While all you Cowboys fans steel yourselves for an offseason of watching the Eagles make their rounds as Super Bowl champions, I’m here to take your mind off all that by running down the soccer transfers that happened this January. The transfer window is always a cornucopia of comedy fodder and food for serious thought, so let’s get to it.
Which big trades happened this winter?
Normally, soccer doesn’t do trades. They regard the whole concept of trading players as a bizarre American idea that’s best kept here. This time, however, American-owned Arsenal made two trades that transplanted the heart of Borussia Dortmund’s potent offense (Armenian playmaker Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Gabonese speed demon Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang) to north London, and all they had to give up was brilliant but disgruntled Alexis Sánchez and glorious-looking glorified backup striker Olivier Giroud. In exchange, they get two players happy to be out of bad situations, with Aubameyang a badly needed stretcher of opposing defenses, and they encouraged perennially underrated orchestrator Mesut Özil to sign a contract extension. A long-stagnant Arsenal team now has reason to hope.
So will Arsenal win the English league now?
God, no! For one thing, the Gunners’ defense still leaks, and goalkeeper Petr Čech looks creakier by the second. For another thing, Manchester City has run away from them and everybody else. The rest of England is basically competing for scraps.
But it resulted in a wildly entertaining coaching feud between Chelsea’s Antonio Conte and Manchester United’s José Mourinho. Conte is an old-school badass who does not suffer fools, Mourinho is a malicious bastard who lives to publicly disrespect opposing managers, and they both needed a distraction from how far behind they were in the standings. It all got hilariously petty, with Conte calling the 54-year-old Mourinho senile and “a fake person,” and Mourinho making fun of Conte’s hair transplants and accusing him of throwing games while coaching in Italy. Meantime, Chelsea got Giroud, United got Sánchez, and they both fell further behind City.
Could anybody in England take advantage of this?
Liverpool finally shored up their defense by acquiring Virgil van Dijk, but how much will their offense suffer by selling off playmaker Philippe Coutinho to Barcelona? The Reds could have replaced him with fellow Brazilian Lucas Moura at a reasonable rate, but Tottenham Hotspur beat them to that punch, rescuing Moura from the bench at Paris St.-Germain. Outside of England’s established powers, a resurgent Swansea made like Ghana’s national team and got the full set of Ayew brothers (André and Jordan), while Newcastle’s cheapskate billionaire owner temporarily kept coach Rafael Benítez’ head from exploding by taking Algerian striker Islam Slimani on loan. Not getting in the way of that, West Ham transfer director Tony Henry told a journalist that he didn’t want any more African players because they “have a bad attitude” and “cause mayhem.” When the reporter tried to point out how racist that was, Henry replied, “In what way?” A few days later, Henry became the team’s ex-transfer director.
Five months ago, you said AC Milan were poised to come back in Italy. How’s that going?
The rossoneri are in about the same shape as Mussolini’s body after he was killed and strung up for the people to spit on. You see, it turns out the Chinese billionaire who bought the team last fall may not actually own the phosphate mines that he said he owned. He has missed numerous payment deadlines, is being accused of fraud in the Italian press, and is so heavily leveraged that Milan may be in the hands of American activist investors before year’s end. Shockingly, player morale has suffered as a result, and this storied team has dropped games to the likes of Benevento, Atalanta, and some Croatian team called Rijeka. The instability caused goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma’s agent to hint that the teenager wanted out, which caused the fans to boo the kid and insult his brother every time he touched the ball, which caused Donnarumma to play an entire game in tears, which caused the coach and senior players to beg the fans not to boo and players on other teams to advise Italy’s future No. 1 to leave. Other than that, things are great at the Milanello.
Oof. But who actually moved?
Not many of note other than youth prospect Pietro Pellegri leaving the country for the bags of money at AS Monaco. All the other promising young players in Italy and France stayed where they were, which will gratify the French. Monaco even held onto the biggest fish in Thomas Lemar.
Isn’t Monaco one of the world’s smallest countries? How does their team have so much cash?
They’re backed by the country’s royal family, the Grimaldis. Monaco also has no income tax, while neighboring France taxes top earners heavily, so a player making €10 million a year at AS Monaco takes home the same amount as a player making €18 million at any other team in the French league. So what if the home attendance figures don’t crack five digits? The country has beaches and casinos where players can unwind. No wonder the other French teams are permanently pissed at them.
What about Spain?
Real Madrid did nothing, which is weird because they have the money to outspend anyone, and they’re way behind their Barcelona rivals in the Spanish league. Los Merengues were going to buy a new goalkeeper, but coach Zinédine Zidane (of the unforgettable head-butt in the World Cup 2006 final) publicly scotched the move. He had better stage a hell of a comeback or win the Champions League a third straight time, or Real’s trigger-happy bosses will make him pay with his job. Elsewhere in Spain, Valencia’s new Argentinian striker Luciano Vietto scored a hat trick in his first game with the club, while Málaga picked up Nigerian forward Isaac Success, proving that you really can buy Success.
What a horrible pun! Bring it back home for us.
Thanks to USA’s failure to qualify for World Cup 2018, we no longer have to worry about American players needing playing time at their clubs to prepare for the tournament. In MLS, the L.A. Galaxy seemed to have kicked their habit of buying up marquee European stars, only to start up contract talks with Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the Swedish scorer of ridiculous goals and author of a ridiculous autobiography. He may arrive in the summer. It was Atlanta United that busted America’s transfer record, dropping $15 million on Argentinian teen Ezequiel Barco and adding another attacker to a team that’s already fun to watch. Orlando City lost Canadian striker Cyle Larin to the Turkish champions Besiktas and threw a pathetic hissyfit in response. Larin will have to compete with blue-haired, awesomely named Brazilian striker Vágner Love for playing time, but he’ll have possible Champions League experience and all the baklava his training will permit.
Dare we ask about FC Dallas?
The Hoops’ inexplicable swoon over the second half of last season took them from leading the Western Conference to out of the playoffs entirely, and the transfer window didn’t give any obvious clues about where they go from here. The local team went with much-traveled Swiss defender (and veteran of two World Cups) Reto Ziegler. The left-back-turned-central defender will be able to tutor 24-year-old left-back Anton Nedyalkov, another new arrival with five caps for the Bulgarian national team. Will this have the steadying effect that FC Dallas needs? Stay tuned, soccer fans.