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The Football Business Column: The Business and Politics Behind the 2022 Qatar World Cup Controversies

“It may well be that we made a mistake at the time.”

Given the fresh controversy surrounding the death of migrant workers on the building sites for the 2022 Qatar World Cup, Sepp Blatter’s public admission in early September to Inside World Football (h/t ESPN) seems all the more pertinent. If only he’d thought of such implications and possibilities before actually approving the final decision.

No matter. What’s happened has already happened, but FIFA are now left to pick up the considerable refuse that has been generated in the wake of the significant recent fallout over the decision to award the tiny Middle Eastern emirate the hosting rights of the world’s most prestigious single-sport tournament. The problems are rooted in politics, as they were always going to be given the universality of the world’s most popular sport, and the international involvement in and exposure to the game.

Surely more background digging should’ve been conducted prior to the bid, and surely more scrutiny should’ve been paid to the implementation process by FIFA and the Qatari authorities, to avoid any potential banana skin in their grand ambitious plan to bring the tournament to new and exotic places on the planet.

Simply put, the migrant worker situation should’ve been researched and taken into consideration in the bid process. It might have been a bit too political to go into the human rights records and agendas of host countries, but it’s FIFA, it’s the World Cup and it’s all about politics anyway.

David Cannon/Getty Images

The Politics

“The World Cup and foreign labor abuse in host countries” sounds exactly like the kind of problem that should never have been inflicted on FIFA in the first place, such is the emphasis given to the separation of football from politics and anything of the sort. Sadly, this was always going to be tough.

Especially with, in Blatter’s words, football being “a global unifying force for the good, a force that offers to be inclusive in every which way and a force that has written anti-discrimination on its banner under my presidency.” Especially with FIFA’s goal to bring the World Cup to places that haven’t hosted it before—South Africa, Brazil, Russia and now Qatar (representing the Middle East); the likes of Australia and China are surely not far behind.

It’s in this context that Blatter’s admission to German newspaper Die Zeit (h/t The Guardian)—“European leaders recommended to its voting members to opt for Qatar, because of major economic interests in this country”—appears particularly worrying. Not only this: UEFA president Michel Platini has one-upped Blatter and suggested to the Associated Press (h/t The Washington Post) that this sort of political influence was commonplace in international tournaments: “With the extraordinary influence Mr. Blatter has, he has only all of a sudden realized there are political and economic influences when we decide who will host an Olympic Games and so forth?”

A public spat that not only casts a pessimistic, cynical light over proceedings, but one that should be avoided in the first place. Not even Platini’s insistence that former French president Nicolas Sarkozy didn’t personally ask him to vote for Qatar despite Sarkozy’s political support will clear anything up.

And it’s led to Qatar’s FIFA 2022 World Cup Organizing Committee secretary-general Hassan Al Thawadi defending his country’s bid and its legality. There will be lots of questions thrown his way; he’d better get used to fighting the fire.

Handout/Getty Images

The Scheduling

Possibly the biggest question of all when the subject of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar is brought up is this: Will it be held in the summer or will it be moved to the winter?

The first thing that comes to mind when we consider a winter World Cup is: What happens to all the leagues that run throughout the year except during the summer? It just so happens that those are the European leagues that have the most worldwide interest, the highest-profile players and the best quality and competition. Just a simple statement from the EPFL, the umbrella body of the major European leagues, will have FIFA scrambling.

The potential problems brought about by disrupting the league calendar are quite significant. It’s not just about asking those leagues to move their domestic calendars for just a season. It’s not just about the feasibility of working out a schedule that also fits in with the Winter Olympics. And it’s not just about moving a four-week tournament, as they’re finally starting to find out, and FIFA will have all kinds of oppositions, protestations and storms to weather in the coming weeks and months (hopefully not years).

Speaking of the weather, never mind the considerations that FIFA should have made regarding the scheduling due to the summer temperatures in Qatar even during the bidding process; now that the question of whether Qatar should host the World Cup at all is being asked again, even the chairman of FIFA’s medical committee has come out in public opposition.

Michel D’Hooghe has gone on record questioning the prospect of holding the tournament in the summer from a medical perspective and has included aspects other than players training and competing in scorching temperatures while he was at it: He mentioned the delegates, the “FIFA family,” the media and would you know it, the fans as well. A FIFA executive keeping the fans in mind?

Another perspective also had the fans’ interests in mind, or so it claimed. This time it was the Australian Football Federation, who lost its original bid for the 2022 World Cup, who has asked for compensation in the event that FIFA do move the tournament to the winter, just because it feels like it’s entitled to “just and fair” compensation to “those nations that invested many millions, and national prestige, in bidding for a summer event.”

