imploded in spectacular fashion when Morgan paid a visit to the home dressing room in the wake of a dismal defeat at home to Liverpool. Two games later Mick was gone and a wild goose chase ensued as Morgan and chief executive Jez Moxey tried to find somebody daft enough to take on the challenge of keeping the club in the top flight. Not too surprisingly, there wasn't too many managers enthused by the offer of a short-term contract and the prospect of a relegation on their CV. This was Morgan's first managerial appointment and, much to the chagrin of us fans, he was making a right pig's ear of it.

Step forth Terry Connor. If there has ever been a more underwhelming managerial appointment in Premier League history then please, let me know. To be fair to TC he was essentially doing the club a favour. Nobody else wanted the job, except for Steve Bruce allegedly, and the club were fast becoming a laughing stock as Morgan and Moxey's search for a manager increasingly began to resemble a Chuckle Brothers tribute act. Connor was the footballing equivalent of a sacrificial lamb, brought in to oversee a relegation that was looking more and more inevitable with each passing week. It came as no surprise to anyone when demotion to the Championship was confirmed with the aforementioned defeat to Roberto Mancini's champions-elect. Wolves had gone out with a whimper, the only incident(s) of note to have occurred during Connor's reign being a number of embarrassing public misdemeanors committed by a certain Roger Johnson. The defining characteristics of McCarthy's team (i.e. team spirit and work ethic) were nowhere to be found and a change to the club's culture was clearly needed if an instant return to the Premier League was to be achieved.

Such refinement was offered to supporters via the appointment of an obscure Norwegian coach, namely Stale Solbakken. This slap head Scandinavian had previously endured a rather topsy turvy career in management, having enjoyed great success at FC Copenhagen only to then follow that with spectacular failure at Cologne. This appeared to be a strategic appointment by Morgan, one designed to abate the growing discontent from the terraces. Many supporters found it difficult to oppose the selection of Solbakken as the club's new manager for the simple reason that they knew next to nothing about him or, more importantly, his management style. Some, myself included, were even enthused by the notion that the powers that be had finally recognized the need to get to grips with modern day football, this being the first foreign manager to ever be handed the reigns at Wolves. Solbakken came across well in his initial outings with the press, speaking of a need to analyze all of the team's games from the previous season before making any judgements on the playing personnel. Sadly, it would appear that the DVDs of those said performances got lost in the post as Wolves headed into the 2012/13 season with a squad comprised predominately of the team that had achieved relegation so spectacularly in the previous campaign. Seven new additions were made in the close season, with the same number departing the club on a permanent basis. Of the latter, it's fair to say that only Steven Fletcher and Matt Jarvis's absence would be felt, though some supporters I'm sure will continue to (wrongly) preach the virtues of Adlene Guediora. Of the players to arrive, only the perennial reserve striker Frank Nouble could recall previous experience of English football. It was shaping up to be a very uncertain campaign for Solbakken and his charges.

Initial results, however, were good. After just one win in their first four games Wolves racked up five in their next six, climbing to the dizzying heights of third place on 6 October following a 1-0 win away from home against Blackburn. Many of the foreign imports had impressed, with Bakary Sako and Tongo Doumbia in particular winning acclaim from supporters. A spate of injuries hit the team shortly after though and a spectacular loss of form saw just two wins recorded in the next sixteen games. A humiliating 1-0 defeat in the FA Cup to non-league Luton was enough to seal Solbakken's fate, with Steve Morgan opting to bring his foreign flirtation to a premature end. It had become painfully clear that the players left from McCarthy's regime (so, the majority of the squad) simply couldn't get to grips with the new manager's demands. They were used to chasing after the ball, not passing it. The idea of keeping the ball was a concept completely lost on the likes of Stephen Ward and Karl Henry. In all fairness, the players aren't necessarily to blame for that. Some footballers are just more adaptable than others, and Solbakken would have been wise to recognise this alter his methods when several of his summer acquisitions were lost to injury. Instead, he persisted in trying to squeeze blood from a stone and ultimately paid the price for it.

Personally, I still don't agree with the decision to get rid of Solbakken so early into his tenure. Morgan had supposedly brought him in to change the club from top to bottom and yet it took just five months for him to decide that he had made a mistake. Granted, the football being played was growing increasingly static and our league position didn't make for great reading (18th), but it wasn't fair to apportion the manager with the full blame for our shortcomings. A losing mentality had been able to spread in the dressing room and the only way that it could be dealt with was by moving some of the under-performing players on. Mick had pitched up at Ipswich Town by this point and would have surely been happy to take some of his former charges with him to Portman Road. As noted previously, Solbakken's transfer dealings to date (with the exception of the anonymous George Margreitter and the infuriating Jermaine Pennant) had proved useful and it stood to reason that he would have added one or two more nifty players in the January window had he been given the chance. Alas, Morgan's mind had been made up once again and a new appointment was made almost instantly, with Dean Saunders handed the challenge of salvaging something from this most dismal  of seasons.

