English Premiership

Big-fee stars on sidelines

2016-09-25 06:06
firing Ilkay Gündogan has hit the ground running at Manchester City PHOTO: Richard Heathcote / Getty Images

When Manchester United travelled to Northampton for their mid-week League Cup fixture, none of José Mourinho’s summer signings made the starting line-up.

Although managers often rest players in that competition, Mourinho’s decision raised some eyebrows as the Red Devils went into the game after three consecutive defeats in competitive games.

Having paid about £146 million (R2.6 billion) for Paul Pogba, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Eric Bailly, it was ironically Zlatan Ibrahimovic – the only player who joined United on a free transfer – who was the only one of the new signings to feature in the game.

United’s new players, who joined amid huge hype, have not managed to help the club turn their huge investment into success. But there are, of course, still plenty of games to be played.

Mourinho was quick to downplay some of the criticism that Pogba, the world’s most expensive player, has received.

“I just want Paul to forget that [the record transfer] and to play his football. Without a pre-season, he had a very good impact in the first game and it’s normal that, after that, he has a little decrease.

“But I’m full of trust in him because I know the player he is; I know he’s a very good guy with a lot of ambition, so the form will come naturally. As the team improves, form improves,” he said.

But while the new signings of United are yet to show why the club should have paid so much money for them, there are others who have already repaid the faith (and money) their new clubs showed in them.

Idrissa Gueye and Maarten Stekelenburg have played an important role in helping Everton to one of their best starts to the season for many years, and victory at Bournemouth would take them to six wins and a draw – matching their best start from the 1969/70 season.

Everton coach Ronald Koeman said he was not surprised Gueye had made such an impact since joining the club from Aston Villa.

“How can I be surprised? We signed him and he is a great player.”

Koeman’s counterpart at Arsenal, Arsène Wenger, who used to be considered as a shrewd signer of players, having lured the likes of Patrick Vieira, Emmanuel Petit and Thierry Henry to Highbury, has been blowing more cold than hot in recent years.

However, Swiss international Granit Xhaka’s early impressions have suggested Wenger could have signed a gem in the midfielder, who made a promising start to his career with the Gunners.

He drew praise from Wenger: “He is a guy who plays naturally behind the ball, a bit similar to Petit in the way he plays football.”

The 23-year-old could well be the player that Arsenal have been missing in midfield since Petit’s departure – and which has prevented them from launching a serious title challenge for more years than their faithful fans care to remember.

Belgian international Nacer Chadli, who was playing little more than a bit-part with Spurs at the end of last season, has found a new lease of life with West Bromwich and put in a match-winning performance in his second game, scoring twice against West Ham.

Pep Guardiola, meanwhile, brought Leroy Sane and Ilkay Gündogan with him from Germany when he took on the job of coaching Manchester City and, although both players have not featured prominently for the Citizens, they have both shown they are investments for the future.

Gündogan, who signed for City despite having missed several weeks through injury, has shown on his return that he could be an important player for his new club as Guardiola sets out on his mission of finally bringing the Champions League trophy to the Etihad Stadium.

Surprise champions Leicester City not only managed to hold on to most of their players, they secured highly rated Algerian international Islam Slimani’s signature.

The striker, who joined from Sporting Lisbon, scored twice on his Premier League debut and is expected to form a lethal partnership with Jamie Vardy upfront.

Xhaka and Slimani are prime examples that it is not always the most expensive players who create the biggest impact.

In fact, a recent study by Prime Time Sport showed many of the big-fee signings play in less than 50% of their clubs’ games, while more than a quarter of players who joined clubs during the last four seasons and cost more than £8.39 million have already moved on – either on loan or on permanent deals.


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