The FFA did give some context, acknowledging the place football has in Australia by citing the fact that the A-League runs through the Australian summer (winter in the northern hemisphere) because high-quality stadiums Down Under aren’t as accessible during the rest of the year. FFA chairman Frank Lowy claimed that “clubs, investors, broadcasters, players and fans would all be affected,” which is a valid argument and observation.

Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

The TV Money

Just in case we were getting carried away with the seemingly alien notion that football authorities actually care about the common fan, there are other high-profile cases that shoot us right back down.

Fox Sports, a division of the US television network Fox, have made public theiropposition to any potential switch of the tournament to the winter (h/t Nick Harris of the Daily Mail), simply because “Fox Sports bought the World Cup rights with the understanding they would be in the summer as they have been since the 1930s.”

In this case, it’s about the finance and economics of broadcasting such an event, which, when the numbers involved come to light, are hardly a small matter. FIFA earned a whopping $1.1 billion for the rights to the 2018 and 2022 World Cups; Fox paid around $450 million, while NBC Universal’s Telemundo division bought the Spanish-language rights for $600 million.

And these are US networks that have acknowledged the rise in interest in the “beautiful” game (in quotes for obvious reasons considering the topic of this article) by shelling out for the English Premier League this season, but that are also cautious about having football competing for high-profile prime-time spots alongside the traditional big American sports during the regular American season.

Such is the importance and influence of broadcasters that Ben Rumsby of The Daily Telegraph reports FIFA have allegedly held secret meetings with them in an attempt to “quell opposition to any move,” which all but shows that FIFA are the mercy of their own money-making engines.

Harold Cunningham/Getty Images

The Disillusion

The debate and fevered discussion will no doubt continue for a while yet over the staging of the World Cup—and indeed if it will still be held in Qatar at all—but one thing’s for sure: Given the amount of money and politics involved in the game now, surely these were things that FIFA should’ve considered before awarding the hosting rights to Qatar?

If there had been a clear plan and clear communication during the process—even accounting for the widespread unwillingness to change across footballing authorities and TV networks (understandable, considering the financial implications)—perhaps right now, instead of clashing over it all, everyone would be celebrating that the World Cup Finals are finally arriving in the Middle East.

A disappointing chapter in the history of arguably the world’s most inclusive and socially impactful sport, and an undoubted tarnishing of FIFA’s slogan: “For the game, for the world.” Plenty of work to do still.

This piece originally appeared on Bleacher Report and is also part of my Football Business Column for SWOL.co, in which I discuss some of the latest news, trends and developments on the business side of football—everything including marketing, strategy, technology and finance.

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The Proliferation of Data-Driven Analysis in Football (Part Two: The Coaches)

Big data.

It’s the flavor of the moment, whether it’s used in conjunction with politics, business or sports, and given the growing ease with which organizations and people can collect data, it looks as if big data is here to stay.

And when the BBC Technology section runs an article on how data analytics is influencing football, you know it’s a hot, hot topic.

In part one of this series looking at data-driven analysis in football, we discussed the growing popularity and importance of statistics to football scouts, which extends to how football clubs run themselves as organizations and businesses.

A key player in the stats arena that we looked at was Manchester City, so it’s no surprise that the BBC article just cited starts with City as a club to look at: They, after all, employ 10 full-time data analysts just for the first team (and this was the picture, at the time of writing, almost six months ago), and club captain Vincent Kompany has realized the value of in-depth analysis, such that he’s reportedly started meeting with his fellow defenders and the data analysts to discuss their findings.

We started off our last piece looking at the role that pre-match preparation played in Simon Mignolet’s exciting penalty save from Stoke City’s Jonathan Walters on the goalkeeper’s debut for Liverpool—the importance of data analysis and the simple of collection of statistics did the job there, and will continue to do this job.

We will now discuss the coach’s role and use of statistics in part two of our four-part series on Business of Soccer, in which we’ll look at how big data and related technologies and trends have influenced and augmented the beautiful game. Parts three and four will look at the sports scientists and, finally, the fans.

 

Photo courtesy of The Telegraph.

Photo courtesy of The Telegraph.

Club Information

Let’s start with a fascinating Sports Illustrated article from Jen Chang, who talks about the use of performance analytics by Premier League club Everton and how it influenced ex-manager David Moyes’ preparation work.

And there are major repercussions on the tactics side of the game. Steve Brown, Everton’s First Team Performance Analyst, performs this exact role, where he analyzes information provided by Prozone (more on the data providers later) to develop game plans. Where are opposing full-backs usually positioned? What positional traits do opposing wingers exhibit? How can Everton prepare their team shape to take advantage of any habitual practices of next week’s opponent? As Brown says in the article, American forward Landon Donovan was often eager to solicit more information from Everton’s analysts during his time on loan at Goodison Park.