Dean Saunders...where to begin? It's still almost impossible to understand the logic behind his appointment. The only managerial experience the Welshman could call upon were stints in charge of non-league Wrexham and League One outfit Doncaster, hardly much to whet the appetite. More concerning to Wolves supporters was the fact that Saunders had overseen the latter's relegation from the Championship in the previous season. Having wrote off the Solbakken revolution, the club hierarchy had appeared to deem fit a return to old habits. Gone was the possession based football adopted in the first half of the season and back was the 'kick and rush' antics that had served us so well in the past. The key difference this time around, however, was that the players who had thrived under that system previously were now a group of tired, unmotivated losers. Harsh as that may sound, the reality is that the stalwarts who had served the club so well before had by this point been reduced to a bunch of hapless wasters who didn't have the requisite amount of fight in them to save us from our plight. The sequence of results that occurred after Saunders's appointment, barring a mini-revival in late March/early April, were so disastrous that it resulted in a second successive relegation.

And so here we are. Saunders became the fourth manager in just over a year to fall on his sword, his dismissal confirmed by the club on Monday morning. Did he deserve to go? Well, it's hard to say anymore. Certainly, you would hope that he'll eventually be joined on his way out by a large number of the players who have got us into this sorry mess. There are likely to be few Wolves fan who blame Saunders entirely for our relegation, though that does not make him immune to criticism. His 20 game spell in charge of the team will forever be blighted by tactical inconsistency, poor discipline and most tellingly a distinct lack of fight from his charges. Wolves did not so much as succumb to relegation as openly embrace it and that, I believe, is what will have convinced the chairman that he could not trust Saunders to return the club to the second tier next season. I have had the pleasure of meeting Dean and he is a true gentleman, one who sadly took on a challenge that was far beyond his capabilities. 

What next then? The club have spoken openly about a desire to appoint a 'head coach' to work alongside their director of football, Kevin Thelwell, which would appear to suggest that they intend to put in place a model that mimics the one employed by the old enemy, West Bromwich Albion. Why it has taken two consecutive relegations to bring about this change I do not know. If Solbakken had been afforded the opportunity to operate within this sort of model, he may have stuck a chance of succeeding at Molineux. Regardless, what is clear to me and, I'm sure, all Wolves supporters is the need for the board to get their next managerial appointment right. The last year has been a crash course in how not to run a football club and Steve Morgan and his charges can simply not afford to make any more mistakes. They now face a fanbase whose confidence in their methods has been strained to near breaking point and the only way they can remedy that is by delivering success on the field. There can be no more novices or short-term fixes. Wolves need a man with authority and a distinct knowledge of all levels of English football if they are ever to re-establish themselves as a top flight club. Thankfully, there are plenty of managers out there both young and old who are likely to see the Wolves job as an appealing one, given the potential the club has and the rich history it holds. I can only hope that whoever is offered the position is the man to restore a smile not just to my face but to all of those who hold the old gold and black close to their heart.


Wednesday, 21 November 2012

A Familiar Set of Circumstances


There are few guarantees in a Premier League season, but a change of manager at Chelsea is becoming somewhat of an annual occurrence. Last season it was Andre Villas-Boas, the year before that Carlo Ancelotti...and now the axe has befallen Champions League winner Roberto di Matteo. To say the Italian's dismissal is a surprise would be to stretch the truth, considering the length of time it took for him to be appointed permanently, but to say his sacking is both harsh and ruthless would be nothing less than an understatement. And yet, the majority of onlookers have taken the news with a pinch of salt, which suggests a problem that is not exclusive to the bowels of Stamford Bridge, but rather throughout football as a whole.

The position of football manager is becoming an increasingly tenuous one, something which di Matteo's sacking articulates perfectly. Here is a man that last season took charge of a team that was low on confidence and short of form, and by the end of the season oversaw a dramatic European triumph as well as success in the FA Cup. The only blemish on the former West Bromwich Albion manager's record was his inability to overturn the Blues poor league form, something that he appeared to be remedying after a strong start to this season's campaign. However, last night's 3-0 defeat to Italian champions Juventus was enough to convince Roman Abramovich that another change was needed. Initial reports suggest that former Liverpool chief Rafael Benitez is set to land the job on a 'caretaker' basis, an appointment that I feel (for the record) is a shrewd move.

Benitez's suitability for the Stamford Bridge hotseat is beside the point of this article though, for I am more concerned with the increasing prominence of the managerial merry-go-round that continues to blight every football season. Whilst the hiring and firing of managers makes a good news story, it also worryingly undermines the position and increasingly unsettles team up and down the country. A fine example from this term comes from two promoted sides, they being Reading and Southampton. Both Brian McDermott and Nigel Adkins were showered with praise last season not just for guiding their respective sides to promotion, but also for the style in which they achieved it. Slow starts from both teams this time around have, however, raised questions about both of their long term futures at each club. Sam Allardyce, on the other hand, seems to have won over his critics from last term due to newly promoted West Ham's strong start to the campaign. Indeed, recent reports have indicated that Allardyce is due to be rewarded with a new contract at the club, something which itself demonstrates the fickle nature of both the press and (some) supporters.

The success being enjoyed by Big Sam is demonstrative of the benefits that can be reaped by sticking with a manager in the face of adversity. I have always struggled to understand why any chairman would appoint someone to a long-term contract, only to dismiss them within a year. There are, of course, certain pressures that come with running a football club, most of them being financial, that sometimes dictate that a manager must be moved on. Recent examples of such scenarios include Steve Kean at Blackburn Rovers, Avram Grant at West Ham United and (arguably) Mark Hughes at Queens Park Rangers. It is no coincidence, however, that these three cases are all instances of clubs who were (or are) involved in relegation battles. The financial incentive to survive in the top flight needs no explanation and the respective struggles of the three sides noted dictated that a change of manager was required, and indeed should have been implemented earlier than it was. Abramovich can not lean on any such excuse. 

