Friday, 1 September 2017

Analysing a crazy transfer window

After a pretty chaotic deadline day that saw four deals being completed, including one that broke Blues' transfer record, it's nice now to be able to take a breath and look at what we're left with. I've been pretty critical of many of Blues' targets this summer, but the player's we've actually signed have been very good, and I'm pleasantly surprised by what we're going into this season with. I'd rather us have done the business six weeks ago, but you can't have everything.

Let's start with the positives of this window.

Jota. Oh man Jota. A statistical beast (as one would expect at Brentford) but also one who looks pretty spectacular to the naked eye. Given that Britt Assombalonga cost a reported eye-watering £14m and £60k a week, the £6.5m for Jota looks a steal - especially given he's on the cusp of his peak at just 26. A versatile forward with a superb goal record from wide and number ten, a player who creates and scores goals from all over and in a position we've needed a player for a while. I'm also a sucker for a Spanish creator with a wand of a left foot, so from a personal perspective, what a signing.

I don't need to dig into Jota's numbers too much because there's plenty of that around, but the headline number for me is 0.58 goals + assists per 90 minutes over his Brentford career. From wide or number ten who came into the league at 23/24, that's pretty spectacular.

Isaac Vassell is another signing I liked, much like I liked the Adams and Stewart signings last year. It's a reasonable gamble in a market of absurd prices. With Adams, he was just £1.4m and already worth five times that minimum - so gambling on players like that is always worthwhile when top Championship teams will pay £10m for players with a few goals. Vassell is a great gamble, because he has really really obvious skills - his raw physical attributes are clear for all to see and if he grabs a few goals he'll immediately be worth more than he cost.

The other Brentford lads look like genuine upgrades too - Maxime Colin I'm told is a very good attacking right back though I personally don't know much outside of what we've seen at St. Andrews. Harlee Dean similarly I've heard good things about, but given the competition is Michael Morrison, he's almost certainly an upgrade.

I'll go ahead and put Marc Roberts in the plusses pile, as that struck me as a very good move. Tall, athletic and capable on the ball, Roberts looks like the real deal - at first. He's been a bit shaky so far, but I'm fairly confident he'll be good in time, and this is based solely on first impressions at the time of the deal.

For that reason, I'll put Cheikh Ndoye in this list. Despite the fact it does go against some of my transfer principles, Ndoye was genuinely exciting as we needed to add midfielders to avoid relegation first and foremost. A player with a surprisingly good record from midfield for a player of his profile, Ndoye has had a mixed start at St. Andrews. A strong performance against Bristol City showed the plus sides of Ndoye - mobile, a good reader of the game, strong in the air and at times a threat going forward. However, his passing has been... hit and miss so far. But on first impressions, I liked it, and hope he can come good with good players round him.

Selling Clayton Donaldson, as saddening as it was to see him go, was the right move. He's aging and looks a shadow of the battering ram who led the line under Rowett. He'll always be remembered fondly for the last few years, as a genuinely good Championship player with an incredible tolerance to punishment, pace and clever movement that allowed Rowett's teams to function. That said, now was the right time to move him on as we look towards Jutkiewicz, Vassell and Gallagher to be the ones leading the line.

Let's move on to a few deals I wasn't too keen on.

Shipping Cheick Keita out to bring in Cohen Bramall is absolutely ludicrous to me. Keita is a gifted full back with an uncanny ability to get out of sticky situations and a useful outlet going forward - and the idea that he can't defend to me seems entirely unfounded. He's gone out on loan to a Serie A team - Italy, famed for its hatred of defensive football.

Bramall may well be a really good footballer - he may even be a direct upgrade - but assuming he is is insane. The kid has almost no actual experience and no games to base that opinion on, and not only that, won't be our player next year. Keita would be, and could improve hugely over a full season and give us a player of immense value. Hopefully, Keita will come back next year and be a Birmingham City player.