We can thus see the importance of opposition scouting in terms of tactical approach and how teams can prepare their own players to negate formations and systems, as well as take advantage of any possible habitual holes that are magnified. Add this tactical and positional information provided by data analytics onto detailed observations and reports prepared by specialist opposition scouts (such as this quite brilliant analysis done by former Chelsea scout Andre Villas-Boas via the Telegraph), and it could make for a comprehensive picture and extensive preparation.

The implications of this method quite naturally also extend and have applications beyond opposition scouting. By studying a club’s own players, managers can get a feel for how they can better train and mold them into all-rounded stars with fewer glaring holes in their games—and this not only means they can do tactical and positional work, but also fitness work.

We’ll look more in depth at the science of sports fitness in part three of this series (particularly a high-profile example at Liverpool), but we’ll also refer to one of many interesting applications of GPS technology: to track player movement, position and fitness.

Arsenal, with their aesthetically pleasing attacking movement, self-sufficient financial structure and new world-class stadium, are known for their modern approach to the game, and their use of GPS to monitor their own players won’t come as a surprise, and in the case of midfield starlet Jack Wilshere, according to a Guardian report, it was this technology that persuaded him to miss the 2011 Euro U21 tournament.

 

Independent Information

So all is well and good with regards to data analytics and statistical analysis employed by football clubs, but where does all of this information come from?

Well, there are a number of big players in the sports analytics scene, and Prozone and Opta are the two biggest names around, mostly because their scope and coverage extend far beyond just a single team.

To that end, Prozone has struck up a number of high-profile partnerships with the likes of Arsenal, Manchester United, Manchester City, Stoke City, Fulham and Wigan Athletic, and this self-styled performance analysis firm provides the information that helps the team preparation process of many other clubs around the world.

In the US, where as we covered last time Major League Soccer have been pioneers in the technological and analytical front, both DC United and Chicago Fire have struck up agreements with Prozone to provide technical and tactical analysis, while the US Soccer Federation itself also employs such data to aid its national team and referees association. Their work also helps the German Football Association, who does a similar thing for the German national football team.

Opta, whose succinct Tweets from a variety of accounts looking at different leagues complement a viewer watching football on TV, are probably as famous among fans for their one-word conclusions as they are among clubs with their information, but it is interesting that they seem to be more of a statistical analysis firm as opposed to “performance” per se.

What do we mean by this? This OptaPro blog will shine more light onto what exactly Opta does with its data. Opta is much more of an independent data provider, in that its information is gathered and supplied in a more third-party role, looking at league-wide trends and analysis, as the blog entry does for Premier League goal-scorers.

Opta is, as well, the official media partner of the Premier League, the Football League and the Scottish Premier and Football Leagues, and its focus is much more on the fan engagement level—official Premier League partners such as Barclays and EA Sports will be able to access use live Opta data, while other popular sites like EPLIndex.com and Squawka are built entirely on data provided by Opta.

But it is another kind of analytics project that Opta has done recently that really captures the imagination and the potential of such analysis.

Opta’s project with adidas on “The Engine,” in which a mathematical equation-based algorithm has searched out specific types of box-to-box, stamina-heavy players and will continue to do so over the course of the season. This collaboration looks on the surface to be an ambitious feature aimed at fans interested in player analysis and comparison, but in reality there could be big implications on the world of football scouting and coaching.

Will there be a day that third-party data analysts—not in-house analysts at clubs—take over all the information analysis functions of football clubs, much like generic call-centers and hardware manufacturers support different companies in the same facility?

Could Prozone come up with a standard set of coaching manuals and training regimes, based on their vast databases of performance-related data, that they could then sell onto clubs, academies and leagues as best practices as a “performance consultancy”?

Could Opta unearth players using specially designed algorithms to recommend to clubs as players they should be looking at?

How would clubs be able to turn down such offerings if both fans and they themselves knew that they are the organizations that have access to the widest range of data and as such should be the most reliable in their recommendations?

 

League-Wide Information

As we ponder the future roles of data providers like Prozone and Opta, we should also keep an eye on the present, where sports firms like adidas are expanding quickly and aggressively into the coaching analytics field.

We discussed above adidas’ “The Engine” project; in 2013, its miCoach Elite system will be implemented across MLS to provide real-time data available to both coaches and fans, who will be able to track performance levels to the minutest detail (if they wish) while the match is going on.