Generally speaking, I believe that all managers should be given a minimum of three years in the post before they can be fairly judged. Obviously, if things were to take a turn for the disastrous then a shake-up may be required, but there is no doubt that 12 months simply isn't a requisite amount of time to make any genuine or distinctive progress in any post. I look to my own club, Wolverhampton Wanderers, with concern at the time of writing due to our disappointing league position (16th), but then apply perspective and understand that our new manager, Stale Solbakken, needs to be afforded time to implement his own method and style on the team. Our chairman, Steve Morgan, has already shown that he is a patient man (he stuck with Mick McCarthy for too long) and so I am understandably confident that the future is bright at Molineux. Roberto di Matteo deserved similar treatment from his employers. Recent weeks have been frustrating for Chelsea fans, but the team has shown enough this season to suggest that they are heading towards being a really top side both domestically and in Europe. Clearly, that wasn't enough for Roman Abramovich. 

How well Benitez will fare (if he is appointed) remains to be seen, but one can only hope that if he does overturn Chelsea's recent slump that he is given a fairer chance than his predecessor was. The looming shadow of Pep Guardiola over the club might determine otherwise, but I would still be shocked if the ex-Barcelona coach opts to take over at Stamford Bridge. After all, why would anyone uproot their family for a 12 month gig?  

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

The Missing Piece


Wednesday, 12th October, 2005.

Old Trafford. The ‘Theatre of Dreams’.

Radoslaw Sobolewski evades the challenge of John Terry, floating a sumptuous ball to the back post. I pull away from my marker, Luke Young, and connect sweetly with my left foot. The ball flies past Paul Robinson and the score is level. England 1 Poland 1. And the name on everybody’s lips is mine; Tomasz Frankowski.


When I am asked what my career highlight is, I struggle to answer the question. I have played across the world; in France, Japan, Poland, Spain and the USA. I am like a chameleon...forever changing, never predictable. Over twenty one years as a player, I have seen and done things that most players can only dream of. So, naturally, it is hard for me to pick a memory that stands above all else. After all, I have been the top scorer in the Ekstraklasa[1] four times, have won five league titles, two Polish cups and one Super-cup. But I often choose my goal against England as my most cherished recollection, because it was that goal that confirmed my status as a household name. After that match, everybody was talking about Tomasz Frankowski. It didn’t matter that we went on to lose the game, because I had given the Polish nation a memory to cherish for the rest of their lives. Before that game, I was a hero only to the Wisla Krakow[2] fans but after I was loved by all Polish people, I was to them what David Beckham is to the English, a poster-boy for all Polish football. It was only a matter of time before I moved on to bigger and better things. I remember clearly after the game, Luke Young (Charlton’s most famous player) saying to me; ‘great goal mate’. My agent also said to me that Sir Alex Ferguson had been in attendance and perhaps we should expect a call in the coming days. The call never came...but I did not let it dent my confidence. Manchester United are interested in monetary gain, and were I not Polish, if I were instead from a country with a market that was exploitable to United, I know I would be playing for them now, without doubt. Instead, I moved to Elche...probably the biggest team in the Spanish second division at the time[3]. There, I continued my heroics in front of goal, scoring a remarkable 8 goals in 13 games. It was no surprise to me that my tenure at the club was short-lived. Frankly, bigger things were calling.


January 2006...New Year, new start. I had been at Elche for four months, but I knew already that I was too big for the club. I instructed my agent to find me a move to a club that possessed greater stature in the game. He must have been busy because I heard nothing from him for a few weeks, but eventually he called me to inform me that a club called Wolverhampton Wanderers wanted to sign me. I had never heard of them before and was initially reluctant to negotiate with them. However, when I learnt that their manager was the great Glenn Hoddle, my enthusiasm for a move grew. I flew into England with a week of the transfer window to spare, having arranged a meet with Glenn and his trusty lieutenant, his brother Carl[4].

Glenn spoke enthusiastically about his plans for Wolves, claiming that the club were paying for their sins in a past existence, that their status as a Championship club was the football equivalent of purgatory and that he intended to liberate them from this hellish existence by teaching the players the conventions of beautiful
football. Carl promised me a good motor, too. Enthused, I signed with the club on the 23rd January after a fee of £1.4 million pound was negotiated with Elche, who was surprisingly keen to let me go. On my first day of training, I soon began to understand why Glenn was regarded as such a maverick in England. We spent an hour passing the ball diagonally across the pitch, and were frequently lambasted if we took more than two touches. At the back of my mind, I felt it may have been productive to do some shooting practice, but I soon taught myself not to question Glenn’s methodology. On the eve of my debut against Manchester United, I shared a conversation with the gaffer that I remember to this day:
Glenn Hoddle: ‘You’ve trained well this week Tom, but don’t overdo it. Remember, when a player gets to 30, so does his body’
Me: ‘Okay gaffer’
GH: ‘Good, you’re a good footballer Tom with a bit of everything, certainly two good feet-which is unusual these days’
Me: ‘Thanks’
GH: ‘You have a deception of pace and you don’t have to use your legs, because the first two yards are in your head. But stay modest...I mean, look at Jesus. He was a normal run of the mill sort of guy who had a genuine gift. Be like Jesus. I need you to be like Jesus. You’re the missing piece in the jigsaw’

This conversation cleared a lot of things up for me. First of all, it explained why the other players had been a little frosty with me...clearly, they were jealous of me. The gaffer saw God-like qualities in me, and that’s probably why I was the only one who understood his training methods. Secondly, it allowed me to see what differentiated me from most other footballers, the thing that made me Jesus, I was a modest guy who had been born with an incredible gift.