I'm also very irritated about the sale of Maikel Kieftenbeld, an intelligent if limited player who was quite often the best midfielder in the side. Yes, his passing and first touch left a lot to be desired, but the way he found space in attack and closed it in defence was admirable - it's not his fault he was forced into a role where he had to create. I'd go as far to say as holding midfielders go, he was our best option, given his stellar performances there under Rowett which certainly dwarf Craig Gardner's recent attempts. I could accept it, had we signed an upgrade (such as Simeon Slavchev) which I think Song was supposed to be, but alas, that did not come off. Instead, we weakened the one position that we were most desperate to strengthen.

That's the real disappointment of this window - but the most frustrating part is that it doesn't seem to be our fault (well, not entirely). We'd found targets, but hit snags on each one. Onazi couldn't get a work permit (which honestly reeks of incompetence on Blues' part, not the FA's), Acquah was forced to stay once Torino realised he was really good, which was odd, and Song we didn't want to pay the loan fee.

The silver lining to the proverbial dark cloud is Liam Walsh, who at least sounds like the player we wanted. The fact that it's only a short term loan is frustrating, but indicates to me we'll go in for Song again in January (just a hunch). I'll happily admit I know very little of Walsh, but Everton fans adore him and refer to him as a player who can dictate games.

The main gripe is the abundance of loan signings. It just screams short termism - yes, we have improved the squad, but if we don't go up this year (which is still really quite unlikely) we'll have paid a decent amount for these loan signings and have little to show for it. Sam Gallagher, for example, was not a deal I particularly liked. He looks like a better version of Jutkiewicz, which is handy, but it's a hell of a lot to pay for one year of an inexperienced if willing centre-forward with a not-too-exciting goal record. Carl Jenkinson was a legitimate upgrade, but without an option to buy, I don't love the deal.

Jeremie Boga I liked a bit more, but that's mainly a personal bias towards players who can dribble. I'd prefer to get players in permanently, but finding them is tough.

Jason Lowe, eh. Hard to have an opinion. Looks like a panic buy but on a free, relatively low wages I guess it could be ok. Not one I'm particularly excited by.

David Stockdale, at the time I wasn't convinced about, as it seemed like a position that didn't need improving on, and I thought Stockdale would be on a fair whack. However, I was one of few Blues fans who wasn't that high on Kuszczak, who I've partially blamed for set-piece problems over the last few years as he doesn't command his area in the air and it leads to problems from wide set-pieces. Stockdale already appears to be better in that regard, his distribution seems far better and he's still a good shot stopper. At first, though, I wasn't keen.

I didn't like selling Ryan Shotton, as he's a very good centre back and an underrated distributor, but there were rumours he wanted to leave, and replacing him with Dean and Roberts seems like a fine exchange.

Whilst there are a lot of deals I wasn't crazy about, in the short term, Blues have the best squad we've had in years. My worry is if we don't go up, we'll need to spend again - but right now, we're good. The only issue is midfield, where if Ndoye doesn't start adjusting quickly we may struggle to get the ball into the quality we have up top enough. But my word, we finally have real pace and skill up top. Jota and Adams/Boga flanking Gallagher/Jutkiewicz, or Vassell and Adams up top with Jota behind, or Gallagher and Adams up top... there are genuine options up top for the first time in years. Jota being a left footed RW traditionally means he's the player we really needed to make the 4-3-3 work (even if I thought Kief was integral to that). Him and Adams wide with one of the forwards in the middle would genuinely be one of the best front threes in the league. The fact he can play centrally opens up the chance for the 3-5-2 to really flourish, as this gives us enough central presence behing him and can hopefully use Roberts' distribution from deep when we have the ball. I've been saying for months we need three in midfield, but with genuinely good defender we might be able to compensate by playing three CB's and using their distribution in possession and ball winning abilities out of it to compromise for the lack of quality. Alex Song would genuinely have been superb, and if we'd pulled that off, I might have been more tempted to tip us for playoffs.

Overall, I'm pretty happy, and my god, am I excited for the next team selection.

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