In part two of this four-part series on the proliferation of data-driven analysis in football, we’ve looked at the role data is now playing in the coaching arena. Most of the analysis is done pre- and post-match to prepare and debrief players and managers on what to do next, but when real-time data becomes widely available, everyone comes under heavier attention, and the pressure to perform becomes higher than ever.

As we look ahead to part three on sports scientists, there is already plenty of food for thought related to how all this information—and all the players in this field—can have ramifications for the beautiful game in the future.

Stay tuned.

This piece first appeared on BusinessofSoccer.com, where I cover business and marketing strategy, globalization and technology in football.

The Proliferation of Data-Driven Analysis in Football (Part One: The Scouts)

It’s Saturday, August 17, 2013. The first English Premier League game of the 2013/14 season, Liverpool vs. Stoke City, is televised and about to come on TV at 12:45pm British time, the standard lunchtime kickoff.

As you sit there on your couch looking at the meticulous passing game implemented by Brendan Rodgers, you may well call up the Squawka second screen app on your iPad to look at the individual passing stats of Philippe Coutinho, or check out Daniel Sturridge’s shot accuracy on the FourFourTwo Stats Zone app on your iPhone.

In the second half, after Daniel Agger’s handball in Liverpool’s penalty area leads to a Stoke penalty in the dying minutes of the game, and as Jonathan Walters steps up to take the spot kick, an infographic is shown briefly on screen, reflecting Walters’ last five penalty kick attempts, hits and misses—a first such offering on televised Premier League games, courtesy of BT Sport.

At first glance, what can be considered as elementary, basic, interesting statistics for us fans seems to augment the experience and inject a little more color into discussions during and after the match, but there’s much more to that than meets the eye.

Take, for example, the admission from both Simon Mignolet—he saved Walters’ penalty, by the way, and won the three points for Liverpool—and Brendan Rodgers in their post-match interviews: Yes, there was an element of luck in the penalty save, but it was the pre-match preparation work that Mignolet did with his goalkeeping coaches that helped prepare him for the big moment. Or, in other words, they did their homework.

Take also the analysis that has been written about Mignolet, comparing him with the departed Pepe Reina in terms of goalkeeping stats—saves, punches et al, and we see the reasoning behind letting go of a want-away goalkeeper who hadn’t been in his best form. Reina’s wages will no doubt have been a factor in Rodgers’ decision in letting him go, but make no mistake: There will have been statistical backing to the outcome, and the choice of successor in Mignolet.

Beyond this particular game and instance, there’s an undoubted proliferation in data-driven analysis in football, so much so that even the Economist has run a feature story on it. In this four-part series on Business of Soccer, we’ll take a look at just how the boom in big data and related technologies and trends have influenced and augmented the beautiful game, and how they will continue to do so. Let’s look first at the scouts. Parts two to four will look at the coaches, the scientists and finally, the fans.

Scouting Performance

Every big sports fan will have heard of Moneyball—the concept that stats can show a side to players that perhaps the conventional wisdom of looking at performances on the field might not. It was this idea, of course, that led the Oakland Athletics to assemble an impressive team using under priced players with good performance statistics. At the heart of this was their general manager, Billy Beane, who advocated statistics-based analysis as part of his transfer strategy.

The most high-profile application of Moneyball in English football is Liverpool, whose current owners, John W. Henry and his Fenway Sports Group organization, just happen to be the owners of the Major League Baseball team, the Boston Red Sox, whose adoption of sabermetrics in sports was featured in the 2011 Moneyball film.

Of course, Liverpool fans will in all likelihood recoil in horror when they hear of Moneyball. It brings back unpleasant memories of the Damien Comolli and Kenny Dalglish era, where the term was associated with big-money flops like Andy Carroll, Stewart Downing and Charlie Adam. But underlying it is a statistical approach that more and more football clubs have taken on board.

Let’s start with Manchester City, whose use of data and statistics and whose Performance Analysis group have increased and expanded as quickly as their global reach and rise as a footballing superpower. The Performance Analysis team is headed by Gavin Fleig, who has extensive experience in coaching, sports analytics and performance analysis, and has enjoyed stints with Bolton Wanderers and Newcastle United in similar roles.

As it turns out, that old-fashioned manager who plays old-fashioned, route-one football (or so he is constantly labeled), Sam Allardyce, was actually a pioneer in the use of data and analysis in English football, and it was during his reign at both Bolton and Newcastle that saw Fleig get heavily involved in his expert areas at both clubs.

In a quite brilliant and comprehensive interview conducted by Zach Slaton for Forbes, Fleig discusses his background in a Premier League environment that still hadn’t fully embraced statistics, working with a like-minded team under Allardyce with an aligned vision with statistics at its core, and the transition that he encountered upon moving to an ambitious and forward-thinking organization at Manchester City.