So, feeling like Christ himself, I made my debut on the 29th of January, coming on as a 64th minute substitute for Carl Cort. We lost 0-3, but it’s like Glenn says; ‘we lost, but good things can come from it-both negative and positive’.


Friday 14th April; Wolves 1 Watford 1

My selfless play has seen us go one nil up against one of the division’s best sides, a crisp through ball courtesy of my right foot finding Jeremie Aliadiere, who duly scored. I am running the show, all that is missing is a goal. The people of Wolverhampton are poor judges of artistry, they think that the job of a striker is only to score goals. I keep hearing about this man, Steve Bull I think his name is, who is apparently their best ever striker. Sure, it is easy to score a lot of goals, I know this better than anyone. But right now, I am sacrificing my goals for the team, yet these idiotas do not see this. They ridicule me, calling me ‘The Pole without a Goal’, but I do not listen to their nonsense. I know, as does Glenn, that I will fire this club to glory...
Shortly after the first goal, the ball deflects into my path. There is no one in front of me, so I begin to race towards goal. There is only Ben Foster to beat, all I need to do is to decide how to beat him...left corner, right, a chip perhaps? Maybe I’ll take it round him, go for style and prove to my detractors that I am the real deal. Or maybe I should just set somebody else up...prove a point to them all. By now my head is spinning, I’ve never felt uncertainty in front of goal before...and now Foster is at my feet. In desperation, I kick at the loose ball, which deflects of his outstretched body, and the chance is gone.


March 28th, 2010; Bialystok 2 Arka Gdynia 0

The home crowd is rapturous. My brace of goals has ensured another victory for the team. Usually, I am always happy for the team, but today is I am happy for me. My two goals has seen me overtake the great Friedrich Scherfke[5] as the Ekstraklasa’s 9th all time top scorer, my overall tally resting at an impressive 132 goals. As I depart the pitch, I look around the stadium, observing the adulation in the eyes of my fans. They are here to see me...I can tell this by the way they sing my name, which rings through my ears like the sweetest music. For years, my time in England haunted me. I doubted myself every day after that game against Watford...but, no longer. I have confirmed my status as one of the most outstanding centre forwards in the modern game. Not everybody will accept this, because there is an inherent snobbery towards the Polish league throughout Europe. But in my mind, my feats in the Ekstraklasa put me in the same level of esteem that the likes of Henry and Shearer occupy in England. This is what counts...what is in my mind, what I perceive, what I know and what I can hear, and right not I hear one name...the name on everybody’s lips; Tomasz Frankowski.


1991-1993       Jagiellonia Bialystok               12 apps            1 goal
1993-1996       Strasbourg                               21 apps            2 goals
1996                Nagoya Grampus Eight          7 apps              1 goal
1996-1997       Poitiers                                    32 apps            22 goals
1997-1998       Martigues                                19 apps            5 goals
1998-2005       Wisla Krakow                         173 apps          115 goals
2005-2006       Elche                                       14 apps            8 goals
2006-2007       Wolverhampton Wanderers    16 apps            0 goals
2007-2008       Tenerife                                   19 apps            3 goals
2008-2009       Chicago Fire                            17 apps            2 goals
2009-present   Jagiellonia Bialystok               88 apps            40 goals

1999-2006       Poland                                     22 apps            10 goals

[1] Ekstraklasa is the Polish premier division and is sponsored by T-Mobile. It consists of 16 clubs and the season runs from July to May, in which 30 games are played by each team. Over its history, there have been 78 participants and 16 winners; Wisla Krakow holds the record for most championship wins, having lifted the trophy 14 times.
[2] Wisla Krakow are Poland’s most successful team; Tomasz played for nearly seven years, thrice finishing as the league’s top scorer. During that period, the club won 5 Polish championships, 2 Polish cups and one super-cup.
[3] Elche finished the 2005-2006 season, Tomasz’s only with the club, in 14th place, winning 13 games, drawing 14 and losing 15. Throughout their history, they have endured 19 seasons as a La Liga club, 33 in the Segunda Division, 7 in the Segunda Division B and 19 in the Tercera (fourth division). They won the Segunda Division in 1958-59 and also lifted the Copa del Rey in 1968-69.
[4] Carl Hoddle (1967-2008) endured a relatively unspectacular career as a player, turning out for Leyton Orient and Barnet after being let go by Tottenham as a youngster. After retiring, he worked in the used car trade and as a pub landlord before his brother Glenn recruited him as a coach and scout at Wolverhampton Wanderers. Sadly, he died on the 2nd March due to a brain aneurysm.
[5] Friedrich Scherfke (1909-1983) was an interwar midfielder for the Polish national team. Scherfke was an ethnic German as he was born in Poznan during the German Empire’s occupation of Poland. He spent most of his career at Warta Poznan, one of the elite sides in the Polish Soccer League during the 1920/30s.  He played 12 times for the national team, scoring twice, the most famous of those goals being Poland’s first ever World Cup goal in 1938. Later in life, he fought for the Germans, before dying at the age of 74.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Transfer Window Summary