The nuts and bolts of the interview are contained in the link above, but what catches the eye is the extent to which the data and analytics are used at almost every level at the club. Even more impressively—and we will mention football statistics resources like Opta and Prozone in the coming parts of this series—City develops their own data for analysis.

In other words, they capture their own information to share across the club and to use across all levels of players, starting from the academy, and it is with that information that the coaches at City determine which players are best used in which positions, and what key areas of their games have to be improved. Player development thus lies at the core of statistical analysis in football.

In Slaton’s article, Fleig also mentions his take on Moneyball in a City context. Particularly interesting is the fact that not only is data used to find better players, but “how much value they will bring into our business as well.” He goes on: “Our focus in the last three years therefore has not necessarily been finding undervalued talent…but in order for us to get the club from where they were to where they are now in four years it required a certain level of investment in the top players around Europe.”

Sabermetrics in football, then, serves more than just the football side: It’s about the football club as a business as well.

Scouting Business

But we can’t really be shocked about that emphasis on business, can we? After all, with the growing amount of investment in the Premier League (the 20 clubs in the league spent a record £630 million in this summer’s transfer window), the (apparent) advent of Financial Fair Play and the increasing focus on Germany’s Bundesliga as a model for a financially sound yet fan-friendly league, money is an integral part of the game. Just take a look at the outrage that Gareth Bale’s world-record transfer generated taken in the context of the current economic climate.

So when relatively-unknown Michu signed for Swansea City last summer and went on to exceed all expectations in an exciting Michael Laudrup team, all the talk was around how exactly he managed to pull off such a coup for such a low price (Michu cost £2 million from Rayo Vallecano).

Correction: Michu was a pleasant surprise, but only for those who didn’t bother to do the background check. The pundits and scouts who did look at Michu, an unfashionable name playing at an unfashionable club in Spain, came to the conclusion that he would be worth a punt given his performances and statistics, and lo and behold: He became one of the best Premier League finds in many a season.

When it comes to finding value for money—taken a leaf right out of the Billy Beane book—there are many data provision services that work with professional football clubs to supply analytics and numbers that influence their transfer strategies and purchasing decisions.

Prozone is a well-known name in the professional circles—we’ll have much more on them in part two on coaches—but football fans who get their statistical fill from OptaJoe’s cleverly worded Tweets during matches may not know that Opta actually have an OptaPro division that partners with football clubs and provides exclusive data. As John Coulson, the head of professional football services at OptaPro, puts it, “The biggest area we’re involved with now is player recruitment. No team will sign a player based on data alone, but it’s increasingly a shortcut to a shortlist.”

A simple but effective analogy was offered by Blake Wooster, Prozone’s business development director in the previous quoted article: “It’s like when Amazon tells you other books you might like after a purchase. A coach might not have heard of a player in the Polish second division—but he might have similar attributes to the guy he’s looking at in League One. We are just increasing the due diligence process.”

Essentially? It’s about finding those players who have the potential to become stars, not buying stars outright. It’s about finding quality in proportion to price. That’s the chief mandate for scouts these days, and they are accomplishing it with the aid of extensive statistical analysis.

But it’s not just Premier League clubs that are part of this next big analytical wave in football. Far from it. In fact, it’s been most used in the country that Moneyball as a concept first proliferated.

In Major League Soccer in the US, which is known for its innovative use of technology—more on that, again, in part two—sports analytics have migrated from the traditional American sports to the beautiful game, and the New England Revolution (also based in Boston) have been one of the pioneers of analytics in the American scene.

This NESN article, while not quite as comprehensive as Slaton’s interview with City’s Fleig, nonetheless describes in detail what the Revs are trying to do with their own data analytics program, and their objective is not unlike City’s. There is a focus on scouting and bringing in players that suit their system, but also an eye on the academy in terms of player development and training.

There is certainly life after Steve Nicol, who was famous for his eye for talent during his time as the head coach of the Revolution.

Scouting the Future

So that’s what football analytics are up to when it comes to the scouting side of the game. Statistics have come a long way, and the rising popularity that it enjoys (along with easy access for scouts, coaches and fans alike) reflects a growing trend in its actual employment.

But where next for analytics? Will companies like Prozone and Opta still dominate all the scene, or will more clubs follow the Manchester City practice and collect their own data by themselves?

We don’t know yet, but a tantalizing new app has been developed none other than that tactical master, Rafa Benitez. His Globall Coach app, which started as a tool to store his own notes and formations on his iPad, has been enhanced to include a Scout Tool that allows scouts to create animations, line-ups and notes on players, teams and matches.

The target audience is still professional clubs—even though they do offer different versions for different levels—but the key is that scouts can add data themselves.

Looks like the trend for scouting-related analytics is the creation and sharing of customized data by the scouts themselves, for information that best suits their purpose.

In part two in this series on big data trends and uses in football, we will take a look at how data and analytics are used by coaches. Stay tuned.

This piece was my first for BusinessofSoccer.com, where I’ll be covering business and marketing strategy, globalization and technology in football.

EPL Transfers: 10 Best Value-for-Money Signings This Summer

Just like that, an entire summer of transfer sagas (Gareth Bale, Luis Suarez, Wayne Rooney), big-money bids (Manchester City) and outrage over the lack of signings (Newcastle United, Manchester United)—culminating in a wonderfully exciting transfer deadline day on September 2—has ended.

In case we forgot, English Premier League football actually started in August, but now that the transfer window drama is all over it’s onto the football for real.

In the past few days, huge transfer sums have dominated the headlines, with Bale’s record-breaking move from Tottenham Hotspur to Real Madrid and the sensational deadline-day signing of Mesut Ozil at Arsenal.

But this is the Premier League, which has been awash with cash for most of recent history. Just look at Chelsea’s stacking of their midfield this summer and Manchester City’s spree following Manuel Pellegrini’s appointment—not to mention Tottenham’s stockpiling of attacking players in the wake of Bale’s big-money departure.

In a market with premium price tags and bloated wages, there is actually value for money out there. So at the end of all this, let’s take a moment to recognize the less heralded work being done around the Premier League.

Here are the 10 best value-for-money signings in the EPL this summer. Enjoy and let us know your picks in the comments below.

 

Honorable Mentions

 

As with any top 10 list, there are bound to be close calls that ultimately don’t make it in the final selection. The following three players were great pickups for their clubs and deserve an honorable mention.

 

Tom Huddlestone (Hull City, £5m)

When Hull City were promoted at the end of last season, critics and fans could’ve been forgiven for taking a look at their squad and expecting of an immediate relegation dogfight.

10 summer signings later, they don’t look so bad. In fact, even though their opening three games have just yielded three league points, their performances have belied the results, and at the heart of those performances is the new midfield duo from Tottenham Hotspur, Tom Huddlestone and Jake Livermore.

Steve Bruce has strengthened well this summer, and in Huddlestone he has added a midfield schemer with class, quality and plenty of top-level experience for just £5m, as reported by BBC Sport.

 

Marko Arnautovic (Stoke City, £2m)

For a reported £2m, according to the Daily Mail, Stoke City and Mark Hughes have landed an Austrian international with experience all across the continent at Werder Bremen and Internazionale.

On the surface, Marko Arnautovic seems like the perfect bargain buy for Stoke—not to mention, his considerable physique and height suit the Potters to the hilt—but underneath the low transfer fee is a history of controversy and trouble.

If Hughes manages to get his new forward to get rid of his attitude problems, he may well have pulled off one of the signings of the summer.

 

Maarten Stekelenburg (Fulham, £3m)

Ajax, Italy, Fulham. Dutch. Goalkeeper. Sound familiar?

No, not Manchester United great, Edwin van der Sar, but if all goes well, you wouldn’t bet against Maarten Stekelenburg taking the same path (though David de Gea will have something to say about that).

For now, Stekelenburg will be focused on doing his job for Martin Jol, who brought him to Craven Cottage for just £3m this summer, according to the Daily Mail. If his performances at his previous teams and for the Netherlands international squad are anything to go by, Fulham have pulled off a brilliant signing.

 

10. Loic Remy (Newcastle United, Loan)

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Paul Thomas/Getty Images

In January, Loic Remy joined Queens Park Rangers, then in a relegation battle but flush with Tony Fernandes’ cash, in a reported £8m, £70,000 a week deal, beating out competition from Newcastle United, according to BBC Sport.

Fast forward seven months, and QPR are mired in the Championship after a dismal Premier League campaign and need to reduce their wage bill, so they have offloaded a number of players on eye-bulging wage packages, including Remy.

Remy has now taken up the No. 14 shirt at the club he turned down in January, having arrived at St. James’ Park on loan for the season, as reported by BBC Sport. Alan Pardew obtained a player who scored six Premier League goals in just four months, who has been rated as Marseille’s star forward in the past, and who has international experience for France.

Given Newcastle’s underwhelming transfer window this summer, Remy is the sole shining light among the club’s summer arrivals, and will become a key member of a team desperately short in attacking quality.

For a loan deal, however, and with the prospect of the World Cup looming next summer, Remy could be the striker to save Newcastle from relegation.