So, the infamous British summer transfer window has been closed for four months until it re-opens in frostier conditions in January, when we will no doubt be able to look forward to more weeks of haphazard wheeling and dealing by managers up and down the country. But who can be most satisfied with their business this time around? And which managers will be anxiously counting down the days until their chairman's purse strings loosen again? Here's my summary of each Premier League team's spending as well as a list of my top 10 summer transfers...
Gunners fans will most likely have mixed feelings about a summer which saw last season's hero Robin van Persie depart for their, ahem, title rivals Manchester United. The arrivals of established internationals Santi Cazorla (above) and Lukas Podolski as well as Ligue 1's top scorer Olivier Giroud will have softened the blow, especially seeing as Cazorla has already made a big impact on their solid start to the season. The sale of Alex Song to Barcelona was, however, a puzzling one and there is no denying that Arsenal's midfield could be left wanting in the event of an injury crisis. That being said, Abou Diaby's stellar performances in the opening three games has allayed fears about Song's departure for the time being and Mikel Arteta has began this term in the sort of dependable form that made him such a key figure last time around. The rest of the departures from the Emirates are not as likely to be missed, regardless of what Nicklas Bendtner tells you. All in all, Arsene Wenger has been much more shrewd than he was this time last year and Arsenal look good value for a top four berth as things stand.