 

9. Victor Moses (Liverpool, Loan)

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Clive Rose/Getty Images

Victor Moses completed a triple haul for Liverpool in a deadline day that also saw defenders Mamadou Sakho and Tiago Ilori arrive at Anfield, but the on-loan Chelsea man will surely represent one of the best deals of the summer.

Scoring for the Blues in all competitions last season—the Capital One Cup, FA Cup, Europa League, Champions League and Premier League—Moses played an integral role in Rafael Benitez’s squad, but with the influx of attacking midfielders under Jose Mourinho, has now been deemed surplus.

In stepped Liverpool, who, in Philippe Coutinho and Daniel Sturridge, have an outstanding recent record in rehabilitating hot young prospects whose stars have fallen slightly.

Prior to Moses’ move to Chelsea, he made waves across the Championship with his dazzling displays on the wing for Crystal Palace, and was considered one of the finest young players in all of England.

Will he find his form again in a red shirt? If so, his reputation will be restored, and even if there isn’t an option to buy at the end of his season-long loan deal, he could provide just that spark to take Liverpool to an elusive Champions League spot.

 

8. Darren Bent (Fulham, Loan)

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Darren Bent’s place at Aston Villa might have been taken by rising force Christian Benteke, but he still possesses the prized asset that Premier League clubs value and need: the art of goal-scoring.

And Bent knows how to score goals. To quote Martin Laurence’s ESPNFC column, “despite starting just 29 of a possible 76 league games in the last two campaigns, Bent remains one of only six Premier League players to have netted more than 50 goals in the last four seasons (53).”

So when mid-table clubs were looking for a proven striker this summer, Bent stood out as a player to take a chance on, even though his lack of involvement in build-up play impeded his career at Villa Park.

Martin Jol took a chance. Bringing Bent on loan and pairing him with the mercurial Dimitar Berbatov may well turn out to be a masterstroke. He’s already scored on his debut as a substitute against Arsenal. More of the same then.

 

7. Kolo Toure (Liverpool, Free)

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Title-winning experience, pace, heading, physical ability and dressing room presence.

That’s what Brendan Rodgers and Liverpool got for free when they brought in the out-of-contract Kolo Toure from Manchester City, as reported by BBC Sport.

Taking over the No. 4 shirt (whose previous bearers include a certain Sami Hyypia), Toure instantly imposed himself on the dressing room and on the pitch. Brought in to replace the experience of the retired Jamie Carragher, Toure featured prominently in the Reds’ preseason matches and started their first two league games.

His pace allowed Rodgers to maintain a high defensive line when Liverpool were on the attack, and his power and heading kept the Reds at bay while defending against a pacy and strong Aston Villa forward line.

His all-action display and enthusiastic interviews have already seen him elevated to cult hero status at Anfield. Those same fans who wrote off his signing will have been the ones cursing the injury he sustained in the Capital One Cup tie against Notts County.

 

6. Peter Odemwingie (Cardiff City, £2.25m)

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Hands up if you still remember Peter Odemwingie’s shenanigans on deadline day last January (Independent).

Any wonder, then, that the Nigerian international has finally left West Bromwich Albion?

Cardiff City have added the likes of Gary Medel and Steven Caulker to their squad this summer, but for a paltry £2.25m, as reported by BBC Sport, their deadline day signing may prove to be Malky Mackay’s most important.

After all, Odemwingie was once West Brom’s top single-season goalscorer ever in the Premier League, and held the Premier League Player of the Month three times in his career at the Hawthorns. So his ability to put the ball in the back of the net will not be questioned.

Now he takes his talents to Wales, where he will be an important member of the first-team squad. Spearheading the Cardiff attack alongside Frazier Campbell or Andreas Cornelius, Odemwingie has every chance to resurrect his Premier League career at age 32.

 

5. Ki Sung-Yueng (Sunderland, Loan)

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When South Korea international Ki Sung-Yueng signed for Swansea City, for what was a then club-record fee of £5.5m (per The Guardian), it was widely believed that Michael Laudrup had pulled off a coup, given Ki’s reputation as a hot midfield prospect.

He had, after all, become one of Europe’s top young midfielders during his time at Celtic, where he scored nine league goals in 66 appearances and impressed with his vision and creativity.

At the Liberty Stadium, Ki displayed time and again his excellent passing skills and composure on the ball, and even filled in in a central defensive role in the Capital One Cup final in February in a show of versatility. But he was made available by the Swans this summer.

Now on loan at Sunderland, under the tutelage of Paolo Di Canio and in a side that desperately needs composure and passing quality in the midfield, Ki has the perfect platform to restore his reputation.

His undoubted ability will be needed in what looks to be a tough campaign ahead for the Black Cats.