A few furrowed brows have been spotted around Villa Park as of late, the main reason being Villa's poor start to the season. But there has been plenty of discussion surrounding new manager Paul Lambert's transfer policy too, the former Norwich manager having recruited eight new players, few of whom were instantly recognisable to Villa supporters. Ron Vlaar was probably the most established of the lot due to his inclusion in Holland's Euro 2012 squad and one or two Football League aficionados may have been acquainted with Matthew Lowton, Jordan Bowery, Joe Bennett and Ashley Westwood prior to their arrival...though it's unlikely. Christian Benteke (above) was reportedly the most costly of the new arrivals and only time will tell if the big Belgian striker can replicate his impressive form for Genk (where he averaged a goal every other game) in claret and blue. Lambert will certainly hope so as there's no doubt he's taking a massive gamble on some of his new recruits, none of which have any previous Premier League experience. That being said, this Villa team has needed freshening up for some time now and the new boys may provide the tonic needed to boost the club's fortunes.
Chelsea have been one of the busier teams this summer, adding six new faces to their squad whilst allowing up to sixteen players to depart the club on either a permanent or short-term basis. It was those that were allowed to leave Stamford Bridge for good that caused the most headlines in particular the hero of their Champions League triumph in Munich, Didier Drogba. But Roberto di Matteo's decision to let go of Raul Meireles and Michael Essien was not without controversy, especially as it could leave his side short of cover in midfield. The Blues have added impressively though, with Eden Hazard having made a quick impression with some eye-catching performances in the league. Marko Marin, Oscar and Victor Moses also add a wealth of attacking quality whilst many will hope that Cesar Azpillicueta (pictured above with Moses) can solve a long-standing problem at right back. Di Matteo will believe his first choice 18 are capable of pushing the Manchester clubs all the way in the title race but will want to avoid any costly injuries to his key performers.
Their weekend defeat to West Bromwich Albion aside, Everton have embarked on an uncharacteristically strong start to the season. Captain Phil Neville puts this down to the haste with which the club conducted their business in the transfer window this summer and he may well have a point. Traditionally, the Toffees have sold late and bought late too and this has often hindered their chances of a good start. Only two new additions (Matthew Kennedy and Bryan Oviedo) arrived on deadline day this time around though, with no key men departing Goodison Park. Kevin Mirallas (above), Steven Naismith and Steven Piennar's signatures were secured relatively early on in the summer, Mirallas's signing coming as a direct response to the sale of Jack Rodwell to Manchester City. Many will have been disappointed to see the talented midfielder leave but the offer from City was a generous one given the player's injury record and allowed the signing of Mirallas, who will add much needed options up front. David Moyes will be relieved as ever that the window is shut and will fancy his side's chances of continuing their strong start.
Arsenal and Fulham fans can sympathise with each other after a transfer window that saw their key performers from last season depart for pastures new, only to be replaced by equally exciting new acquisitions. Whilst attendees at the Emirates are likely to be slightly more enthused by their new additions there is no reason for Fulham fans to be disillusioned with Martin Jol's signings, though they have every right to be disappointed with the sales of Moussa Dembele and Clint Dempsey after coming so close to keeping the pair. Question marks remain about the decision to release former captain Danny Murphy too, but the signing of Dimitar Berbatov is bound to excite the Craven Cottage faithful. The mercurial Bulgarian is every bit as frustrating as he is talented but there is no doubt his signature is a real coup for the club and he will add further quality to a forward line that already contains Mladen Petric and Hugo Rodallega, both who have enjoyed lively starts for their new club. Kieran Richardson adds versatility to the team and Sascha Riether has been quick to establish himself at right back as Fulham keep the look of a side destined for mid-table.
A frustrating summer for Liverpool as Brendan Rodger's Anfield revolution stutters before it's even began. Quick to move on from the profligacy of Kenny Dalglish's reign, Rodgers sought about acquiring players that fit his very clear ideal of how the game should be played. Enter Joe Allen (above), Nuri Sahin and Fabio Borini and exit Charlie Adam, Andy Carroll, Craig Bellamy, Dirk Kuyt etc. Hypothetically, it all sounds very logical. But the reality is that Liverpool have left themselves desperately short of quality options, particularly in attack. The decision to let Carroll join West Ham United on loan without securing a replacement is especially bizarre when you recall how badly the Reds struggled to score goals last term. Allen and Sahin are excellent additions and Borini possesses the work rate required to thrive in the Premier League, but neither will provide any telling support to Luis Suarez, who has already showcased his tendency to misfire this season. I sense a very testing few months await at Anfield and I sincerely hope the club's owners show Rodgers the sort of support they were not willing to offer either of his predecessors.
At one point this summer it looked as if Roberto Mancini was going to be able to compare notes with Brendan Rodgers about his transfer window frustrations. But a late splurge by his paymasters has left the Italian with a squad that looks even stronger than last season's championship winning side. The addition of Javi Garcia (above) in particular is an excellent one, especially considering he has replaced the popular but often unreliable Nigel de Jong. Matija Nastasic is somewhat of an unknown quantity but surely can't be any worse than Stefan Savic, who has been flogged to the formers ex club Fiorentina as part of the deal that took him to the Emirates. Maicon's signing has left the Citizens with an embarrassment of riches at right back, with Pablo Zabaleta and Micah Richards already on the books and Scott Sinclair and Jack Rodwell provide a home-grown strength in depth. City fans will have been relieved to see Emmanuel Adebayor removed from the wage bill and Adam Johnson's departure was a necessary one given his need for first-team football. The early season form of a certain Carlos Tevez will also mean that City will pay little attention to a certain Dutchman plying his trade in red, for now at least.
Manchester United's capture of Robin van Persie (above) was by far and away the most eye-catching deal of the summer transfer window and will be paid closer attention in a future post, such is it's potential repercussions in the title race. One thing it certainly achieved on United's behalf was to make a statement of intent to their city rivals that they do not intend to give up lightly in their pursuit of the Premier League title. The addition of Shinji Kagawa from Borussia Dortmund also adds further class to a United attack that already boasts Wayne Rooney, Javier Hernandez, Danny Welbeck, Nani, Ashley Young, Antonio getting the point? This United team will guarantee goals, and goals win you matches. But that rule applies to the opposition just as much as it does to the Red Devils and one thing this side do not guarantee is clean sheets, which makes Sir Alex Ferguson's decision not to add to his defence all the more peculiar. United also lack a ball-winner in the middle of the park and I sense that that may come back to haunt them in the long run. More to follow...
Newcastle didn't add extensively to their squad but you sense that supporters of the Magpies were always more concerned with personnel coming out of the Sports Direct Arena than in. A collective sigh of relief would have been heard around the area on Friday when the transfer window shut as Alan Pardew managed to keep together a squad that brought the good times back to the club last season. That's not to say, however, that replicating last season's form is going to be an easier task. Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse have demonstrated a worrying inability to play together thus far and Newcastle are lacking quality in attacking alternatives. They will no doubt benefit from a full season from Hatem Ben Arfa and Vurnon Anita (above) arrives with a good pedigree. Gael Bigirimana impressed against Aston Villa on the weekend but there is no guaranteeing that he and fellow youngster Romain Amalfitano can make a lasting impact over the course of the season. The Magpies will be a difficult prospect for any team to face but I sense they might struggle to trouble the top six again, especially with the return of European football this term.
Chris Hughton (above, with Sebastian Bassong) was sparked into life by Norwich's opening day horror show at Fulham, signing up to five players in response to his team's heavy five goal defeat. Mark Bunn and Harry Kane are unlikely to see much first team football at Carrow Road, whilst little is known about midfield recruit Alexander Tettey. Javier Garrido and Sebastian Bassong, however, are well acquainted with England's top flight and Hughton will hope they can add the sort of quality required to stave off a relegation scrap. Doubts will remain about the Canaries ability to do that, especially seeing as Bassong has already been relegated three times from the top flight, including last season when he was part of the dismal Wolves side that sunk without a trace in the second half of the campaign. Hughton is a strong motivator though and he will aim to rejuvenate his more established recruitments as well as motivate the lesser known of his acquisitions as he attempts to steer Norwich up the table after their slow start.
Mark Hughes clearly isn't a fast learner. After his January splurge failed to galvanise his QPR side you'd be forgiven for thinking that the former Manchester United forward might have proceeded with a little more caution this summer. Clearly caution isn't a buzz-word around Loftus Road these days as chairman Tony Fernandes sanctioned another reckless shopping spree in which the R's acquired a series of big-name players in the hope that they will miraculously haul the team up the table. What's ironic about Ranger's signings though is that none of them address the areas that need improving. Rob Green was maligned for his performance in the opening day drubbing to Swansea, but he received next to no protection from the defence in front of him. Hughes answer? To sign another goalkeeper (Julio Cesar, above). One that's more expensive than Green at that. The Brazilian has already admitted that financial reasons were his motivation for moving to London and you suspect one or two of his new teammates might share that view. Sparky will hope that the wiser of his purchases (Esteban Granero, Park Ji-Sung, Junior Hoilett) will provide enough class to keep his team safe again this season. Kudos to him for getting rid of one Joey Barton, though...
Despite the reported resources of new owner Anton Zingarevich, Reading resisted the urge to go on a QPR-esque splurge and instead put their faith in the sort of players that have come to embody Brian McDermott's reign. Chris Gunter, Adrian Mariappa and Garath McCleary step up from the Championship keen to make an impression on the top flight and all three will be expected to work hard for the shirt, such is the emphasis placed on teamwork by their new manager. Stuart Taylor provides experienced cover in goal and one suspects that he may finally get some game time if Adam Federici's poor start to the season continues. Nicky Shorey returns to the club after a long and largely unhappy spell away and Danny Guthrie has also joined in the hope that he can finally establish himself in the Premier League. Pavel Pogrebnyak (above) was the club's high profile signing and Royals supporters will hope he can fire on a regular basis as the club try to ensure their stay in the top division is not a short lived one.
Southampton have already won plenty of plaudits this season despite them being pointless and at the foot of the table. Nigel Adkin's side have continued their commitment to attacking football and the signing of Gaston Ramirez (above) from Bologna means that that policy is unlikely to change in the coming months. The acquisition of the Uruguay international is seen by many as somewhat of a coup for the club but is indicative of a club that has shown plenty of ambition in getting back to the Premier League after a considerable absence. Other new recruits Steven Davis and Nathaniel Clyne have already established themselves in the starting eleven and £7 million striker Jay Rodriguez will be aiming to follow in their footsteps, especially seeing as fellow reserve Billy Sharp has left the club on loan. Concerns remain about the Saints defensive capabilities and Adkins may regret not pursuing a new defender but his side should have enough about them to keep their heads above water until the winter.
Stoke's signing of Charlie Adam (above) is tinted with a degree of irony, given that he was once the creative lynch pin in a Blackpool team that entertained fans up and down the country. But the Potters and their manager Tony Pulis are much more pragmatic than Ian Holloway's band of merry men and Adam will be utilised in a very different way at the Britannia. The Scots penchant for long, diagonal passes should come in useful to a side that often looks to utilise the height of Peter Crouch or the width offered by Matthew Etherington, Jermaine Pennant and new boy Michael Kightly. Maurice Edu and Steven N'Zonzi have also joined the ranks in midfield, meaning Glenn Whelan and Wilson Palacios may struggle for game time. Geoff Cameron has made a strong start to life at his new club and Stoke will feel confident that they can kick on after a disappointing league campaign last term.
Martin O'Neill will have no doubt feared at one point this summer that he was going to be left frustrated at the end of the transfer window, given the sluggish pace with which Sunderland conducted their business. The Ulsterman has a knack of getting what he wants though (as Aston Villa fans will attest) and the Black Cats now look strong contenders for a top ten birth. Many scoffed at the £12-14 million fee paid to Wolves for Steven Fletcher (above) but as a fan of his former club I can assure any naysayers that the striker is more than capable of scoring on a regular basis in the top flight. Adam Johnson is another excellent acquisition for a club that relied too heavily on Stephane Sessegnon and James McLean for creativity last term. Danny Rose offers an alternative at left back and Louis Saha is also a strong option to have from the bench. None of the departures from the Stadium of Light are likely to be missed, with many fans likely to be glad of Asamoah Gyan's exit in particular.
Pre-season talk of Swansea's demise looks fanciful at best now after Michael Laudrup's fantastic start to life in the Liberty Stadium dugout. Whilst it remains early days, the Dane has managed to continue the Swans tradition of free-flowing football whilst also adding an attacking edge that was often missing last term. The addition of Michu (above) has been partly responsible for this, with the Spaniard netting 4 goals in his first 3 games for his new club. Pablo Hernandez is a fine replacement for Scott Sinclair, the former Valencia man coming with plenty of pedigree after several years in Spain's top flight. Ki-Sung Yeung arrives with the reputation of being one of Scotland's more able imports and he is likely to be given the task of filling in for the departed Joe Allen. Laudrup will rue the timing of Neil Taylor's injury however as it leaves him short of options at the back, whilst Chico's early performances for the club suggest that Swansea may be vulnerable in defence at times this season. Still, the added attacking edge to the club's tiki-taka style should ensure a comfortable campaign for them.
Andre Villas-Boas' transfer policy at Chelsea was not always easy to understand and he does not seem to have altered his methods upon his arrival at Tottenham. The Portugese tactician appears to have a knack for attempting to fix something that is not broken and his dealings at Spurs threaten to disrupt a team that were unlucky not to qualify for the Champions League last term. The purchase of France keeper Hugo Lloris is both impressive and baffling, given that Brad Friedel enjoyed a fine campaign for the Lilywhites last season. In acquiring an international goalkeeper, Villas-Boas has given himself an unnecessary selection headache and also a potential threat to team morale. Moussa Dembele is, however, a fantastic signing and the sort that Spurs need now that Luka Modric has departed to Real Madrid. Clint Dempsey's move has the air of a panic buy after the club missed out on several other targets but as far as panic buys go the American is about as good as they get. Emmanuel Adebayor's permanent move to White Hart Lane was welcome news as it takes some of the onus off Jermain Defoe to score goals but AVB may rue the decision to allow Rafael van der Vaart to return to Hamburg. Spurs on paper look more than capable of challenging the top four but so much depends on the ability of their manager to establish his methods on a team that had grown used to Harry Redknapp's methods. I intend to look at this situation in more depth in a later post so Spurs fans, keep your eyes peeled...
West Bromwich Albion continue to defy their doubters by plucking obscure talents both on and off the field. The appointment of Steve Clarke now looks like a masterstroke by chairman Jeremy Peace (admittedly on the back of just four games in charge), whilst the club have also been shrewd in the transfer window. Argentine midfielder Claudio Yacob (above) has already struck up a rapport with The Hawthorns faithful and on a free transfer looks like one of the bargains of the summer. Romelu Lukaku's loan move was a real coup for the club and the big Belgian striker is finally getting the opportunity to demonstrate his undoubted potential. Swedish international Markus Rosenberg joins the Chelsea loanee in providing Albion with an embarrassment of riches up front, whilst Ben Foster's permanent move after a successful loan spell has served to make Albion even tighter in defence. Yassine El Ghanassy impressed during pre-season and is likely to play a more pivotal role as the season progresses. I tipped Albion to struggle in my pre-season predictions and I am now happy to contradict myself in saying that the Baggies look more than capable of a comfortable finish this season.
It would seem Bredan Rodgers is already ruing his decision to allow Andy Carrol (above) to join West Ham on loan, but that won't trouble Sam Allardyce. The Hammers gaffer knew exactly what he was getting when he agreed a deal for the former Newcastle striker and we got a glimpse of Big Sam's new look side on Saturday when they smashed three past Fulham. It's been a busy summer at Upton Park and Allardyce has not shied away from the type of player that he has come to know and trust. Matt Jarvis was bought for big money from Wolves but he is the sort of quick, direct winger that a striker like Carroll will thrive from. Mohammed Diame and Alou Diarra add steel to a midfield that already contains proven Premier League performers such as Kevin Nolan. James Collins didn't cover himself in glory in the three goal defeat to Swansea, nor did new keeper Jussi Jasskelainen but both are more than capable of performing in the Premier League. Striker Modibo Maiga is less familiar to English audiences but showed glimpses of real quality on his debut against Aston Villa. The Hammers were another side I tipped to struggle but the signing of Carroll really changes the complexion of their side and I'm now pretty sure they'll be safe and sound come the end of the season.