 

4. Allan McGregor (Hull City,  £1.5m)

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After 205 appearances for Scottish club Rangers where he established himself as a Scotland regular, Allan McGregor has arrived, via a year in the Turkish Super League with Besiktas, in the Premier League with Hull City for £1.5m, as confirmed by BBC Sport.

Judging by his opening-day clanger against Chelsea, where he conceded a penalty five minutes into his Premier League debut, and subsequent conceding of a long-range Frank Lampard free kick, McGregor looked as if he might face a challenging first year in England’s top flight.

Not quite.

His stop from Lampard’s penalty was every bit as exciting as his double save towards the end of the first half, and from then on he has gone from strength to strength.

In subsequent league games against Norwich City and Manchester City, McGregor has been a reliable goalkeeper for Steve Bruce, manning the sticks with confidence and pulling off spectacular stops.

For just £1.5m, Bruce has acquired an established goalkeeper who will be instrumental to his sides’ hopes of Premier League survival at the first time of asking.

 

3. Leroy Fer (Norwich City, £4.5m)

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Out of all Premier League clubs, and certainly out of all mid-table clubs, Norwich City’s transfer business stands out in terms of both quality and value for money.

Chris Hughton has brought in a plethora of players who will slot right into his starting XI—including international-class players like Ricky van Wolfswinkel and Johan Elmander, as well as promising stars like Gary Hooper and Nathan Redmond, all of whom could arguably feature on this list.

Most impressive of all, however, is the £4.5m capture of Netherlands international Leroy Fer, whose arrival at Carrow Road was confirmed in mid-July, according to the Telegraph.

A central midfielder with imposing physical strength and pace, tidy passing skills and an eye for goal—he scored 12 Eredivisie goals in just 47 appearances at previous club FC Twente—Fer adds energy, dynamism and goals to the Norwich midfield, as well as a “Dutch connection” that may be crucial in his partnership with van Wolfswinkel.

Fer has had no trouble settling into the Premier League and threatened to open his account on Saturday against Southampton, playing in the center of the park alongside Bradley Johnson. If he keeps it up, he could lead Norwich to a top-half finish this campaign.

 

2. Stewart Downing (West Ham United, £5m)

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Sam Allardyce caught Liverpool and Brendan Rodgers at the perfect time: For the price of a Liverpool-era Stewart Downing (a very much eye-opening £20m), West Ham United have signed both Downing and Andy Carroll.

Andy Carroll was the vastly more expensive one at £15m, and while he will look to repeat his barnstorming performances for the Hammers last season, Downing—who, according to BBC Sport, cost just £5m—may prove to be not just West Ham’s most astute signing, but one of the best of them all.

Here is an England international who has impressed at Middlesbrough and Aston Villa, with both assists and goals from either flank, and who has shown his versatility at Liverpool by playing on both wings and even at left-back.

A player who buckled down amidst reports that he would be let go by Rodgers last season and earned his place back in the starting XI with a series of hardworking and impressive performances.

A winger whose crossing will be a perfect fit for Allardyce’s wing-heavy play, a perfect complement to Matt Jarvis on the opposite flank, and a constant source of chances for Andy Carroll.

Sure, he cost way too much when Kenny Dalglish signed him—but for £5m, West Ham have acquired one of the signings of the summer.

 

1. Romelu Lukaku (Everton, Loan)

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When the new season started with Jose Mourinho back at Stamford Bridge, the main striking position at Chelsea was up for grabs. Lukaku, Fernando Torres and Demba Ba were all candidates, until that infamous 4-6-0 formation against Manchester United—and until Samuel Eto’o signed on a free transfer (BBC Sport).

And so on deadline day, Everton swooped in for Lukaku, and now the Belgian international will spend the campaign on loan at Goodison Park.

The move was an astute one by new manager Roberto Martinez, who has already noticeably stamped his authority on Everton’s playing style and is in need of a striker who can deliver the goods.

New signing Arouna Kone hasn’t settled at his new club yet, while Gerard Deulofeu will provide more of a creative thrust rather than out-and-out goal-scoring—Nikica Jelavic has yet to rediscover his barnstorming form of a season and a half ago—which means that Lukaku has a chance to establish himself as the main striker at Everton.

17 league goals in 35 appearances for West Bromwich Albion last season. Thus stands Romelu Lukaku’s Premier League record and pedigree.

Lukaku turned out to be one of the signings of the 2012/13 campaign for Steve Clarke. He could be the one to lead another challenge for the European places for the Toffees.

On, and by the way, both Lukaku and Downing featured on our list of the Premier League’s 10 worst signings of the 2011/12 season.

Football, bloody hell.

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report, where I contribute regularly on Liverpool and other Premier League-related matters.