Wigan Athletic are never expected to be big spenders in the transfer window and they didn't break that trend this summer, but that didn't stop Roberto Martinez from making some very smart additions to his squad. Ivan Ramis is a central defender with a solid reputation in Spain and has recovered well from a poor debut against Chelsea, whilst Arouna Kone (above) is a striker with real pedigree that arrives on the back of a great season last year with Levante. Kone has settled well up front with last season's top scorer Franco di Santo and they look like a potentially formidable combination. Fraser Fyvie is a highly rated prospect and Ryo Miachi will hope to have a more enjoyable time on loan at the DW Stadium than he did at relegated Bolton last season. Wigan have lost key players in Mohamed Diame, Victor Moses and Hugo Rodallega but they will hope to avoid another relegation battle nonetheless. Their modest resources is likely to hinder any real progress but I still feel the Latics will enjoy a more comfortable campaign this time around.
1. Andy Carroll (Liverpool to West Ham, loan). Not quite as glamorous as the RVP move but Carroll could well be the difference between a top ten finish and a season of struggle for West Ham.
2. Robin van Persie (Arsenal to Manchester United). One of the most audacious transfers of recent times, United have bought themselves a world-class goalscorer who could well fire them to the title.
3. Eden Hazard (Lille to Chelsea). The Blues beat a host of other clubs to the Belgian's signings and whilst it's unlikely he'll help them topple the Manchester clubs yet, he's changed the dynamics of their side within weeks of his arrival.
4. Santi Cazorla (Malaga to Arsenal). Has helped allay the fears of Arsenal fans with some fantastic early displays and will ensure new strikers Podolski and Giroud get plenty of chances.
5. Dimitar Berbatov (Manchester United to Fulham). The Cottagers have landed a £30 million centre forward for less than £5 million. An incredible coup for Martin Jol.
6. Michu (Rayo Vallecano to Swansea). Scored for fun in Spain last year and early signs suggest he'll do the same in the Premier League. A steal at £2 million.
7. Javi Garcia (Benfica to Manchester City). An expensive transfer for Roberto Mancini but the Spaniard will add further class to City's midfield and should ensure they do better in Europe this season.
8. Moussa Dembele (Fulham to Tottenham Hotspur). A very classy act in the middle of the field, Dembele should ensure that Spurs can kick on in Modric's absence.
9. Gaston Ramirez (Bologna to Southampton). Has the air of a potential flop just as much as it does a coup, but Ramirez comes with a big reputation and will add excitement to an already vibrant Saints team.
10. Arouna Kone (Levante to Wigan). Not as glamorous as any of the above deals but the Latics have done really well to snap up a striker that fired his former team to Europe least season. Could be a real difference maker for them.
A good transfer window for...Arsenal. Lifted the shadow of van Persie and replaced it with three players of real quality. Doubts remain over whether Giroud can repeat his feats at Montpellier last term but his physicality will mean the Gunners can create chances as a result of him, rather than for him. Arsene Wenger is consistently criticised for his (lack of) spending but few managers care about their employers as passionately as he does.
A bad transfer window for...Liverpool. Brendan Rodgers has been severely undermined by FSG within weeks of his tenure and with a behind-the-scenes documentary set to be screened this month, further ridicule could be around the corner. The decision to let Carroll go without replacing him was ludicrous and the months leading to January could be a real struggle.
Manager under the most pressure...Rodgers aside, look no further than Mark Hughes. Sam Allardyce has allayed doubts over his future at West Ham by spending wisely, but Hughes has only heaped more pressure on himself by undergoing another bizarre splurge. The coming months will be a real test of his relationship with chairman Tony Fernandes.